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The All-Powerful God Print E-mail


Michael Gleghorn

Written by Michael Gleghorn

Introducing Omnipotence

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would give birth to Israel’s promised Messiah, she was stunned. After all, she was a virgin. How could she possibly give birth to a son? But the angel informed her that God’s power was more than sufficient to accomplish such a thing, “for nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37; NIV).

Download the PodcastA foundational element of a Christian worldview is a proper view of God. This article is about God's omnipotence. Although the term may sound a bit intimidating, it simply means that God is all-powerful. A number of scriptural passages speak to this issue.

For example, through the prophet Jeremiah God warned the people of Judah that because of their wickedness their land would soon be conquered by the Babylonians (Jer. 32:26-35). Nevertheless, God also promised that he would one day restore his people to their land and bless them with great prosperity (Jer. 32:37-44). As if to make clear that the Lord was completely able to fulfill his promise, the context twice leads us to reflect upon the fact that nothing is too difficult for God (Jer. 32:17, 27). The text, therefore, seems to clearly indicate that God is all-powerful, or omnipotent.

This power is revealed in a number of different ways. For example, the creation of the universe reveals his “eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20; Heb. 1:3). The resurrection of Jesus reveals his “mighty strength,” which not only raised Christ from the dead, but which seated him at the right hand of God, “far above all . . . power and dominion” (Eph. 1:18-23). Finally, his might is also revealed in the gospel, which the apostle Paul described as “the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

In fact, He is often referred to as God Almighty. In the book of Revelation the twenty-four elders who are seated before the throne of God fall on their faces and worship the Lord declaring, “We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was, because you have taken your great power and have begun to reign” (Rev. 11:17).

The cumulative picture is indeed a grand one—and quite naturally leads to the believer’s affirmation that God is all-powerful, or omnipotent. But how is this attribute to be understood? What exactly does it mean to say that God is omnipotent? These are some of the questions with which we’ll grapple in the remainder of this article.

Omnipotence and Creation

The Apostle’s Creed begins, “I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”{1} Not only does this statement affirm a central (and biblical) Christian truth-claim, namely, that God is the creator of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), it also clearly links this affirmation with God’s attribute of omnipotence by referring to him as “God the Father almighty.” By linking God’s omnipotence with creation in this way, the creed reaffirms what the Apostle Paul had previously taught in his letter to the Romans, that God’s “eternal power and divine nature” are “clearly seen in what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).

But why does the Bible, and Christian tradition, link God’s omnipotence with creation in this way? One of the most important reasons is to be found in the Christian doctrine of creation itself. You see, unlike certain pagan doctrines of creation, which taught that the universe was formed out of pre-existent matter, Christianity teaches that God created the universe out of nothing. And when we say that God created the universe “out of nothing,” we are claiming, as the theologian Thomas Torrance reminds us, that the universe “is not created out of anything.” Rather, “it came into being through the absolute fiat of God’s Word in such a way that whereas previously there was nothing, the whole universe came into being.”{2}

Now what’s astonishing about this is that it’s perfectly consistent with today’s standard Big Bang model of the origin of the universe! This is because, as physicist P. C. W. Davies observes, “On this view the big bang represents the creation event; the creation not only of all the matter and energy in the universe, but also of spacetime itself.”{3} Hence, the origin posited by this model is “an absolute origin” out of nothing.{4}

This is why omnipotence and creation are so closely linked in the Christian tradition. It’s one thing to merely form a universe out of pre-existent matter. It is another thing entirely to create a universe out of absolutely nothing! As Christian philosophers Paul Copan and Bill Craig observe, “It is difficult to imagine any more stunning display of God’s almighty power than the world’s springing into being out of nothing, at his mere command.”{5}

Omnipotence and Morality

Now you might be thinking that if God is all-powerful, then he can do absolutely anything. But if we adopt this understanding of omnipotence, we quickly run into conflict with the teaching of Scripture, for Scripture tells us plainly that there are some things God cannot do.

For example, in Numbers 23:19 we read: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” According to this text, God is not the sort of being to tell a lie. When he makes a promise, we can be confident that he will keep it, because God does not lie (see also 1 Sam. 15:29 and Tit. 1:2).

This is particularly important for New Testament believers, for God has made many wonderful promises to those who have trusted Christ for salvation. Is there any reason to fear that God may not keep some of these promises? No, there is not, for as the author of Hebrews reminds us, “it is impossible for God to lie” by making a promise and then failing to keep it. And because of this, our hope in Christ is “firm and secure” (Heb. 6:18-19).

But if we say that God cannot lie, or break a promise, or do anything else that is morally evil, then haven’t we denied that God is all-powerful? Not necessarily. The vast majority of Christian theologians throughout the history of the church have consistently taught that God’s omnipotence does not include the ability to do that which is logically impossible or contradictory.

Of course, there is no contradiction in saying that an omnipotent being can commit a morally evil act. But there does seem to be a contradiction in saying that a completely good, morally perfect being can perform such an act. As a morally perfect being, God not only has no moral faults, but as James reminds us, he cannot even be tempted by sin and evil (James 1:13). Hence, as one Christian philosopher observes, “for an essentially morally perfect being, doing what is wrong is just a special case of doing what is impossible for that being to do.”{6} And clearly, the inability to do what is morally evil should not be seen as detracting from God’s omnipotence. Instead, it should be viewed as exalting his moral perfection.

Omnipotence and Freedom

We’ve seen that omnipotence cannot mean that God can do absolutely anything. For as a morally perfect being, God is incapable of doing what is morally evil. This might lead us to think that God can do anything that is consistent with his morally perfect nature. But most theologians would still reject such a view. They would insist that some things are just logically impossible and that it can’t count against God’s omnipotence to admit that he cannot do such things.

Let’s consider an example. A square is a geometrical object with four angles. A triangle has only three. This being so, what do you think the chances are of constructing a square triangle? Not very good, right? After all, if something has four angles, then it has more than three. And if it has only three angles, then it has less than four. Regardless of how much power one has, a square triangle is a logical impossibility.

With this in mind, let’s now consider another example. Suppose that John is the kind of person who, if married, would always freely seek his wife’s input before making any major financial decision. If this is true, then it would seem that not even God could create John, place him in such circumstances, and have him freely refrain from seeking his wife’s input—for this is simply not what John would freely do in such circumstances.

Of course, God still has plenty of options. He could always refuse to create John, or refuse to let him get married, or refuse to let him be confronted with a major financial decision. Alternatively, God could put John in the circumstances we’re considering, but make him decide not to seek his wife’s input. But what he cannot do is place John in these circumstances and then make him freely decide not to seek his wife’s input. For to make John freely do something is as logically impossible as creating a square triangle.{7}

Of course, God’s inability to perform a logically impossible task can’t fairly count against his omnipotence. For this would suggest “that a task has been specified, that transcends the capacities . . . of Omnipotence. But no task at all has been specified by uttering a self-contradictory . . . mixture of words.”{8} So we needn’t worry that we’ve abandoned the doctrine of omnipotence by admitting that God cannot perform meaningless tasks! We’ve simply clarified the meaning of omnipotence.

The Importance of Omnipotence

The doctrine that God is omnipotent, or all-powerful, is, as one philosopher has observed, “not a bit of old metaphysical luggage that can be abandoned with relief.” Instead, it’s “indispensable for Christianity.” After all, God has made many wonderful promises to his people. But if he “were not almighty . . . he might . . . sincerely promise, but find fulfillment beyond his power.”{9} So only if God is omnipotent can we confidently bank on his promises. But this is a bit of a two-edged sword.

On the one hand, the doctrine of God’s omnipotence can be very comforting for believers, who are rightly related to God through faith in Jesus Christ. After all, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Whatever problems and difficulties we face in life, our omnipotent God has more than enough power to see us through. If he chooses, he can easily deliver us from fire or water, sword or famine, sickness or disease. And if he lets us go through such things, he can provide all the grace and strength we need to endure. While the suffering of God’s saints can indeed be great, we must also remember that this life is not the end of our story, for “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness” (2 Pet. 3:11). A promise our omnipotent God is more than able to fulfill!

On the other hand, however, an omnipotent Deity is a most frightening prospect for anyone who persists in spurning his love and grace. For as the author of Hebrews reminds us, we are each “destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (9:27) and “it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31)—especially when that God is all-powerful! It’s a sobering thought to remind ourselves that not one of us can ultimately escape God’s power and judgment. If we make the omnipotent God our enemy, then no one can deliver us from his hand.

Thankfully, however, peace with God is available to anyone who wants it. The Bible tells us that God does not want anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9). He pleads with men to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:16-21). “Whoever is thirsty,” he says, “let him come . . . let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Rev. 22:17b). The omnipotent God offers us all good things in Christ—and nothing can prevent him making good on his offer!

Notes

1. John H. Leith, ed., Creeds of the Churches: A Reader in Christian Doctrine from the Bible to the Present, 3rd ed. (Louisville: John Knox, 1982), 24.
2. Thomas F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God: One Being, Three Persons (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996), 207; cited in Paul Copan and William Lane Craig, Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 14.
3. P. C. W. Davies, "Spacetime Singularities in Cosmology," in The Study of Time III, ed. J. T. Fraser (New York: Springer Verlag, 1978), 78-79; cited in Copan and Craig, Creation out of Nothing, 222.
4. Copan and Craig, Creation out of Nothing, 223.
5. Ibid., 26.
6. Edward Wierenga, "Omnipotence Defined," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 43, no. 3 (1983): 367.
7. See J. P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 539.
8. Antony Flew, ed., A Dictionary of Philosophy, Rev. 2nd ed. (New York: Gramercy Books, 1999), s.v. "impossibility."
9. All of these citations are taken from P. T. Geach, "Omnipotence," Philosophy 48, no. 183 (1973): 8.

© 2011 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Michael GleghornMichael Gleghorn is a research associate with Probe Ministries. He earned a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University and a Th.M. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Before coming on staff with Probe, Michael taught history and theology at Christway Academy in Duncanville, Texas. Michael and his wife Hannah have two children. His personal website is michaelgleghorn.com.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

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