What is God Like? Part 2

09 November 2020

In the previous post, we saw that God is personal (i.e., has the essential properties of personhood), and a spirit or non-physical being. Today, we will look at another important divine attribute, namely, being all-powerful.

A central attribute of God is that He is omnipotent. The term 'omnipotent' comes from the Latin words omnis, meaning 'all,' and potentia, meaning 'powerful.' Thus, to be omnipotent means to be all-powerful.

Now, Scripture clearly ascribes this all-powerful attribute to God by calling Him Almighty (Genesis 17:1; Revelation 19:6). Furthermore, God's almighty power is demonstrated in His creation of the world (Genesis 1:1; Psalm 33:9; Romans 4:17). At the moment of creation, God created the universe out of nothing; there was no material substance that God simply reshaped into the universe, rather, God brought the entire universe (or all space-time, matter, and energy) into existence out of nothing. But to create a universe out of nothing requires unimaginable power. Indeed, it seems difficult to conceive of a greater act of power than this.

Scripture also teaches that God can do all things (Genesis 18:14; Jeremiah 32:17; Job 42:1--2; Mark 14:36). In Matthew 19:26, for example, Jesus remarks to his disciples: 'with God all things are possible.' Therefore, according to Scripture, God is all-powerful.

But what, exactly, does it mean to be all-powerful? Does it mean that God can do absolutely anything, including that which is logically impossible? No it does not. Traditionally, theologians have held that omnipotence should not be understood as the ability to do absolutely anything because there are two things that God cannot do, namely, God cannot contradict His own nature, and God cannot do the logical impossible. Firstly, God cannot act in ways that are contrary to His nature. For example, God cannot sin (such as lie or commit adultery), nor can God cease to be a loving God. As Hebrews 6:18 tells us, 'it is impossible for God to lie,' and James 1:13 says, 'God cannot be tempted with evil.'

But secondly, God cannot do things that are logically impossible. By the phrase 'logically impossible' we mean those things that are nonsensical, contradictory, or simply absurd. For example, it is logically impossible for God to make a round square, or to make a married bachelor, or to bring it about that you exist and do not exist simultaneously. In fact, these things are not really things at all. There is no 'round square' or 'married bachelor.' These are just combinations of words that together are incoherent and make no sense.

Thus, to say that God cannot do 'things' that are logically impossible in no way diminishes God's power. So when Scripture talks about God being able to do 'all things', this should be understood in the narrow sense that means being able to do all things that an all-powerful being can do.

Now, understanding omnipotence in this way has two benefits. Firstly, it helps you respond to the paradoxes of omnipotence. We have all heard these paradoxes. For example, the paradox of the stone asks, 'Can God make a stone too heavy for Him to lift?' If God can make such a stone, then there is one thing He cannot do, namely, lift the stone. But if God cannot create such a stone, then again, this is one thing that God cannot do. Either way, it is claimed, there is one thing God cannot do and, therefore, God cannot be omnipotent.

In response to this paradox, however, you may simply answer,

An omnipotent God can move any physical object and, thus, He cannot make a stone too heavy for Him to move, since this is logically impossible. However, not being able to do the logical impossible in no way diminishes God's omnipotence.

Secondly, understanding the definition of omnipotence helps you respond to the problem of moral evil. According to this problem, an all-loving and all-powerful God can and would create a world in which people choose not to harm others through immoral acts (such as murder, abuse, massacres, and criminal acts). In response, you may claim that it is logically impossible for God to give human beings freewill and make them freely choose what is good. God cannot make people freely do things. God can either create a world with freewill and with the possibility of moral evil, or God can create a world without freewill and without moral evil. But since it is more loving to give persons freewill (as opposed to forcing people to do things), God is perfectly good and powerful, regardless of the moral evil we find in the world.

In conclusion, then, God is a personal, spiritual being who is incredibly powerful, indeed, all-powerful!