The Omnipotence of God: Power Without Limits – Part I

Introduction: Perhaps you have encountered some wag in a college classroom (maybe even the professor) confidently ridiculing the notion of an omnipotent God by throwing out the challenge “Can God create a rock too heavy for God to lift?” or “Can God create a round triangle? Well, what about it?” Both statements involve a self-contradiction. A logical impossible action is, by definition, incoherent. Carl F. H. Henry responds this way, “That God will not alter his own nature, that he cannot deny himself, that he cannot lie and cannot sin, that he cannot be deceived, and that, moreover, he cannot die, are affirmations which historic Christian theology has always properly associated with divine omnipotence and not with divine limitation or divine impotency, because the “possibility” as stated is a logical impossibility. Any conception of omnipotence that requires God to contradict himself reflects a conjectural and ridiculous notion of absolute powers.”[i]

The Bible portrays God as possessing unlimited power. His “power is vast” (Job 9:4). He is “the Lord strong and mighty” (Ps. 24:8), “great and awesome” (Deut. 7:2.1), “the LORD Almighty, the Mighty One of Israel” (Isa.1:24). “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you. You show love to thousands but bring the punishment for the father’s sins into the laps of their children after them. O great and powerful God, whose name is the Lord Almighty, great are your purposes and mighty are your deeds” (Jer. 32:17—l9a). Creation is a testimony to “his great power and mighty strength” (Isa. 40:26). He is Lord, Owner, Ruler, and King of all creation, whom none can resist or overpower (Matt. 1125; Rev. 1:8; Ps. 29:10; Jer. 10:7, 10). He is “the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor.6:18; Rev. 4:8;11:17), “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of Lords” (I Tim.6:15). Nothing is too difficult for Him; all things are within His power (Gen. 18:14; Zech. 8:6; Jer. 32:27; Matt.19:26; Luke1:37). Whatever He pleases, that He does (Ps. 115:3; 135:6; Isa.14:24, 27; 46:10; 55:11).

The God of the Bible is omnipotent; He has the ability and power to do anything. Even one of the Hebrew names for God, El Shaddai, speaks of His power. El speaks of God, and Shaddai means “almighty.” His name refers to His awesome strength and might. Job said, “If it is a matter of power, behold, He is the strong one!” (Job9:19) He realized that absolute strength and might belong to God alone. The Apostle John exclaimed “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth” (Rev. 19:6 KJV). Isaiah said of God’s awesome power, “The nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering. All the nations are as nothing before Him, they are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless” (Isa. 40:15-17).

God is surely omnipotent in every sense of the word. Surely no evangelical would dare to suggest otherwise. Think again. There are a group of self-professed evangelicals who declare that God’s omnipotence is limited by our autonomous free will. Open-view theists, as represented by Clark Pinnock, shout at the top of their lungs, “The relation of God to the creature is asymmetrical. The Creator gives life and freedom to the creature and voluntarily limits the exercise of His power in relation to it… Though no power can stand against him, God wills the existence of creatures with the power of self-determination. This means that God is a superior power who does not cling to his right to dominate and control but who voluntarily gives creatures room to flourish. By inviting them to have dominion over the world (for example), God willingly surrenders power and makes possible a partnership with the creature.”[ii]

This is biblically unfounded. The omnipotence of God is essential for all the other attributes of God. If He is not omnipotent, how can He be self-existent? If His power is anything less than infinite, then how can it be eternal? How can God be omnipresent or omniscient if He is not the Almighty? How can He be the Creator and Sustainer of all things unless His power knows no beginning or end? Does human free will in any way limit God’s sovereignty?[iii]judgment, honour,

I.          The Importance of God’s Omnipotence

God’s omnipotence is manifested in any number of ways. It is seen in creation (Ps. 33:6; Ps. 19; Gen. l:lff.; Isa.45:12; Rom. 1:20; etc.); in preservation (Col. 1:17); in providence (Heb. 1:3); in redemption (Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor. 1:22-24; Eph. 3:20-21); and in judgment (Rom.9:22). His omnipotence, as we have seen with omniscience and omnipresence, is also of immense practical significance. It is, in the first place, a reason for praise and worship.

Charnock wrote, “Wisdom and power are the grounds of the respect we give to men; they being both infinite in God, are the foundation of a solemn honour to be returned to him by his creatures. If a man make a curious engine, we honour him for his skill; if another vanquish a vigorous enemy, we admire him for his strength; and shall not the efficacy of God’s power in creation, government, redemption, inflame us with a sense of the honour of his name and perfections! We admire those princes that have vast empires, numerous armies, that have a power to conquer their enemies, and preserve their own people in peace; how much more ground have we to pay a mighty reverence to God, who, without trouble and weariness, made and manages this vast empire of the world by a word and beck! What sensible thoughts have we of the noise of thunder, the power of the sun, the storms of the sea! These things, that have no understanding, have struck men with such a reverence that many have adored them as gods. What reverence and adoration doth this mighty power, joined with an infinite wisdom in God, demand at our hands!”[iv]

This attribute is an especially ominous warning to those who think they somehow can resist God’s judgment. “How foolish is every sinner! Can we poor worms strut it out against infinite power?”[v] “Oh, that every obstinate sinner”, pleads Charnock, “would think of this, and consider his unmeasurable boldness in thinking himself able to grapple with omnipotence! What force can any have to resist the presence of him before whom rocks melt, and the heavens at length shall be shriveled up as a parchment by the last fire! As the light of God’s face is too dazzling to be beheld by us, so the arm of his power is too mighty to be opposed by us.”[vi]

But like all the other excellencies of God, omnipotence is even more a comfort to those who are His children. It is a comfort to them when persecuted and oppressed: “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps. 27:1). It is a comfort and encouragement when we are beset by temptations: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up against it” (I Cor. 10:13). God’s infinite ability to answer prayer is affirmed by Paul (Eph. 3:20-21) in a most glorious way. John Stott explains: “(1) He is able to do or to work (POIĒSAI), for he is neither idle, nor inactive, nor dead. (2) He is able to do what we ask, for he hears and answers prayer. (3) He is able to do what we ask or think, for he reads our thoughts, and sometimes we imagine things for which we dare not and therefore do not ask. (4) He is able to do all that we ask or think, for he knows it all and can perform it all. (5) He is able to do more …than (HYPER, “beyond”) all that we ask or think, for his expectations are higher than ours. (6) He is able to do much more, or more abundantly (PERISSŌS), than all that we ask or think, for he does not give his grace by calculated measure. (7) He is able to do very much more, far more abundantly, than all that we ask or think, for he is a God of super-abundance.”[vii]

There is yet more! We may be strengthened in knowing that all He has promised He will, because He can, fulfill (Jude 24-25). It is God’s infinite and incomparable power among other things, on which our assurance of salvation is based: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish, no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand (John 1028-29; see also Rom. 8:31-39). With the twenty-four elders we can but exclaim: You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you have created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being (Rev. 4:11).

Conclusion: What about our free will? Does God exercise His sovereignty in this area as well? Both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach that God is Sovereign over all things including mankind (I Sam. 2:3-10; Acts 17:26). As the book of Daniel declares, “The Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind” (Daniel 4:25,34-37). The only people pictured in the Bible as rebelling against God’s sovereign control of all things are the wicked (Psalm 2:1-4; Daniel 4). The Bible nowhere even remotely suggests that God is not sovereign or that He has in anyway divested Himself of His sovereignty. God’s control over all things is viewed as a necessary truth by which the saints lived their daily lives (Job 42:2; James 4:13-15). “Does God’s sovereignty mean that man is not accountable for his sin? No! Does this mean that man is a robot? No! Does this mean fatalism? No! It is actually the other way around. Because God is sovereign, He has the right to hold man responsible for his words and deeds. Because God is sovereign, there will be a Day of Judgment. Because He is sovereign, He imposes His law on man regardless if man wants it, and will hold him responsible to keep it even when man rejects it!”[viii]

References

[i] C. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority V (Word Books, 1982), p. 319.

 

[ii] Clark Pinnock, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (IVP, 1994), p. 112.

[iii] Arminians insist that we possess free-will in the absolute sense. How could they know such a thing? They usually insist that it is so obvious that only a perverse mind could think otherwise. But reasonably intelligent and godly people have in fact been led to deny free will, so perhaps it is not so obvious to them. Obviousness may be mere self-deception. Claiming that people who do not accept the freewill theory are morally defective human beings is merely abuse, not reasoned argument. A reasoned argument requires correct presuppositions, a series of connected syllogisms or connected implications that do not violate the laws of logic, and at least one conclusion that is warranted by the premises. To a rational mind, such a conclusion is the stuff of real progress in the search for truth. The Calvinist readily agrees that it is indeed obvious that we make real choices and that therefore the will exists as a capacity for decision-making. But this is a far cry from accepting the popular freewill theory about how the will behaves. Why can’t the will be “free” in a sense that the Arminian (or any other freewiller or libertarian) has never thought of? There are several ways we might think of the will as free. The will may be said to be free to perform some choices, but not others. Martin Luther, in his classic The Bondage of the Will observed that we are free to do many things “in the world.” These would include eating or fasting, choosing coffee rather than tea for breakfast, or taking a course in French history rather than Russian. However, when it comes to spiritual things, we are much more limited, having no spiritual ability to even understand what God wants, let alone the power to do it. Meanwhile, the issue that separates the Reformed from both the Pelagian and the Arminian is not whether we make real choices or not, or whether the will is real or not, but whether it is free in the sense demanded by the Arminian. Again, the will may be free in the sense that it is not constrained by natural forces from the outside to go one way rather than another, but it may still be able to act in harmony with other elements of the personality such as the intellect or some internal habituation, such as the effects of alcoholism. It may act quite freely in giving expression to the inner character. That is, the will may be free in that it freely expresses our nature without being autonomous or acting without a previous cause. This is the sense in which the Westminster Confession speaks of free will in its ninth chapter: “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that it is neither forced nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.” There is nothing in this inconsistent with Calvinism, and it is hardly likely that the Westminster divines wanted to express Arminianism! Cf. The excellent discussion of this subject by R. K. McGregor Wright, No Place for Sovereignty: What’s Wrong With Free-will Theism? (IVP, 1996), pp. 50-55.

[iv] S. Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (rpt. Klock & Klock, 1979), p. 428.

[v] Ibid. p. 436.

[vi] Ibid. p. 437. Open View theist, Richard Rice refers to Charnock’s work as a classic and after quoting him several times writes, “It is not difficult to see why this elevated view of God has attracted widespread support over the centuries and even why many people find it religiously helpful. It preserves God’s radical transcendence and affirms God’s sovereignty by giving him complete control over the universe. It conveys the assurance that everything in our lives happens in precise accordance with God’s will. And it enjoys the apparent support of many biblical passages.” Rice then proceeds to try and show that Charnock and the vast majority of Christians down through the ages have misread the Scriptures! Cf., his article in The Openness of God p. 15.

[vii] J. R. W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians (IVP, 1979), p. 139 and C. Samuel Storms, The Grandeur of God: A Theological and Devotional Study of the Divine Attributes (Baker, 1984), pp. 97-106.

[viii] R. A. Morey, Battle of the Gods (Crown, 1989), p. 246.

The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life

 

The Ten Commandments provide “the fundamental pointers we need for our concourse with God and our neighbors,” writes Professor J. Douma in this work. As the subtitle indicates, the Ten Commandments are a manual for the Christian life, relevant to all thought and experience.

In this commentary on the commandments, Douma tackles the difficult yet practical issues of our time with insight, thoroughness, and faithfulness to God’s Word. Discussions of the commandments span current issues from religious art to sorcery and witchcraft, from Sunday observance to civil disobedience, from abortion to euthanasia and suicide.

Because the commandments speak to every area of life, this volume lends itself to a wide range of uses. Pastors, professors, counselors, and interested laypeople will gain much wisdom and direction from the careful and up-to-date exposition, as well as from the thoughtful and necessary application.

About the author: J. Douma is respected internationally for his perceptive interpretation and careful application of Scripture in relation to contemporary moral problems. He is a minister among the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (liberated) and Professor of Ethics at the Theological University in Kampen. Among his more than twenty published works is a fifteen-volume series entitled Moral Reflection, three volumes of which have been combined into the English publication of The Ten Commandments.

Endorsements:

“When the law of god is eclipsed, the gospel is obscured. This book imparts the light of the law with such clarity that the character of God is made wonderfully plain to us.” —R.C. Sproul

“Applicable, practical, and accessible—a commentary on the Ten Commandments should be all of these things. This thoroughly biblical and forthrightly Reformed work satisfies these requirements and more and thus should be a welcome addition to any bookshelf.” —George Grant

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