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Sunday, August 19, 2012

God, the Omnipotent

If there is one thing that we know about God's nature, it's that He's "all powerful". He is omnipotent. As the Hallelujah Chorus quotes from the 19th chapter of Revelation, "Hallelujah! For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth." And it's not just thanks to Handel's Messiah. Everyone else knows it, too.

It has become a skeptics delight, in fact. "If God is omnipotent, does He have the power to make a rock too big for Him to pick up?" Nice. Stupid, but nice. "Aha!" they are saying, "We've got you now." And, in fact, if we're not careful, they would. So what does it mean to say that God is "omnipotent"?

The word in the text above is pantokrator, where the roots pan means "all" and kratos means "vigor, dominion, power". It's used 10 times in the New Testament (9 times in Revelation alone), always of God. Generally it's translated "almighty". Sometimes it's used as the very name of God -- "the Almighty". Pretty straightforward, then, right?

The Old Testament word was popularized by an Amy Grant tune, El-Shaddai. This one comes directly from God. In Gen 17 God tells Abram, "I am the Almighty God, walk before Me and be perfect" (Gen 17:1). Literally, "I am El Shaddai." The origin of shaddai is a little more obscure. There appears to be some roots in the concept of a mountain, but the best indications are that it is related, in fact, to the breast. The best translation, then, would be "all-sufficient", as a mother's breast is to a suckling child. And, of course, all-sufficiency requires all power.

Okay, interesting, but what does it mean? The principle of God's omnipotence is that God can do whatever He wills. Now that concept is abundantly clear in Scripture. For instance, in both Psa 115:3 and Psa 135:6 we read, "He does whatever He pleases." Ephesians 1:11 assures us that He works all things after the counsel of His will. Of course, that's Sovereignty, but to accomplish this He would have to have the power to do so. Job told God, "I know that You can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted" (Job 42:2). When God promised Abraham that he would have a son and Sarah laughed, God asked Abraham, "Is anything too difficult for the Lord?" (Gen 18:14). God has all power.

Let's be clear about that. God has all power. He does not have power that does not exist. He has power over life and death. All authority is His. Satan is restrained or loosed by His power (Job 1:12; Luke 22:31-32; Rev 20:1-3). Even the things we do are subject to His power (James 4:12-15). If a power exists, it's His.

The question then becomes His exercise of that power. You see, God will not violate His own nature, as an example. He is good and for an omnipotent being to be not good is a violation of His nature, so He will not exercise that power. Nor can He manifest nonsense. That power doesn't exist. So He cannot make a square circle, for instance. He doesn't do logical contradictions. So the ever-popular "Omnipotent means able to do anything whatsoever" is nonsense. Don't fall for it. Doesn't happen.

It is said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The bad news is that's generally true with human beings. The good news is that it is not true in the case of God. God can do whatever God wills to do. He has that power. He is, by nature, the definition of both "good" and "love". Thus, His exercise of the absolute power He possesses is always good and loving. Who better to trust than that God?

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