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Monday, January 25, 2016

God is (Not) Omnipotent

God's Omnipotence and His Sovereignty go hand in hand. He would have to be Omnipotent if He is to be Sovereign. That is, He would have to have all power in order to maintain all authority. Still, we live in a day when God's Sovereignty and, right alongside, His Omnipotence are in question.

You might hear the Omnipotence question put like this. "Is God so powerful that He can make a rock too big for Him to pick up?" Or, perhaps, "Is God so powerful that He can make an unstoppable ball and an inpenetrable wall?" You know ... nonsense. "Clearly," these folk will end up, "God does not exist." Except they miss the part where it's nonsense.

Omnipotence is not defined as having the power to do anything at all. That, too, is nonsense. It is defined as having all power. "Omni" is "all"; it is a reference to God possessing all power that exists. He does not possess power that does not exist, such as the self-contradictory power to create round squares or the self-contradictory power to create a rock too big for Him to pick up. Indeed, even if He could, why would He? He's not stupid. God can do anything that can be done. (Note: That includes a vast number of things that humans cannot do or even imagine (Eph 3:20-21).) That's Omnipotence. "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." (Psa 115:3) That's Omnipotence. "'Ah, Lord GOD! It is You who have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for You." (Jer 32:17) That's Omnipotence.

Unfortunately, the assault on God's Omnipotence does not come only from the skeptic and the critic. It also comes from believers. It is often the same attack that they throw at His Sovereignty. "God demonstrates His Sovereignty," they will say, "by withholding His Sovereignty." So He does not practice His Sovereignty but allows Man to be sovereign (the change to lowercase is not accidental) and, in doing so, is Sovereign. By the same token, God's Omnipotence is surely displayed in His withdrawal of it. He could alter your will with His power, but He doesn't. He could heal or save or whatever you wish to use here, but He doesn't because of our lack of faith. This one is really quite prevalent. God could save everyone, but He is limited by our faith. He cannot save until we believe. It all sounds very noble and such, but it is still saying, "God does not have the power to save (or heal or ...) if we do not give Him permission to do so in our lives." We'll even rage against the faith healers who limit God's power with our faith -- "God could heal you if you only had the faith" -- while we nod approvingly that God lacks the ability to save us if we lack the faith. In the end, both God's Sovereignty and His Omnipotence are held in check -- by His choice, apparently -- by Man's faith or, rather, lack thereof.

Over against this, we find actual references in Scripture to God acting in opposition to Man's free will and even his faith. We see God overriding Man's Free Will in Genesis 20 when God tells Abimelech, "It was I who kept you from sinning against Me." (Gen 20:6) We cannot miss the repeated claim that "the Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart" (Exo 10:20, 27; Exo 11:10). Worse, John claims that God "has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." (John 12:40) We see God working apart from the limitations of human faith when we read that a centurion's servant was healed on the basis of the faith of the centurion without any suggestion of faith in the servant (Matt 8:5-10) and a paralytic was forgiven and healed not on the basis of his faith, but on the basis of the faith of his friends (Mark 2:2-12). Jesus healed the blind man without his permission (so to speak) (John 9:1-7) and the crippled man at the pool of Siloam without being asked (John 5:1-9). When Jesus raised Lazarus, there wasn't the slightest indication that anyone believed He could do it (John 11:1-44). Conversely, we read that God grants belief (Phil 1:29) and repentance (2 Tim 2:25), negating the problem of mustering up personal faith and repentance.

There is an amazingly large number of Christians who say they embrace fully God's Sovereignty and Omnipotence while they limit His Sovereignty and Omnipotence. These attributes are always, it seems, limited by believers to Man's Free Will in some sense -- either faith or choice or something similar. Many generally sound Christians are holding two opposing views and agreeing with them both -- that God is absolutely Sovereign and Omnipotent ... and He is not. I don't understand.


Bob said...

there is simply not enough room in this post for all the verses covering the sovereignty of God.
All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
The Spirit is the One who gives life. The flesh doesn’t help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.

Stan said...

And, yet, the numbers of Christians who stand by their conclusion that God is most Sovereign when He limits His Sovereignty is staggering.

Josh said...

Could God limit His own power and sovereignty, or is that like the "rock so big he couldn't move" example?

Bob said...

the statement "God is Most sovereign when he limits His Sovereignty" is such an oxymoron.
sovereignty exist only when it is exercised. the statement is just a word game. again when we try to exonerate God from being mean spirited, because He passes over some for salvation. when we limit God's sovereignty we create a Lessor God. Idolatry at its best.

Stan said...

It's like the "square circle" example. If "Sovereignty" has a definition (where Scripture refers to God as the "only Sovereign" (1 Tim 6:15)), then "limited Sovereignty" is a contradiction in terms just as "square" is to "circle". If "Omnipotent" means "having all power", then "limited power" is a contradiction to "all power".

Josh said...

What does God's Sovereignty and power look like in a practical way? Does God control all of our decisions, actions, plans? You (and Bob) seem to understand God's sovereignty as he elects some for salvation and some for damnation before they were born, but are all of our actions controlled by God.

Stan said...

"Control" is not the word I would use. But that's because I'm trying to be biblical about it. We know, for instance, that God "prevents" some from sinning (Gen 20:6). We know that "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." (Prov 16:9) We know, in fact, (and this may be a little bit disturbing to some) "The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble." (Prov 16:4)

What does it look like? Jesus knew Judas Iscariot would betray Him. Jesus said it had "been determined" (Luke 22:22). In the same sentence, He pronounced woe on him who would do it. (That is, Judas would be held responsible for his action.) And Jesus told him, "What you are going to do, do quickly." (John 13:27) We see Sovereignty here along with the choices people make without coercion. We see it in Acts 4 where "in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place." (Acts 4:27-28) No need for "control" or coercion, but neither is it Libertarian Free Will -- autonomy. The choice wasn't made for them, but it was allowed to occur for God's purposes. In this there is both Sovereignty on God's part and moral responsibility on Man's part.

At least, that's what Scripture seems to say. Logically, I can't grasp "limited sovereignty" as Sovereignty, so I'm stuck there, too.

Josh said...

You seem to be saying God allows some things, and doesn't allow some things. Was the choice between what God allows and doesn't allow actually real? Are there times where God is "okay" with multiple choices, or does God allow only the one we choose?

Stan said...

I'd love to answer that question, but I'm not sure what it means? Does God allow only the one we choose? I would say that the ones we do not choose He does not allow, but that's kind of silly. Would God allow a choice different than the one we actually made? I couldn't say. But, as before, you and I do not agree on the definition of "choice". I believe that a person who looks at A and B and chooses A made a choice whether or not it turned out that he (or she) could not have made choice B but never knew it. For you to call it "choice" you require autonomy. I cannot figure out how to lay Scripture against autonomy and make it fit.

Josh said...

Control: to direct the behavior of a person : to cause a person to do what you want.

If I believe my choices are A,B,and C, but God knows and allows that A is the only option, he controls me. Then I guess the question is, can you be held morally responsible for actions you had no "real" control over?

It would be like telling my 2 year old daughter to do something, and then punishing her every time she acts in the way I direct her to act. What a ridiculous parent I would be.

Stan said...

Well, then, as I indicated, you and I are defining words differently and it becomes impossible to discuss, let alone come to a consensus. And if you are thinking that I'm nodding my head and saying, "Yep, that whole beat your daughter for doing what I told her to do" is what I'm saying is the biblical idea of Sovereignty, we're way beyond a failure to communicate.

Interestingly, while you cling tenaciously to your Libertarian Free Will as the only possible definition, you offer neither a biblical source for it or a correlation of the biblical texts to your position. It appears as if you just don't like the biblical version.

David said...

I'm not sure how options B and C not actually being viable makes them no less a choice. We don't know the outcome of any choice, so real or perceived makes no difference toward our culpability. We are responsible for our choices because we made them. Not having all the "information" is not an excuse. We make our choices based on the options presented. I mean, how often do we act not on reality but our perception of reality? The insane person that murders the man because he believes him to be the devil doesn't make him any less culpable for his action. To him, in his reality, that person was the devil. In our perception, we have real, viable options. Whether or not those options are real or perceived is irrelevant because we still made the choice.

Josh said...

If I program a robot to kill my neighbor's dog, the police don't arrest my robot. If I do exactly what God programmed me to do, who is culpable for my actions? So, whether choices are real or perceived is entirely relevant. Also, insane people are not always considered culpable. It's called not guilty by reason of insanity.

Josh said...

"Choose life so your descendants may live" Deut. 30:11-19

Adam and Eve being able to choose to obey or not.

"Good man, brings forth good fruit, from the good stored up in his heart." Luke 6:43-45

Solomon's heart turned away from the Lord 1 Kings 11: 6-9

Zedekiah was stiff necked, hardened his heart and wouldn't turn to the Lord. 2 Chron. 36:12–13

Wash the evil from your heart and be saved Jeremiah 4:14

The Pharisees rejected God's plan for them. Luke 7:30

Israel makes plans that are contrary to Gods. Is 30:1

God has willed that Israel would turn back to Him, but they weren't willing. Matt 23: 37

Bob said...

what happens when we have the scriptures on one hand had our philosophy on the other?
we either manipulate the scriptures to fit our philosophy. OR we modify our philosophy to fit the scriptures. the difficulty at times is that we believe that we should expect to fully understand the concept of Sovereignty. there are in the scriptures concepts of Sovereignty that are difficult to reconcile philosophically, but never the less are presented by God as true. will we tenaciously hold to a philosophy in opposition to the scriptures just because it offends our world view? or will we except the scriptures at face value.
Rom 8:29 For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers.
Here is sovereignty in your face, with out apology..

Stan said...

I'm not sure, Josh, but it appears as if you are consciously refusing to accept my repeated claim that "control" is not in mind here. I have stated over and over that this is not in view. You appear to believe that either I'm lying or simply insane -- I do believe what I deny I believe and don't know it.

In the biblical version, Jesus knew (in advance) that Judas would betray Him. Jesus in person and God in heaven could certainly have prevented that particular option. They did not. Thus, it was "ordained", "chosen", "allowed" ... but not controlled. There was no programming, no force, no command, no coercion. Judas chose to betray Christ with God's full knowledge that he would. The same is true in the description of "Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel" (Acts 4:27-28). No coercion, force, or programming. They chose it freely. On the other hand, God prevented Abimelech from sinning (Gen 20:6). Thus God can (as Sovereign) opt to intervene in human will or He can opt to allow humans to proceed with their own choices. God does not cause someone to do evil. This is why I believe there is free will (lowercase) -- the ability to make uncoerced choices -- for which we are responsible.

Your string of verses that tells me what I already believe is true -- human beings have the ability to make uncoerced choices -- doesn't provide a basis for your Libertarian Free Will or explain how your version of an unsovereign Sovereign fits with any of the short list of Scriptures I've offered.

Bob said...

Romans 18 So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden.
19 You will say to me, therefore, “Why then does He still find fault? For who can resist His will? ” 20 But who are you, a mere man, to talk back to God? Will what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this? ” 21 Or has the potter no right over the clay, to make from the same lump one piece of pottery for honor and another for dishonor? 22 And what if God, desiring to display His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction? 23 And what if He did this to make known the riches of His glory on objects of mercy that He prepared beforehand for glory — 24 on us, the ones He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

Stan said...

My claim (the claim I make from the Bible) is that God possesses all power and is the only Sovereign. It appears that the counterclaim is "No, that's not true." I've offered a brief set of Scriptures as to why I make that claim from the Bible and I'm waiting for both the logical and biblical reason why God does not possess all power and is not the only Sovereign. That is not forthcoming. Instead all I get is strawman and red herring arguments.

Josh said...

Bob, Read Jeremiah 18 for a fuller understanding of what Romans 9 is saying. God molds the clay based on the properties of the clay. Our choices affect what God uses us for. Also, the context of Romans 9 is not individual salvation, it is the status of the Jews and the Gentiles.

Stan, I agree with you God possesses all power and is the only Sovereign. Maybe all this disagreement is for naught. It is possible that I am arguing against a strawman.

Maybe our disagreement lies in the rule and the exception. You have admitted that God, can opt to intervene in human will. I don't dispute this point, but I would argue that it is the exception to the rule. For the most part, humans operate on their own volition or free will. Scripture is clear that humans can and do operate contrary to God's will. I would say then the rule is a world with free will, the exception is at times God intervenes (in some unknown way) to affect our will.

Stan said...

Josh, I think that you are right ... that there is a lot of disagreement over what is thought to be claimed rather than what is claimed. I do believe that God is Sovereign. I believe, in fact, that God is Sovereign over salvation as well. That is, God (not we) determines who will be saved. (Be careful. I do not believe that God prevents anyone from being saved. I believe that Man, left to his own natural inclinations, would never choose to be saved.) The more common view is that we determine our own salvation, that God offers it freely to everyone and who takes it is determined by who takes it, not God. Thus, the more common view is that we, in the end, are the final arbiter of our salvation, not God.

By the way, if, as you suggest to Bob, Romans 9 is saying that the Potter molds clay based on the properties of the clay (I don't see it in Jeremiah 18, either), then Romans 9 contradicts itself when it claims "So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy" (Rom 9:16) because "the properties of the clay" are, indeed, human will and human effort. Further, the objection Paul is answering (Rom 9:19-21) makes no sense if God shapes the pottery "based on the properties of the clay". No one has an objection if that is the case. The objection is "Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" The answer is, "You can. You determine your outcome."

One other note. I agree wholeheartedly that humans routinely oppose God's will. But then I need to step back and ask, "In what sense?" Because Scripture is clear that God always accomplishes His will. So I believe "God's will" has various senses (three that I'm aware of), two of which can be and are violated and a third which is not. (I'm not offering a full explanation, but you can read one here.)

David said...

I've always believed that any time we violate God's will, it is regard to what He desires for or from us. Anytime Scripture speaks of God always accomplishing His will, it is not in regard to what He desires from or for us, but rather what He Wills. This Will is irresistible and unable to be contradicted or thwarted. So, the will we continually thwart is things like His law or holy living, but not what His Ultimate plan is. If we were able to thwart that, He would be an impotent God wringing His hands on the hopes that we'll cooperate. This is why we believe that anyone that believes in Man's Free Will is diminishing the Sovereignty and Omnipotence of God.

I still haven't seen a cogent rebuttal to the claims in Scripture that both salvation and faith (and by way of faith, belief) are gifts from God. If they are something we are able to muster without His gifting, we are somehow better than those that didn't. And that leaves us something (ever how small it may be) to boast in. A choice is still an action in this context, and this constitutes a work.

Bob said...

i am sure this is just a small point that may have been overlooked.
Jer 18 states its conditions with prefix "IF" nowhere does it explicitly state that they can.
when reading the text, there is the tendency to assume because the demand is placed; it must therefore imply that they are able to perform. Jer 18 says more about what God will do and less about what the people can do. theology by implication, is the assumption that because a demand is stated; that means people can perform and fulfill the demand. consider the fact that the Law requires/demands for us to obey, but we cannot obey. does the law imply that we can "yes".. does it explicitly state that we can "no" rather it is explicitly taught from the same scripture "that we cannot obey the requirements of the law."
the explicit always trumps the implicit.

Stan said...

There goes Bob, getting all "bibley" on us.

Bob said...

i am still waiting for the scripture reference that explicitly states " that man has freewill"
could someone please show us where God explicitly states/explains to us the nature of man's freewill.
strangely silent...

Stan said...

I think, Bob, that something akin to "free will" can easily be implied (perhaps even necessary) by 1) the calls to choose and 2) the responsibility of choice. What I find lacking is anything that says that Man has autonomy, Libertarian Free Will, freedom to choose apart from God. The Bible is indeed quite silent on the nature of free will.

Josh said...

Isn't that argument true of Romans 9 as well. It says what IF God wished to demonstrate his wrath... It never explicitly states he desires to demonstrate his wrath. Which implicit trumps which then?

Also, Jer 18:6 is explicit. 6 “House of Israel, can I not treat you as this potter treats his clay?”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Just like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, house of Israel.

Stan, You are right the Bible seems unclear about the nature of free will. This is why there is a great deal of debate around the subject. It seems that saying "I am just using the Bible to draw my conclusions" is kind of misleading. The Bible isn't clear about the nature of free will, therefore we can't draw our conclusions about it solely from the Bible.

Stan said...

Josh, you and I can rationalize about the nature of free will all day long. My version, however, is limited because I have to fit it within a biblical framework (instead of vice versa). To say, "Free will can mean this or this or that" is all well and good, but to say, "The Bible cannot mean what it says here because my definition of Free Will precludes it." From a biblical perspective, we would have to say, "Free will can mean this or this but not that because that won't fit within the biblical limitations."

And if I, at some point, have suggested that the only place I get any of my information or conclusions is the Bible, I have been unclear. The Bible didn't teach me math or geography or physics. It is not the same thing to say "I draw my conclusions from the Bible" as to say "I use no other source for my conclusions but the Bible."

David Langley said...

Is God’s power greater than the sum of all other powers (unlimited), or is his power the greatest power of any single being, yet limited at some point? If God is omnipotent (infinite power / sum of all powers), he obviously does what he wants when he wants, which precariously presents this passive deistic allowance of evil. If God is not omnipotent but still is - as Scripture clearly attributes to him - the most high God, with power over all other beings, he contends against evil but not with unlimited resources (Daniel 10:13).

The concept of God's power in Scripture CLEARLY testifies to his power over earthly beings, over creation, and over evil and darkness. But does that necessitate his unilateral omnipotence? Or is it simply, his demonstrably superior (albeit, limited) power to all other beings?

It appears to me that, in Scripture, the origin of the specific term "sovereignty" (or omnipotence) comes exclusively from the term El Shaddai, and that’s only because the authors of the Septuagint often translated it as “omnipotence”. But for what I’ve found in my personal studies, the origin of the word is anything but certain, and almost assuredly does not bear the meaning of omnipotence. In Job (far and away the most frequent user of the term), Shaddai could evoke the idea of his might, whereas most other use cases in the OT evoke either the idea of his sufficiency / blessing towards people (most often outside of Job), or his destruction (twice in all the OT).

If God's power is superior but limited, do the implications undermine who we believe him to be? Does it make him any less "god"? Can we read Scripture texts about his might and ability and authority, and maintain such a notion about his power?

Stan said...

"If God's power is superior but limited, do the implications undermine who we believe him to be?"

Scripture is clear. There are things God cannot do. He can't die. He can't lie. He can't fail. In short, He can't be not God.

The two words translated "sovereign" in the New Testament are not rooted in "El Shaddai". One is despotēs (from which we get our word, "despot", today). It is the absolute ruler. The other is dunastēs. Rooted in "dunamis", it is the one with all power. This second one is found in 1 Tim 6:15 where Paul refers to God as "He who is the blessed and only Sovereign." The one and only. "Sovereign" refers to rulership -- all authority -- which includes the power to do so, while "omnipotent" refers only to the power without a reference to the authority.

El Shaddai is often translated "Almighty" and I don't think it's in error, but the Hebrew origin is in the concept of "mountains" or, more to the point, "breasts". The term refers to the "double-breasted one" where God is depicted as the "All-sufficient One".

Whether or not you accept "all-powerful" as "omnipotent" in an unlimited fashion or as the possessor of all power that exists, if we accept a God who is not capable of doing everything He intends, we accept a God who is not worthy of being called God, a God who does not match up to the biblical description of God.