Enjoying the Omnipotence of GodPosted: June 2, 2014
Puritan Richard Baxter writes,
From this greatness and immensity of God also your soul must reverently stay all its busy, bold inquiries, and know that God is to us, and to every creature, incomprehensible. If you could fathom or measure him, and know his greatness by a comprehensive knowledge, he were not God. A creature can comprehend nothing but a creature. You may know God, but not comprehend him; as your foot treads on the earth, but does not cover all the earth. The sea is not the sea, if you can hold it in a spoon.”
Defining God’s Omnipotence
Chapter eight in our book covers the doctrine theologians call the omnipotence of God, commonly referred to in the Reformed circles as the Sovereign Power of God. The term omnipotencecomes from the Latin Potestas which means power, and Omni meaning all – thus we use the theological term omnipotence to describe that God is the all-powerful one. As creatures we have power too, this attribute is communicable, but incommunicable in that our power is limited, whereas God’s power is without limits or an end. God alone has self-existent power; this is something we do not have. The Scriptures teach of God’s incommunicable power (Omnipotence) specifically in three ways;
1. He alone has infinite power in Ephesians 1:19-23 “and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”
2. He alone has eternal power in Romans 1:20 “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
3. He alone has unchangeable power in Isa. 40:28 “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.
The Misconceptions of God’s Omnipotence
1. Total Omnipotence: This is the doctrine of scholastics who claim that God is capable of doing everything without any limitation whatsoever. They are usually those who commonly enjoy telling others that God cannot be placed in a box. This understanding of total omnipotence leads to absurd conclusions that God for example can sin, cease to exist, effect contradictions making yes equal no, or the common question I get in seminary, “what if God chose to leave the Trinity” as if an unchangeable covenant between them could take place. It is important for us to know that the Scriptures make it clear that there are things that God cannot do. God is not a man that he should lie, and we know God cannot lie. 2 Tim. 2:13 we read, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.” God will keep his promise in remaining faithful and cannot deny himself. James 1:13 reads, “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot be tempted with evil. The Scriptures, the very Word of the Lord himself limits what God can or cannot do. God does not have unqualified power to unaccountable changes of mood or behavior (commonly called capricious (ca-pri-cious). Three things in God’s character limit his power; One, his ideality, he is ideal. Two, His immutability, he is unchangeable, and three, his sovereignty, he cannot do something against his decree. The point we need to maintain on omnipotence is that God is consistent in his nature and cannot do something inconsistent with his own perfections.
2. Actual Omnipotence: This view of God’s Omnipotence claims that God can only do what he actually does since he is unchangeable. Some people have dressed this up and called it process theology (which I mentioned before when dealing with God’s immutability). Those who espouse this error try to disconnect God in every way discretely from the evil they see in the world. This particular understanding of omnipotence teaches that God cannot do anything about it, that he is helpless in himself, that he cannot fix or aid the problem of sin within the world. God is doing the best he can and would put an end to evil if he could, but he cannot. This depreciates and belittles God’s credibility and weakens him in that it would make God a liar, because God has repeatedly asserted that God is over all things, good, and even evil. For example we read in Eph. 1:11, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” Jesus himself asserts that this is false in Matt. 26:53, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Jesus could have summoned angels, but refrained from doing what he could have done.
Biblical Concept of God’s Omnipotence: In summary God can do anything and everything that he wills to do merely by willing it, since nothing can restrain him and nothing is too hard for him. This omnipotence is commonly broken down into three areas by theologians.
1. Concrete Substance: Most Reformed theologians (Calvin, Berkhof, Bavinck, and Brakel) refer to this as God’s ordinate power. This relates to what God ordains and orders and purposes to do. They recognize the close association of God’s will and God’s power. God’s power is part of his sovereign will. There is overlap here; systematic theologian Louis Berkhof “classifies it as an attribute of sovereignty.” The great Princeton Theologian Charles Hodge distinguishes the power of God from the sovereignty of God. While yet the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck: doesn’t give it separate treatment, he states “there is a great deal of overlap” between the power and sovereignty of God. Because I am more infatuated with the Dutch than Presbyterians, I have followed Bavinck’s example this morning – combining the Lord’s power overlapped with his sovereign rule (joking of course).
The focus on the word sovereignty draws our attention to the authority of God. God has power to effect and bring to pass what he will. Sovereignty has the right to do what he wills. The difference is in this area, it differs on the exclusive right of God that he disposes of creation as he wills. This is what man hates to hear, because man despises anything that challenges his autonomy. Man resists sovereign power because that gives God the right to do with us as he will. Some Reformed theologians properly define it as God’s sovereign will, like Berkhof (Cf. page 80) and Stephen Charnock (page 364) and Charles Hodge (vol. 1, 407-8). This teaches us three things: One, to give the Almighty the praise and honor that are his due, two, we ought to face our own limitations to recognize that we are not omnipotent, our entire life depends on God, and three, we should trust God and not charge him foolishly even when we experience severe afflictions.
2. Supernatural Instrument: God can do everything merely by willing it. That is the supernatural instrument. He needs no other means (Ps. 33). He is capable of working miraculously without created means and working above them at his pleasure, even though he usually works through means.
3. Infinite Source:Since nothing can restrain God, nothing is too hard for him – this is hard to grasp in our finite minds. The Scriptures speaks that nothing is too hard for the Lord. This infinite source is an infinite source for us in daily life as well. It speaks of the infinite potentiality of God, who serves in relationship to resistance, in relation to difficulty, and in relation to feasibility. No amount of opposition can oppose successfully God’s design, and there is no task God cannot complete. Nothing is beyond the realm of feasible for God, to do exceeding above what we ask or think, as Paul reminds us in Eph. 3:20. “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Some refer to this as God’s absolute power, because the Scripture presents it in absolute terms. The actual exercise of God’s power does not express its limits in absolute power of God. God’s power to do everything falls within the scope of God’s infinite potentiality. This distinction is used discreetly and we must have great caution here as well because some scholastics have employed this distinction of total omnipotence. There is a sense in which we can speak of God’s absolute power, but not mean total omnipotence. For a further study on this area, you can read Louis Berkhof on page 80 or Charles Hodge in volume 1 on page 409 on God’s supernatural power exercised without means.
Practical Applications taken from God’s Omnipotence
1. This should teach us that all rebellion is futile.
2. This should teach us to trust God in all situations to believe what he says and what he promises to do, even if it is scientifically impossible. Past Example, Sarah laughed, but God rebuked her for laughing, there were those who laughed at the plagues of Egypt, but God rebuked. Present Example, today the world laughs at creation but God will rebuke. It is important to understand that God’s Word is true – let God be true, because every man is a liar.
3. As for pastors, it can become depressing I am sure to not come across, or see conversions taking place in one’s congregation they are ministering in. This doctrine should teach the pastor and his members that God’s infinite potential is able to convert the most hardened sinner. We cannot do it and we learn that more and more by experience. No matter how wholeheartedly one may preach, the pastor does not convert the sinner, but with God all things are possible because of his power, men like Saul become Paul.
The Display of God’s Omnipotence
One can see God’s sovereign power in a number of ways within the Scriptures.
- God’s Omnipotence in Creation: Psalm 33:6-9, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
- God’s Omnipotence in Providence: Jeremiah 32:17-19, “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. You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, great in counsel and mighty indeed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.”
- God’s Omnipotence in Salvation: Luke 2, the virgin birth, miracles of Christ, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension and the application of salvation by his Spirit.
- God’s Omnipotence in Eschatology: The consummation of salvation here takes place, the 2nd coming of Christ, the glorification of the Church, the purification of the world by fire, the Final Judgment, eternal punishment of the wicked, eternal glory of heaven, and the abyss of hell; all proclaim God’s omnipotence sovereign power and rule over all things.
The Practical Relevance of God’s Omnipotence
- God’s supreme power instructs his people, it instructs us to bend the knee to no man and to call no man master, to serve the Lord not to live in the face of fear of man.
- God’s supreme power helps us to see deceivers for what they really are.
- God’s supreme power comforts his people in that what he has done for us, he will continue to do, until his return in Jesus Christ.
- God’s supreme power exhorts his people to bless him and praise him in creation, providence and redemption, to acknowledge and honor him, and to have confidence in him.
- God’s supreme power exhorts us to obey him and hope and wait for him, to seek him with great expectancy.
- God’s supreme power calls sinners to cease rebellion against the Lord and flee to Jesus Christ for pardon before such power consumes them.