By Pastor Glenn Pease
Alfred North Whitehead, one of the philosophical giants of the 20th century, said, "The glorification of power has broken more hearts than it has healed." He warns against the glorifying of even God's power. For the abuse of power all through history makes this attribute produce fear rather than faith.
If the authority figures in one's life have been people who abused power, than power will be seen as negative. For people who have lived with a tyrant father, or under a political tyrant, the concept of an all-powerful God is frightening. Whitehead points out that power is not good or evil in itself. It can be used for both, and so it is not worthy of worship in itself. Satan too has great power, but he is not worthy of worship because of that power, for his power is devoted to evil, and the destruction of all that is good.
Back in ancient Greek history men knew that power was dangerous, and that it was not a good thing even in the hands of the gods. Aesclyus wrote Prometheus Bound, and in it he tells of how Prometheus helped Zeus dethrone the Titans, and become the supreme God. But soon Prometheus was disillusioned, for Zeus used his power to rule lawlessly. He cared not for what was good for man, but only about sheer power. He was nothing but a big bully abusing his power. Prometheus loved man, and he saw sought to help men by giving him fire and general help in the use of his gifts and reason.
Zeus despised him for his love of man, and he chained him and tortured him.Prometheus would not bow to the power of Zeus. He became the hero of all who fight and resist tyranny. He said, "Worship, adore, court him who is now in power, But I, for Zeus less than naught do I care." He predicted that the chief God was doomed to fall in spite of his power, for power corrupts and leads to weakness. He said again,
"Then bravely there
Let him sit trusting in his heavenly thunders,
With hands that brandish his fire-breathing blot.
Naught shall avail these to prevent his falling
Ignoble with a fall intolerable."
Here is a pagan poet teaching us that power is not worthy of worship. If the pagan mind can come to this conclusion, then we need to be extremely careful in how we promote the omnipotence of God. It has often been so portrayed that it stimulates rebellion toward God rather than attraction. That which makes God attractive and worthy of worship is not His power, but His goodness. The Bible does not exalt power for power's sake, but, rather, exalts the moral qualities of God. It is the goodness, holiness, righteousness, and love that control the power of God. His power is always devoted to overcoming evil with good.
He has the power to judge and condemn, but that is always the last choice after He has exhausted every avenue to prevent it by His grace and mercy. He is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. In His grace He has made it possible for all to repent and be forgiven. His first use of power is always positive. It is used to prevent the negative use of power. The primary task of the prophets was to warn Israel and the other nations round about, so they could respond in repentance and obedience and not have to endure the power of God's judgment.
The whole Gospel is the power of God unto salvation. It is the story of God's power in providing a Savior, and God's power in overcoming Satan and death that there might be adequate provision for every sinner to become a child of God, and escape the judgment of God. God's power is directed toward a positive purpose, and it is limited by love. In other words, although God is all powerful, He cannot use that power for that which is inconsistent with His moral attributes. He cannot be unloving and unholy, and in any way be inconsistent with those attributes that make Him honorable, admirable, and worthy of our worship.
The God of the Bible cannot be a Zeus, who arbitrarily uses power to achieve selfish ends regardless of who gets hurt, and how unjust and immoral it might be. God cannot be a tyrant. All of His power must enhance the goals of love, and this is what makes the God of the Bible the God who alone is worthy of our love and worship. We only love God because He first loved us. If we do not present to men a God whom they can love, they will not love Him. That is why it is so important for us to understand the omnipotence of God. Lack of understanding, and misunderstanding, does great harm to the cause of God in the minds of men.
It is possible to pay God such great compliments that you destroy His glory in the minds of men. God is indeed almighty. This is one of the familiar names for God in the book of Revelation. John uses it 8 times. It is used only one other time in the entire New Testament. Paul uses it in II Cor. 6:18 as he quotes God saying, "I will be a father to you and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." The Greek word is pantokrater, which means all-powerful. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for almighty is used 48 times. All together God is called Almighty 57 times. These are sufficient to make it a part of the Apostle's Creed, which is quoted by millions of Christians all over the world as they repeat, "I believe in God the Father Almighty."
The problem comes when these millions of Christians assume that what they mean by this is that God can do anything. If that is what they really mean, then they have rejected the God of the Bible, and they have substituted a god of their own creation, and in doing so they make millions of people reject the God of the Bible in the process, because they are saying that their god is the God of the Bible. If God can do anything, then He is not worthy of our worship, for He can lie, deceive, break His promises, do evil, and give us no assurance that He will always be good. A God who can do anything is a God to be feared and not loved, for He can by mere whim decide to prefer evil over good. He can abuse His power just as Zeus did, and like Zeus, be rejected as unworthy of worship.
Thank God that the Bible does not reveal a God who can do anything. All His power is power with a purpose, and that purpose is determined by His total nature, and not just His strength. Power is not His primary characteristic. God is holy, good, just, and righteous, and all of His power is directed according to these qualities. His nature limits Him so that He cannot do what violates His nature. He is truth, and so He cannot lie. He is holy, and so He cannot do evil. R. A. Torrey in his book What The Bible Teaches writes, "The exercise of God's omnipotence is limited by His own wise and holy and loving will. God can do anything, but will do only what infinite wisdom, holiness, and love dictate."
Only limited power is good power, and only that kind of power can be honored and admired. You would not admire me if I used my power to do all the things of which I am capable. I have the power to throw a brick through the neighbors window. I have the power to stand on the organ and stomp its keys until they break. I have enormous power to be destructive, but I keep that power under control because it is a foolish use of power. It is not wise, helpful, or loving, and so I choose not to do what I could do. In sane people power is always under the control of their higher attributes of reason and common sense. Nobody who is sane does all they have the power to do.
The power to do evil is not a strength, but a weakness and defect if you choose to use it that way. When we become totally like Christ in our resurrected bodies, we too will be perfected, and it will be impossible for us to lie, or choose any other evil, for our nature will hate all evil. What we need to see that there is a great paradox here, and that true omnipotence is not being able to do everything, but being able to do anything that is good, true, and beautiful, with the negative ability to be able not to do anything that is destructive of the good, the true, and the beautiful. It is the very impossibility of God to do anything that destroys and hinders His perfect purpose that makes Him truly omnipotent.
A God who can do anything is not nearly as powerful as a God who can do only what achieves His purpose.
The God who can do anything can do that which destroys and hinders His purpose, and this makes Him weak, fallible, and a dangerous power. The God who can do only what achieves His goal is a joy and pleasure to Himself, and such a safe and secure God for man that He is ever worthy of worship and praise. This is the God of the Bible. He is the God who cannot do what is immoral, illogical, absurd, stupid, or self-contradictory.
If power is the ability to achieve purpose, then being all powerful as God is the ability to achieve all His purposes with no defect that could taint the purpose, and achieve it in any way that is inconsistent with His nature. Nothing is power that does not achieve His purpose, and so any evil in God, or inconsistency, or deviation from the goal which is unholy and unloving would not be power, but weakness. God has no such weakness. All His limitations are a part of His power. What He can't do is a major aspect of His omnipotence. Could He do anything that was not consistent with His purpose and nature, He would not be omnipotent.
This means that the list of things God cannot do are all valuable aspects of His power, for they define His purpose and make it clear. It is because He cannot be or do anything contrary to His purpose and character that He will achieve all of His purpose. If He could lie, He would have a weakness that could hinder His goal of truth, and He would not be omnipotent. What God cannot do is just as vital to His omnipotence, as is what He can do. I can tell the truth, but I can also lie, and because I can lie I have the ability to not achieve the goal of always being truthful, and so I have a defect and weakness in achieving this goal. It is not an absolute certainty that I will. God cannot lie, and so it is an absolute certainty that He will achieve the goal of always being truthful. That is what omnipotence is. It is the absolute power to achieve a purpose.
The most powerful are those who have the ability to limit their power. The absolute dictator is really very weak. He has to keep a gun and a knife at everyone's throat constantly, for soon as he fails to keep control of everyone he risks losing his power. He is a slave to his power as much as all those he enslaves by his power. There is no comparison to the man who gives his power away and lets his people share it. He is loved, and has far greater power than the greedy dictator who grabs and grasps for power. Self-limitation is the key to true power, and is the finest expression of power. Which is the greater power? The miser who hoards his wealth so no one else can be blest by its power, or the philanthropist who gives money to others that they might share in the blessings of his wealth?
All truly great power, and good power, is power that is limited by values that are greater than power. If I choose to relate to a dog or cat I limit my power. I am obligated to care for, feed, and provide shelter for these lesser creatures. My freedom is conditioned by my love and care. There can be a great price to pay in this choice to care for pets. They often do not do what it is your will for them to do, and more often than not it is on the carpet. People do not have to put up with this sort of thing, but by the millions they do. They deliberately choose to limit their power in order to relate to an inferior creature.
We could follow through and show how every relationship that is developed with friends, mates, groups, and neighbors imposes limitations on your power. But in love we choose all of these limitations because the values of love are greater than the value of totally independent power. We feel this way because we are made in the image of God. God did not have to create man, nor did He need to create him as a being with freedom. He could have maintained total power and control on this earth had He made man like the planets. They are easy to control, and they obey the laws of God perfectly, and He has no problem whatever with them. But God choose to limit His absolute power and control by making creatures who were free to even say no to Him. The only reason for such a choice is because God's nature is dominated more by love than by mere power. Had power been the ultimate in God there never would have been the risk of creating beings like man. We only exist because God is love.
Once you love, you put a limit on your power, and it no longer becomes the dominate issue. When you marry you make a covenant of love, and this means power can no longer be the main issue in your relationship. If power was number one, then I could always have my way for I have no doubt I can take Lavonne in a fight. By shear power alone I can win any dispute and have total control of all that we do. But power is not the issue. Love is the issue, and if power is not loving, then it has to be set aside or shared. Power is always limited by love.
This is the key to understanding the power of God. If His omnipotence was exercised without regard for His love, and His sharing of freedom with man, there would not be any evil in the world. And all-powerful God could rid the world of all evil in seconds. Like lightening, God could solve all the problems created by evil in this world. But since He does not do this, it leads to complex questions about His power. Take murder for example. Everyone agrees murder is evil. God either wills murder, or He does not. If He wills it, then He is not the God the Bible reveals, for the God of the Bible forbids murder, for it is contrary to His will. But if God does not will murder, as the Bible says, why then is there still murder if He is all powerful? And all-powerful God who does not want murder to be a part of reality should be able to prevent it from every happening, but God does not prevent it from happening. It would seem that God is not all-powerful. In order to avoid this conclusion many have gone to the extreme position of saying that God is the cause of evil as well as good. All that is, is because God has willed it to be as it is.
This kind of thinking leads to exalting God's power above all of His other attributes, and destroys all that makes His love and goodness superior to power. Even a non-Christian like Albert Einstein could see where this kind of omnipotence in God leads to a God that does not fit the Bible description. He wrote, "Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent-that every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?"
He is asking, how can you have your cake and eat it too? How can you say God is all-powerful, and so all that is and happens is His will, and yet say that He condemns those who do what He does not will? There is a clear contradiction here that forces us to recognize God has had to limit His omnipotence in terms of its control of free-willed beings. He controls their destiny, and so there is no way they can escape His power, but He does not control their choices. He has limited His power to control their choices. It is not that He lacks power to do so, but He does not use it because His goal is not achievable by mere power. If God had to make everybody do what He wills, He would be so power oriented that He would not be free to achieve His goal of having a vast family of children who freely love Him by choice.
Mere power cannot achieve this goal, and so if God was all powerful in the sense that He made everything to be as it is, then He would not be omnipotent in the biblical sense, for in the biblical sense God's omnipotence is His ability to achieve His purpose. This means the ability to limit His power and share it with others, and so risk sin, disobedience, and evil, with the assurance of reaching the goal of a vast family of men who freely love Him and worship Him, and serve Him forever and ever. The God who has full control of every event, and who by sheer force of His strength makes everything go His way, is no match for the God of the Bible who can limit His power by love, and risk even rebellion, and yet come out a winner with redeemed people out of every tribe, tongue, and nation praising and serving Him for all eternity. This is biblical omnipotence. It is God's power to achieve His loving purpose without inconsistency in His love, holiness, and goodness.
The only way God could achieve His purpose was by the power of love. If He had not had the power to choose to sacrifice His Son, and had Jesus not had the power to lay down His life and pay the ultimate price for sin, the whole plan with free will beings would have become a disaster, and God would have been proven to be impotent in this experiment. But God had the power to win, and His omnipotence is established forever. He can do anything that He wills to do. Thank God there is much He does not will to do, and thank God He is not compelled by His power to do anything contrary to His nature.
It would have been easy for God to have willed to make man a machine, and then control him by law like the rest of the universe. But God chose the infinitely harder task of making man free. The cost to God was infinitely greater by choosing this way, but He had the power to pay that cost and achieve His purpose. So God took both roads. He took the easy way of law to control His creation, and the hard way of love to control man, and He arrives where He wills by both routes. That is what omnipotence is all about. It is the power to get where you want to go regardless of the difficulty of the route you choose. That is the only kind of power that really matter in the long run, and that is the kind of power the Bible reveals to be the power of Him we will call forever, the Almighty.
Continued in GOD IS OMNIPOTENT Part 2.