The omnipotence of God...


#1

It is widely claimed that God is omnipotent; that He can do anything. However, a couple of years ago I put forth a proposal (to a very select few who I knew would not brand me a heretic for it) that actually God may not be omnipotent. I wish to hear some thoughts to see if my view has any weight to it.

Let’s take the view that God is omnipotent. Let’s also assume that God is always true to His character.

Proposition: Can God lie?

  1. If we answer “yes,” then we are saying that God has the potential to go against His character. Therefore can we really be sure of any of the promises of God? (Personally, I find the argument that “God could lie, but chooses not to (for our sake)” to be rather weak.)
  2. If we answer “no,” then there is something which God cannot do. Therefore is God really omnipotent?

There are other propositions we could use as well, such as: Can God create a rock so heavy He can’t lift it?

Proposal: What if our view of God is distorted?

We say that “God-like nature” is omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence (and maybe other words beginning with “omni-”). But what if omnipotence is not a requirement for God to be God? Omnipotence suggests something like a dictator: God can do what He wants, when He wants and it’s not our place to question.
[Side Note: And yet in the Bible we read of God saying, “Come, let us [i]reason together” (Isaiah 1:18, emphasis mine); and we read of Abraham arguing/discussing with God about the fate of Soddom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18).]

What if “God-like nature” is the ability to reside within a set of limits (which God set), but to know and maximise the resultant freedoms to their fullest extent?

Thus, it is true that God cannot lie. But, it is also true that God far surpasses us on every level because He knows the boundaries so perfectly. He knows what is good for us. We push the limits and He says, “No,” but He is not hypocritical because He does not go beyond the limits either.

Any thoughts?


#2

Good comments Mike.

Omnipotence was not traditionally thought to mean God can do anything at all conceivable (the rediculous rock-that-is-heavier-than-God-can-lift trick). Logical impossibilities (like creating a square circle or a married bachelor, or making 2 + 2 = 7) were excluded from things an omnipotent God could do. Imperfections of character (like those you mention) were not thought to be included in what an “omnipotent” being should be thought capable of doing (like lying). And also, God has trditionally been thought incapable of doing what he inconsistent with his being a perfect being. To say of a great general that he “cannot lose in battle” is not to attribute any real weakness to him. Similarly, to say of a weight lifter that there is no weight he cannot lift is, likewise, not to attribute any real weakness to him (but you’re talking about some serious biceps!).

Maybe “omnipotence” is not a very helpful word to use once you’ve qualified it like this. And I don’t think “all-powerful” is any better. I don’t particular like the word (or concept) and don’t use if I don’t have to. I prefer “omni-competent,” the idea being that God is able to do whatever God wills to do. What I think is important for us to say is that God can’t will to do X but find himself incapable of doing X. The important thing about God’s power or ability to act is that God’s will to act cannot exceed his power to act and so leave him helpless or otherwise dissapointed in himself. The question of what God may and may not “will” to do is a different thing (that’s about character and goodness, not ‘power’ per se).

The more interesting question is whether God can limit the exercise of his power if he so chooses OR whehter all created wills MUST of necessity accomplish exactly what the divine will determines. I’m a synergist, so I think that in creating God endows creatures with a measure of “say-so” to determine themsevles and to the extent that God makes room for us to decide how things turn out God’s power cannot also be the determining factor. So whatever the right concept of divine power or capacity to act be the right one, I think it ought to include the capacity to limit the exercise of divine power to make room for other ‘wills’ to self-determe on some level.

Tom


#3

Thanks Tom, that’s really helpful!

I never realised that. Maybe I’ve just been hanging out with the wrong Christians (I do a lot of youth work… youth workers try to know a bit about everything, but that means that they don’t often go into much depth and so their arguments can be convincing for youth, but not for older people).