In our culture we have a high interest in power. This is illustrated in our movie story lines through Marvel characters of Captain America, Iron man, Captain Marvel and the Eternals. We also see this in how we herald those who have demonstrated dominance in sports, such as Michael Jordan and Tom Brady. There is something deep inside us that knows that an all powerful being is not just a character in movies, poems, or stories. This being is dreamt of, wished for, desired, and needed.
The term omnipotence simply defined is all powerful. As Grudem defines it, God’s omnipotence means that God is able to do all his holy will. There are many places in scripture where we see God’s omnipotence. He demonstrates his power over creation in Genesis, his power over the natural world and human power in the Exodus account, his power over natural laws by calming the sea (Matthew 8:26), power over life and death by raising Lazarus (John 11) and his own resurrection (Matthew 28, Luke 24), and his power over all world powers in the final battle (Revelation 20).
We also see God’s omnipotence in Biblical theology. Consider that God would so orchestrate the events of history to mimic and point to the Gospel of Jesus, and then also influence the heart, mind, and pen of writers to record events and facts such that our hearts would be inspired to see the story of Jesus in the Old Testament. And why? Why would he do this? There are a million reasons, and I will give you one: for us to see God’s relentless pursuit of our hearts, minds and souls in order to see Him and His love for us in the person and work of Jesus. He does this so that we can spend eternity with Him, worshiping that same greatness forever.
It is true that God is all powerful, let’s explore how his omnipotence applies to us and how we live out our lives. If God’s omnipotence was the extent of what defined God it would be terrifying. One small gap in his love and goodness, added to his omnipotence is terrifying. God’s omnipotence as it manifests in relationship with his goodness, love, mercy, sovereignty, and omniscience forms a more full picture of who he is. “Although God’s power is infinite, his use of that power is qualified by his other attributes (just as all God’s attributes qualify all his actions).” (Grudem p. 217).
God’s omnipotence is not that he can do anything; and this should comfort us. He cannot deny his own character (2 Timothy 2:13). Specific examples of this are that he cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Heb 6:18), he cannot be tempted with evil nor can he tempt others with evil (James 1:13). He cannot cease to exist. He also cannot do absurd things, such as make a rock so big he can’t lift it, or make a 4-sided triangle. He is limited by his other attributes.
Yet as Erickson explains His decisions are of his own free choice and will “God’s decisions and actions are not determined by consideration of any factor outside of himself. They are simply a matter of his own free choice.” (Erickson p. 278)
In Ephsians 1:5-9 we see that God was and is not under any compulsion to make promises, but when he does, he is bound by all his attributes to keep his promises.
It is God’s omnipotence that makes our free will possible.
“If God were great and powerful, but not all-powerful, he would have to originate everything directly, or he would lose control of the situation and be unable to accomplish his ultimate purposes. But our omnipotent God is able to allow evil men to do their very worst, and still he accomplishes his purposes.” (Erickson p. 400)
Therefore his omnipotence requires our free will, choices, and actions to either be in line with his good, pure, redemptive plan or, if in opposition, it will be overcome by his power and will still accomplish what he purposes, in spite of our opposition. The study of Joseph in Genesis pulls together some of these themes. Consider reading the story from Genesis 37-42. A question we may ask from this study is how did God use the sinful choices of Joseph’s brothers. Did he allow, use, or cause these choices? We let scripture interpret scripture. We see in Genesis 45:5 Joseph says “do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” And in 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” In these verses we see “you sold me” (man’s sinful decisions) and “God sent me” (God’s redirecting the result of that decision), “you intended to harm me” (man’s sinful decisions), “but God intended it for good” (God’s redirecting the result of that decision). Erickson describes this as:
“while permitting some sins to occur, God nonetheless directs them in such a way that good comes out of them… like a judo expert who redirects the evil efforts of sinful men and Satan in such a way that they become the very means of doing good” (p. 400).
This is a demonstration of human free will as it relates to God’s omnipotence. God’s will was accomplished in spite of the evil intended by Joseph’s brothers. God’s omnipotence takes the result of their sin and redirects it to accomplish his will to bring Joseph to where he intended him to be to accomplish what he intended him to accomplish.
While Jesus was here on earth, he demonstrated God’s omnipotence in his miracles. In Matthew 9:1-8, we get a glimpse of why Jesus performed the miracles. In the middle of performing a miracle, Jesus stops to confront those who are silently critiquing his words. “Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up and walk?’ I think if I was there, I may say “your sins are forgiven, because I can’t know if you did that or not.” Which is the question that Jesus answers directly in verses 6-7; “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins. ‘So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Jesus makes it clear that he healed the paralyzed man so that we nay know that he is able to forgive sins. He uses his power over the physical to show us his authority over the spiritual. I appreciate the way Jen Wilkin invites us to consider the power God demonstrates over the spiritual, does this truly astonishes us like it should?
“We are literally thunderstruck by the display of God’s power in the elements. But are we adequately amazed at the deeper truth it points to? Sometimes I need my eyes reopened to the greatest display of God’s power I have ever witnessed: the transformation of my heart into his dwelling place. His power shines in my weakness, conquering the power of sin in my life. His power shines in my strength, turning it from selfish gain toward humble service. Sampson may have missed the source of his strength and the purpose for which it was given, but we can heed his example and act as those who acknowledge the limitless power of our God.” (Wilkin p. 135)
In the past year, I faced some difficult struggles in my life. The key truth that God reminded me of that made the biggest difference was that Jesus has taken care of my biggest need: my sin. No matter what problem I faced that day, my biggest problem was already resolved. This is truly a miracle. Before I would step into the challenges of the day, I would simply say out loud “Jesus has taken care of my biggest need”, meditate for a moment on that truth and put my trust in Jesus in that moment, thank him, and then move into the day. In those moments, I need to remind myself that my biggest problem is my sin, not the challenges in front of me. However, maybe for you, meditating on the truth of the authority of Jesus’ power over the waves, or over sickness and death can remind you that God has authority over your challenges, whatever they are. His miracles demonstrate his authority over all things, including our sin. God uses his omnipotence, influenced by all of his other attributes to bring us the mercy of forgiveness through the miracle of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement.
I would suggest that if this is not THE reason, it is at least one of the main reasons Jesus performed his miracles.
With all of these reasons and demonstrations of God’s omnipotence, I still struggle to live in a way that displays my belief in his omnipotence. I think sometimes I am distracted by either my own power (or lack of power) or the power of those around me, such that I don’t see or believe that God’s power is bigger than what I see. Or, I believe he is powerful, but I think he is not for me (Romans 5:8). Perhaps it’s that I don’t trust all his other characteristics of goodness, omniscience, or his love. In light of all of these possible reasons, I think the reason I most often doubt God’s omnipotence is because I don’t see him apply his power the way I want him to, and because he doesn’t do what I want him to do, I don’t believe he is all powerful.
The truth I would like to tap into to confront this doubt in my life is an extremely popular verse, however the interpretation of this popular verse has varied throughout my life. I think many would agree that everything that happens in this world is used by God to bring more people in relationship to him and also bring more glory to himself. But is God able to only work for the global good? Some explain the difficulty or struggle in our lives is like a mosaic, with some bright colors and some dark colors. With this perspective, if your part of the mosaic is bright colored, this is easy to accept. However if your part of the mosaic is the dark or cloudy portion of the picture, life is just hard. And while the bigger picture (i.e. all the rest of those around you) is beautiful, you are left with simply enduring the painful dark colors that God requires to make his picture complete? With this view of the mosaic, when faced with hard times, we are forced to attempt to elevate our perspective to that of God, to accept our painful state. In my wrestling with Romans 8:28, I think this interpretation does not give enough credence to God’s omnipotence.
By reading to the end of Romans chapter 8 (even while you are in a dark colored mosaic of life) we are invited to see that God is working not just for the global good, but he is working for your good, to conform you to the image of his Son (Romans 8:29) and that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can remove you from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39). Therefore the truth of Romans 8 is that everything that happens in your life is used by God to make you more like Jesus and bring you closer to himself. When we consider that this is how God uses his omnipotence, we see that it is good. In the middle of the dark spot of your mosaic, by God’s grace, we can grasp this truth of Romans 8 to see that he is working all things for our good.
This is my prayer for all of you who read this, that God would show you a glimpse of how he has used all the good and challenging times in your life to form you to be more like Jesus. I pray also that God would use his physical miracles to help us all see that his omnipotence is graciously demonstrated in his conquering of our sin and this is greater than any other potential use of his power.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology, An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids Michigan, Zondervan, 1994
Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids Michigan, Baker Book House, 1985
Wilkin, Jen. None Like Him, 10 Ways God is Different From Us (and Why that’s a Good Thing). Wheaton Illinois, Crossway, 2016.