I Believe in God, The Father Almighty
“Omnipotence & the Presence of Evil”
Isaiah 40:25-31, Mark 6:1-6
The Apostles’ Creed is a well-crafted document. It begins by introducing us to God who is Our Father. And that is the central truth of all Christian theology. However, just in case we get the idea that God is some overly-permissive parent, the Creed adds a word of clarification: He is God the Father Almighty!” God is our Father, and never for a moment are we to forget that. But neither are we to forget that our Father is God and that in Him rests all power and authority. He is rightly called the Almighty.
The church has used a Latin word to describe this reality about God. We say God is omnipotent. Omni-potent.
Earlier I noted that the ancient world teemed with gods, each one having their unique function, but each god was limited to a specific sphere of influence. All the other so-called-gods were specialists. There were gods of childbirth, gods of death, gods of grain, gods of war, gods of the mountains, gods of the seas. None were all-powerful. Each of the gods lived with serious limitations. Powerful? Yes! All-powerful? No way! But the Church of Jesus Christ affirms that the Father God is the only God and in him all power resides. He alone is Almighty.
1. a source of great comfort
Now the declaration that God is Almighty is a source of great comfort to us. It is such an important truth that we teach it to our children early in their lives. Listen to them sing:
“God can do anything,
any thing, anything,
God can do anything, but fail.”
“My God is so big, so strong & so mighty
There’s nothing my God cannot do….”
“Nothing is impossible,
When you put your trust in God…”
Of course it is a theme not merely in our songs, but also throughout the scriptures. In a quick scan of both Old and New Testaments we see the power of God exhibited in the creation of the universe, in the rescue of Israel in the exodus, in the fall of Jericho, in the miracles of Elijah & Elisha, and of Jesus and the early apostles. Jeremiah asks the question, “Is anything too hard for You?” And the answer is Nothing! (Jeremiah 32:17, 27.)
This has been the consolation of God’s people through the ages.
2. a source of great discomfort
But if the news about the omnipotence of God is good news to some, it has driven others into discomfort, doubt and confusion, for it is news that is not always seen as good news. The question comes racing to the fronts of our minds, “If God is so powerful how come the world is in such a mess! If God is in control, how come the world is so out of control?”
In the face of so much human suffering the question becomes crucial, “if God is so powerful, why does he not stop these wars. If God is so powerful, why does he not protect the innocent millions from starvation and suffering? Where is God when the avalanches, the hurricanes, the forest fires, and the floods take their toll in human lives? Why are our hospitals over flowing with wounded, sick, and dying people, if God is able to intervene with power?!
Those are legitimate questions. The debate in answer to those questions has gone on for a long time. It sounds like this:
If God were all-powerful, He could stop the evil.
If He were all-good he would want to stop the evil.
If the evil is not stopped, then one of two things must be true.
Either He doesn’t want to stop the evil, which makes him evil.
Or he cannot stop the evil, and that makes him impotent, weak and powerless.
Harold Kushner, the popular Jewish Rabbi, some years ago wrote a very interesting book entitled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. He wrestles with the dilemma of undeserved suffering. He concludes that God cares deeply, he loves intensely, but, He is powerless to change things. He sits in the heavens and cheers us on when we do the right thing. But that is all he can do. If things are to change, we will have to do it, for God is not omnipotent.
Rabbi Kushner is prepared to say, “I believe in God the Father, all loving”. But he will not say, “I believe in God, the Father, Almighty!”
Is there a way out of the dilemma that has been handed to us?
3. Omnipotence and Our Freedom
There are many within the church that hold the conviction that God is Sovereign over the universe. They insist that since God is omnipotent he is in control of all things.
Some go so far as to say that God is so in control that he predestines all that happens. So if I fall off the sidewalk and break my ankle, God planned it, for reasons known only to him: perhaps to teach me something, to punish me, to warn me. But God is in control of all events. When someone dies, it is an exercise of God’s sovereign power, for God has determined how long each person will live (Psalm 139:16) and he alone is in charge of the “death department.” He even pre-determines who will go to heaven and who will go to hell.
But others within the church are alarmed at such a position. For if that is true, then to call God, “Father” seems to be a misnomer. It would be better to call him Puppet-master or The Enforcer. Call Him King, call Him Sovereign, but do not call him Father.
Let me, however, offer a different response to the dilemma that Rabbi Kushner faced. If God were all-powerful He could stop all evil.
If God were all loving he would put a stop to all evil.
We need to look at the word “Omnipotent” again. It means all-powerful, all-capable, all-able. But it does not mean all-controlling or all-determining. For in God there is something more powerful than his power. It is His love that guides all He ever does. It is also Wisdom in God that guides all he does. Because God can do anything does not mean that he must do that thing.
For example we parents can do things much more easily than our children. We are more powerful. But we want our children to learn to walk on their own, so we quit carrying them, though we have power to do so. We want our children to tie their own shoes and to feed themselves, though we can do it much more efficiently. Simply because we can do a thing does not mean that we must or should.
So the word omnipotent needs to be understood that God is able to do all that he wills to do. There is nothing in this universe that could stop God from doing anything he wants to do. Nothing can thwart his ability to do whatever He chooses.
But a second thing needs to be said. God created humanity with significant powers of self-determination. Or as it is sometimes called, the gift of freedom. Freedom to make choices.
Whatever happened when humanity fell into sin, though “The Fall” deeply damaged and weakened us, it did not rescind God’s decision to give all people authority over their own lives, and power over the life of those around us, and the rest of the created world. He gave us autonomy and responsibility.
Now the gift of freedom is a terrible gift. It puts into the hands of people like you and me, responsibility for ourselves and our neighbours. There are times I do not want this gift. It demands too much from me. But there is no other gift I prize more highly. God has never taken from his creatures this necessity of making choices. It was an irrevocable grant that he gave us.
This does not imply, however, that God surrendered his power. He has all the power he needs to do his will. But in His great wisdom, He decided to share power with us, His creatures.
Rabbi Kushner is right! God is all loving. Rabbi Kushner is wrong! God is all powerful. But God shares power with us; real powers with real consequences for good and evil.
Have you ever watched any of the thousands of Star Trek episodes? The Prime Directive of Star Trek is: “To explore new worlds, but not to interfere in the development of the civilizations they encounter.” The crew of the Starship Enterprise have the power to affect those worlds, but they are not to use that power to manipulate those civilizations. God too may have his own prime directive, and so restrains the use of His own powers, so he can empower us.
Some things are impossible for God
There are some things, you see, that God cannot do. He cannot be unjust. He cannot be untrue. He cannot cease to care about his creation. And because of his character He refuses to give freedom to humanity and then take it and its consequences away. He refuses to overpower us, but instead He desires to empower us. He chooses not to control us, but instead grants the gift of self-control to those who ask him.
Now there are times when God intervenes in human affairs, and we call them miracles. But a miracle a day would not keep the devil away. It would guarantee only our perpetual immaturity. So instead of multiplying miracles of power, for the management of life, he gives us instructions on how to live. He sent Moses and the Prophets, Christ and the apostles, to demonstrate how life is to be lived.
He gave us instructions and he gave us the power to make choices. He also gave to us the Holy Spirit as our personal guide. But the choices are ours to make, and so are the consequences – both good and evil.
The doctrine of omnipotence does not mean that God gets his own way. At these very moments God is looking downwards on our hate. And as in days of old he says, “How oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathers her chicks, but you did not want me to. That is why your house, instead, is left to you desolate.”
Do you recall the passage in the Gospel of Mark? (6:1-6) The crowds ask about Jesus “What deeds of power are being done by this man!” but the story ends up, “Jesus could do no deed of power there, except he healed a few sick folk, and he was amazed at their unbelief.”
The never-ending strife is not of his doing, nor of his manipulations. It is people like you and me, who in rising to places of power have taken our freedom in our own hands and ignored the counsel of Christ and have created the conditions for war and much of human suffering.
Powers Human & Divine
In the opening frames of the movie The Fellowship of the Rings, the word power is used frequently. But there is one use that grabs our attention. Galadriel says, “Above all else mortal men desire power.” We want to control not only our own destiny, but that of others too. Our constant quest for money, for fame and pleasures of all sorts, are often disguises for our desire for control. I want the world on my terms.
But here is the marvel of the Omnipotent God: He shares power with us. Jesus could say “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” but then he used that ability to strengthen the lives of all he met. And then he promised “You will be endued with power from on high…” so that we might be strengthened with might by his spirit within, so that we can be workers together with God.
Hear the promise of God found in the fortieth chapter of Isaiah:
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.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even young people will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary
they shall walk and not faint.