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15.3 Omnipotence

Traditionally, God is conceived as omnipotent: as capable of doing everything that is logically possible. Supposedly, for example, God can unmake and remake the universe again within the blink of an eye.15.1

The extent of divine omnipotence is commonly misunderstood, and this is in part because it has the greatest number of practical consequences for our life and for understanding the history and future of life on earth. Some theologians insist that God has completely unfettered infinite and absolute power, and hence that God is capable of (for example) making, changing, and/or remaking the whole universe millions of times a second.

Many theologians modify arbitrary omnipotence in various ways so that God, while omnipotent, is unable to do various things, such as to change the past that has already been formed, to sin, or to do something morally wrong. More generally, omnipotence should not mean God doing something incompatible with divinity having the essential properties it has. We can insist that God always acts consistently with his nature. If, for instance, that nature has led him to create a world with natural laws, then he is not going to abrogate those laws. Still other theologians maintain that it is a ‘great good’ that humans have freedom, and that since we must be able to see the regular consequences of our own actions, God does not interfere in the production of those effects of our own decisions.

According to our core theism, the degree of God’s omnipotence follows from the previous postulates:

First, we saw that all power and causation arise from the life which is God himself. This implies that all power belongs to God. There is no other source of life, power, or action. Thus, we have one first and important sense of ‘omnipotence,’ namely that without him we can do nothing.15.2 This does not tell us the limits of what God can do. It only tells us that ‘all power’ (omni-potence) is his.

To determine the limits of God’s actions, we must distinguish ‘what is logically possible’ from ‘what is good and useful to do,’ as this distinction is not sufficiently often made in theology. We agree with the traditional claim that God only acts in agreement with his nature. But what is his nature? We remember that he is Wisdom itself, so we can conclude that God only acts in agreement with his wisdom, or (more simply) that God only acts wisely.

We also know he is Love itself, which love is unselfish. There are many things that he could do, but does not, because he would not love that result. This might be, for example, because those actions might not produce distinct persons who can be loved. There are many direct actions possible to God, such as producing persons or objects that live on their own accord, but (as we found in Chapter 12), these things would not be distinct enough from God himself. It is possible he may create such beings but only as extensions or tools, and as part of himself, not as ‘others’ who can be loved.

We found in the previous chapter what it takes for creatures to delight in living, namely that they have the appearance of living and appear this way even to themselves. This is the requirement that persons receive or appropriate the love from God. This again limits the omnipotence of God, not because of some restriction to his infinite power, but because the point of creation is that people can continuously enjoy some life while always feeling to be themselves. The loves of a person cannot be completely changed because our being is our love and changing all our loves would destroy us and replace us with another. Loves cannot be suddenly changed unless the old person can still appropriate the new loves into his being, which means that appropriation must be by love.15.3The range of good actions and changes that can be performed on a person is therefore limited, and this effectively reduces the extent of divine omnipotence.15.4


Previous: 15.2 Immanence Up: 15. God is Transcendent and Immanent Next: 15.4 Eternity

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