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Scripture proclaims that God is “the Mighty One, God, the Lord!” (Josh. 22:22), the One who possesses power that is so unbounded that it is known among God’s attributes as His omnipotence, from the Latin omni (all) and potentia (power). This attribute is identical with God’s glorious being as it is revealed under certain circumstances. It pulses through His names, such as “the Lord” (Ps. 2:7) and the “only Sovereign” (1 Tim. 6:15). It resounds in Scripture’s anthropomorphic descriptions of His “right hand” (Ex. 15:6) and “mighty arm” (Ps. 89:13). And it is revealed in His works of creation (Jer. 51:15), providence (Acts 17:25), redemption (2 Peter 1:3), judgment (Rom. 9:17), and consummating all things (Phil. 3:21). Simply put, because God is God, He is unchangeably and everlastingly omnipotent.
Despite the simplicity of this biblical truth, misunderstandings can creep in. We will consider two questions that occasionally receive misguided answers. First, does God’s omnipotence mean that God can do anything, or stated another way, is there anything that God cannot do? Second, how does Scripture reconcile God’s omnipotence with the reality of evil?
the scope of god’s omnipotence
In response to the first question, Scripture affirms that God can do far more than what He has determined to do in the world. As Jesus declared, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matt. 26:53). God is able to raise up children of Abraham from stones (3:9). Indeed, He is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think (Eph. 3:20). So when God asks Jeremiah, “Is anything too hard for me?” (Jer. 32:27), the right answer is no, for nothing is impossible with God (see Luke 1:37). Therefore, we ought to praise God for what He has determined to do, not because He is unable to do anything else but because what He has willed to do is best, precisely because He has willed it.
But does God’s absolute power mean that God can do literally anything? If so, some have argued, God’s attribute of omnipotence presents a conundrum. If God can do anything, so the argument goes, it would mean that He can create a rock so heavy that even He cannot lift it, or else He cannot create something so large that it is beyond His strength—either option sabotaging His omnipotence. The problem with such speculations is that God’s omnipotence entails that He can do only what is logically possible. But now another question arises: Do laws of logic stand above God, constraining Him with a limited array of options from which He must choose to exercise His now less-than-limitless power? Not at all, since what is logical is defined not by us but by God’s own holy character and will. Hence, it is impossible that God should lie (Heb. 6:18) or change (James 1:17) or deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13) or tempt anyone with evil (James 1:13). In short, when exercising His omnipotence, God Himself defines what is possible, and He wills everything He does in accord with His holy nature, freely and perfectly, and all for His glory.
When viewed with this understanding, God’s omnipotence shines as the most glorious kind of unlimited power. As Anselm of Canterbury taught, the ability to cheat, deceive, or contradict oneself is no power at all but a kind of weakness. Because God has no weaknesses, the fact that God cannot generate contradictions or change who He is does not degrade His omnipotence but manifests it. In the words of Charles Hodge, “It is certainly no limitation to perfection to say that it cannot be imperfect.” Hence, God’s omnipotence is the glorious expression of His utter perfection and absolute sovereignty. The Children’s Catechism captures the wonder of this reality when it asks, “Can God do all things?” The answer: “Yes; God can do all his holy will.”
god’s omnipotence over evil
This brings us to the second question: Is God’s power reconcilable with the reality of evil? If God by His omnipotence can manifest only His holy and good character, how can there be evil in the world? Sometimes the very personal and heart-wrenching cries of believers and nonbelievers alike (“How could God allow this to happen?” “Where was God when this took place?”) lead to doubts about or even denials of God’s omnipotence. This presents one version of the so-called problem of evil: If God is all-good, and evil exists, then God cannot be all-powerful.
Again, though, a hidden assumption drives this challenge to divine omnipotence. The argument assumes that a good and omnipotent God would always act immediately to preclude all evil. But Scripture teaches both that God has ordained what is evil (though man, not God, remains responsible for it; Eccl. 7:29) and that He has done so, in part, that He might reveal His power over evil, even to accomplish His good purposes through it (e.g., Gen. 50:20). This is no pious platitude. It is the solemn trust and great solace of every humble Christian in the face of the adversities, disappointments, and tragedies of this life. God is omnipotent and altogether good. Trusting that both are true grounds hope and encouragement for every believing heart.
omnipotence and the gospel
The central and most stunning revelation of God’s utterly holy character through His omnipotence over evil is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As Jesus healed the lame, stopped the wind, opened the eyes of the blind, and rose victorious over death, He showed Himself to be “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). He continues His almighty work in resurrecting the hearts of those whom the Father irresistibly draws to Himself, and He will complete that saving work in them on the day He raises His people to imperishable glory (John 6:44). And when He judges the world, re-creates the cosmos, and brings heaven to earth, the gathered chorus of saints will sing of His power: “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns” (Rev. 19:6).