Yesterday was the second sermon in our series on the attributes of God. We looked at God’s Power and Will - or also known as his Omnipotence. You can listen to the whole sermon on www.canadawaterchurch.com/sermon (thanks to Lola for uploading it!).
But here’s a summary.
In Genesis 18 we read a remarkable exchange between God and Abraham. God promises to give the elderly Abraham and his barren wife Sarah a son in exactly a year’s time, a promise so impossible that Sarah skeptically laughed. Literally LOL…
But God’s response to her scepticism is a rhetorical question: “Is anything too hard for me?” Gen 18:14. The word ‘omnipotence’ is from the Latin ‘Omni Potens’ meaning all-powerfull. Does this mean God can do anything?
“Can God create a rock so heavy that even God himself cannot lift it?”
Perhaps you’ve heard this philosophical question before - far from being a modern question it dates back to the 12th century. The logic goes like this: if God can create this rock but he is unable to lift it, it means he is not all-powerful. And if he can’t create it, well then it also proves that he isn’t able to everything.
This 'Stone Paradox' is surely not that serious but let me give you some good stuff I plagiarised from Prof. John Frame (Reformed Theological Seminary) to craft your own reply. He gives us a few headlines as to what God can and can’t do. Surprisingly perhaps, he says that God can’t do anything - but that is not a disability. He compares it to a baseball player that can only hit home runs - he simply can’t hit anything lower - is that a disability?
God can’t do:
Immoral actions: God is holy (Lev 11:44) and “Not a man that he should lie” (Num 23:19, Tit 1:2). Lying, stealing, coveting and breaking his promises is not something God can do.
Actions denying his own nature as God: Making another god equal to himself, abandoning his divine attributes, absorbing the universe into his own being.
Logically contradictory actions: Being logical is his nature and his pleasure. He can't make a rope with only one end.
Actions appropriate only to finite creatures: Buying shoes, celebrating his birthday, taking medicine for a cough. Again, God’s inability to do these things is not due to any lack of power. His “inability” exists only in his disincarnate existence.
We will get to the more personal side of all this but listen to CS Lewis regarding questions like the Stone Paradox above. This is a good challenge to you if you’re an inquirer into the Christian faith:
“His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to his power. If you choose to say 'God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,' you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words 'God can.'... It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of his creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because his power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.” - CS Lewis
So can God make a stone too heavy for him to lift? Apply the above ‘limitations’, especially the 2nd and 3rd one and let me know what you think.
The Reformers did well to cut through the confusion on this topic by simply dividing God’s will into his absolute power and his ordained power. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert to turn stones into bread, which according to his absolute power he could have done he didn’t because of his ordained power. What does that mean? Every time Satan tempted him to show his absolute power he responded with what he was ordained to do. “It is written..." and then he quotes Scripture (Matt. 4:3-11). This is because God has ordained means to accomplish his ends. And his word is his primary means of accomplishing his ends.
Look again at the line that the Lord spoke to Sarah in Gen 18:14. Our translations say: “Is anything too hard for me?”. But a literal translation would read: “Is any word of God void of power?”. God’s omnipotence or power is directed and accomplished by his words, by his promises. Isaiah 55:11 “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Sarah learns this lesson firsthand. Twenty five years before Genesis 18 God spoke to Abraham, making a promise that “I will make you into a great nation…” (Gen 12:1) - a promise he fulfilled in the old and barren (and skeptical) Sarah. A year later Isaac was born - and from Isaac a nation and from that nation the Messiah. This time not from a barren old mother, but from a young, virgin mother. Mary, like Sarah was also sceptical - but echoing the Lord’s words to Sarah the angels said: “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Not only did she have a child as a virgin mother, but that child did what was impossible for us to do - he lived the obedient life we were supposed to live and he died the cursed death we were supposed to die to bring all who believe in home to the omnipotent Father.
If we can begin to grasp and understand that his incredible power and omnipotence is at work bringing us home to him, perhaps we will begin to rest in him. Read this prayer Paul prays for the Ephesians - make it your prayer for more of God's power in your life.
Ephesians 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.