Sunday, April 07, 2013

Practical Theology 4: God as All-Powerful

My series on theology that is practical continues...

1. Is Theology Practical?
2. Why Believe in God?

God as Creator
3. God as Other

4. God as All-Powerful (omniscient)
If God created the world out of nothing, then there is no "power" in this world that he did not create.  This goes far beyond being able to lift the biggest possible rock there could be (so, no, it is not possible for God to create a rock so big that he does not have the power to lift it--if it were possible, he would not be all-powerful).  It extends to the power to direct the course of history, to perform miracles, to stop holocausts, etc.

It means that God is sovereign. He is ultimately in control.  Anything that happens in the world happens either by his "directive" or "permissive" will. He either directly intends for what happens to happen or he allows it to happen for some reason.

It means he is able to help, no matter what my problem or our problem might be. That is not to say that he will always intervene or always intervene in the way we want him to or think he should. But he remains able to help, able to intervene. And by faith we believe he regularly does.

The book of Hebrews says it is impossible for God to lie (Heb. 6:18). This comment leads to several important observations.  The first is that the Bible does not present a systematic theology of God's power. This is a practical observation because there is a tendency among some Christians not only to think that the Bible clearly answers every question but to think they have found them when they haven't!

Inevitably, we are the ones who have to work out what the varied statements in the Bible about subjects like God's power meant and how they fit together.  The more we try to fit such biblical teaching together on our own, in isolation from other Christians and the Christians of the centuries, the more likely we are to go start a cult or just be odd.

How do we fit together Gabriel's statement in Luke 1:37 that nothing is impossible for God with Hebrews 6:18? The Bible does not tell us--we have to fit them together. This is an incredibly practical insight.  We look to the Bible as the starting point for knowing truth about God and God's will, but the Bible does not exhaust God's truth or directly give us the answers to all our questions. We also need the body of Christ, the communion of saints to help us work out our salvation with fear and trembling.

Part of the issue here is the fact that when the Bible makes statements like, "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" (Gen. 18:14), its authors and the speakers in its narratives were not writing theology textbooks.  Even when we say things like, "under no circumstances," an annoying philosophy student or fourteen year old could probably come up with an outrageous circumstance to which we would make an exception.  The Bible normally speaks in ordinary language, not in the language of tight philosophical propositions.

So what does it mean to say that something is impossible for God?  What does it mean to say that it is impossible for God to lie?  Doesn't it mean that he just doesn't do it, doesn't choose to do it?  I prefer to say that God chooses not to do the things we say are impossible for him to do, like sinning.

Can God make 2 plus 2 equal 5?  Many theologians say it is not possible.  But here we have switched from the question of power to the question of possibility.  Having all power, as with the large rock conundrum, implies that certain negatives are not possible.

But with math and logic, many theologians are comfortable saying that God cannot do what is logically or mathematically impossible.  But if he really created the world out of nothing and is truly other, perhaps he could in ways we could not possibly imagine.

5. God as All-Knowing
6. God as Eternal
7. God the Spirit
8. Three in One
9. God as Love
10. God as Just

1 comment:

Martin LaBar said...

More good work!