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Is God All-Powerful?

I want to answer yes and no. God is all-powerful in the sense that God originally possessed all power. Before Creation, God was the only being who existed, and thus had all the power there was. He could do anything, and nothing opposed Him.

But with the creation of free creatures, I maintain, God necessarily surrendered a degree of His power. Or perhaps it is better to say God delegated some of His power. Our freedom is a little piece of “controlling power” lent us by God. In order to allow creatures to be free, then, God voluntarily gives us a portion of His power, and thereby surrenders His opportunity to “always get His way.” I don’t think it could be any other way, for freedom must entail that the free person can decide his own way—and it may not agree with God’s way. It is utterly impossible for God to be always in control and yet allow free beings to exercise some control. Thus, to the extent that God “lends” power away, He no longer utilizes it.”

However, what’s important to realize, is that this “surrender” of control is completely a voluntary act of God. If there is “limit” on God’s power, it is only there by His decision, not some power outside of Himself. If God at some point can’t do something (e.g., rid the world of a particular evil), it’s only because He decided to create a world in which there would be times when He could do nothing. Only if some power outside God limited God could He properly be said not to be omnipotent (all-powerful). Thus, in my view, God is in essence all-powerful, though He now chooses not to be. And the reason is because He desires a creation which is capable of love, and thus “must be free (have some “power” of its own).

A related question is: Is God in control? Again, yes and no. Since it is God Himself who delegates how much power each creature has, God is, in this sense, “in control.” He determines the parameters of our freedom within the flow of history which He directs, and in this sense God is always “in control.” For this reason there is absolutely no chance that God could ever lose this “cosmic battle.” As much power as Satan has, the ultimate purpose of God—to have a creation which shares love with Him—is never threatened.

However, God does not control each particular individual, for each person must be to some extent free. Hence, within the limits set by God, an individual may purpose to do things which are utterly at odds with God’s ultimate purpose. Thus, when an individual inflicts pain on another individual, I do not think we can go looking for “the purpose of God” in the event. Of course, God allowed the event to occur because His ultimate purpose includes having free agents, and this freedom must be irrevocable. But to “allow” something and to “purpose it” or “cause it” are two very different things.

While God has given humanity and other spiritual beings a great deal of freedom, He has not come close to surrendering all control to them. He is, even in this present still the most powerful being, even if He does not, by His own decision, exercise all power. God still exercises the dominating influence in the world, and He only knows what this world would be like without His constant, holy influence.

—adapted from Letters from a Skeptic, pages 57-60

Image by Josh Felise

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