The Omnipotent Powers of God

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Discuss critically the view that God deliberately limits his own power for the good of humanity

A main element of God’s nature is his omnipotence, however it is interpreted differently by many different individuals over time. There have been three different definitions of God’s omnipotence given over time from different scholars. The first that God is a being that is able to do absolutely everything, even the impossible. This regards God’s omnipotence as being something that breaks all laws of nature. The second that God is able to do everything possible, therefore meaning there are no contradictions with nature but his power is no more than a humans. The third, and arguable more favorable definition, that God is a being that has maximal power, therefore more than any other being, but not total power as that would bring contradictions with nature. These different understandings of God’s omnipotence still allow the conversation of whether God does deliberately limit his power for the good of humanity.

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Peter Vardy argued that God does limit his power. He believed that God isn’t in control of history, he does not control us in the way a chess master controls the chess pieces. Vardy believed that God created the universe in a way that his ability to act is limited, allowing us to be “free, rational human beings”. Free will has always been a question when discussing God’s omnipotence, Vardy’s explanation allows there to be an omnipotent God, as the only limitation he receives is a self-limitation, therefore he is able to continue to show omnipotence. As Well as allowing humanity to have free will, showing how God limits his own power for the good of humanity. Vardy said that “God is limited by the universe he has chosen to create...his limitation does not, however lessen God in any significant way”. Many favour Vardy’s explanation when discussing God’s omnipotence, as it allows a God that is ultimately more powerful than humans, while allowing humanity to flourish and have free will.

Others however have opposed to Vardy’s argument, disagreeing with the idea that God deliberately limits his own power for the good of humanity. Descartes described God as a “supremely perfect being of with nothing greater could be conceived” in his ontological argument, suggesting that if God is completely perfect, he must have complete omnipotence. Those that worship God can put a lot of their dedication to him down to their belief that he is in control of the universe, therefore if they pray to him, he can have the ability to answer their prayer. If God does what the question suggests then he is not the supremely perfect being that Descartes described him as, as well as not holding the ability to perform actions theist believe to be united with the concept of God.

Peter Geach argues that God has the capacity for power over everything rather than a power to do everything, which he bases on the use of the translated word almighty to describe God in the New Testament. In Genesis 17-18, Abraham is talking to God about his wife, Sarah who was postmenopausal, becoming pregnant. The contradictions within the natural world can be seen and are pointed out by Abraham to which God response was ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’. Geach uses this extract when arguing of God’s omnipotence, following the first definitions of it meaning that God can do even the impossible. Many would argue that God’s actions in this example show him not limiting his power, but pushing the boundaries of nature with it and arguably for the good of humanity. Therefore the question could be asked, does God have to limit his power for the good of humanity, or could he simply work his omnipotence to provide the best outcomes in society? Christians theologians have taken the view that if God did not have supreme power, he wouldn’t be able to do things that are necessary for human salvation. If God cannot save people from their sins, for example, is he really a God that should be worshiped?

Those that would agree with the statement that God does deliberately limit his own power for the good of humanity often believe that God deliberately emptied himself, kenosis which is self-emptying, of some divine attributes before coming to earth in the form of Jesus. The process of God emptying himself of divine attributes goes back to the idea of his self-limitation. Some believe that if God is the only one to limit himself, then the limitation does not make God any less almighty. Kenosis would suggest that God cares for humanity so much, that he does in fact limit himself for our advantage. Through kenosis, he brought himself closer to humanity, “who, being in the very nature of God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage, rather he made himself...being made in human likeness”.

If God does limit his omnipotence in order to be closer to humanity and allow us the ability to have free will, through doing so he is allowing evil and suffering to come into the world, therefore is God recucing his other qualities such as omnibenevolence by also reducing his omnipotence? If God’s omnipotence isn’t limited then it means he can go against the laws of nature, which he put in place, therefore is, by having complete omnipotence, God demeaning his own work? Questions such as these have come out of the exploration into whether God does deliberately limit his power for the good of humanity. The question on God’s omnipotence can never be answered, however in my opinion the focus on God’s omnipotence being simply having maximal power and not total power makes the most sense. As well as the idea of kenosis, as it allows God to have once had complete power, but due to his love of this world, he sacrificed it in order for humanity to thrive.

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