Oct18 2010

What Does it Mean to Say That God is All-powerful?


“Can God create a rock that is so big that he can’t lift it?” It’s a question that has captured the minds of both the philosopher and the average skeptic on the street. I was even confronted with this question by “the campus atheist” at one of the local high schools when I was invited to speak at one of the Christian clubs. I had just finished presenting the scientific case for God when a young man asked this question during a Q&A time. I don’t think that he was asking it purely for amusement or to draw attention to himself. He honestly felt that this was a legitimate question that would somehow push God back into obscurity. It was his attempt to cast doubt on God’s existence and to toss him into the dust bin along with every other “myth”. Whether this question is asked in a serious way or in jest, it’s intended to challenge the notion that God is all-powerful (omnipotent). The reasoning behind the question is as follows: If God can’t create such an object, then he is not all-powerful. If he can create such an object but cannot lift it, he is not all-powerful. Either way, God cannot be all-powerful. That’s the idea, but the question is not as perplexing as it sounds.

I pointed out to the student that the question itself is invalid. It has a fundamental flaw because it contradicts itself. Let’s examine the question more closely. It begins by asking if God can create such an object. Let’s pause for a moment to think about what that means. If God were to create such an object, it tells us quite a bit about the object itself. This object has a beginning to its existence, therefore it must be a finite object by definition. But the remainder of the question suggests that this object would have to be of such mass and weight that God would not be able to lift it. In other words, the object would have to be of infinite mass and weight. We now have a contradiction in the question because it is trying to imagine a finite object of infinite mass and weight- a logical contradiction. Therefore the question itself doesn’t require a response because it’s logically invalid. It violates the law of noncontradiction which states that “something cannot be A and non-A at the same time and in the same relationship”. In this case, something cannot be finite and not finite at the same time and in the same relationship.

As we think about God’s omnipotence, it’s important for us to begin with a proper understanding of what it means to say that God is all-powerful. It’s often thought to mean that God can do anything, but that’s not the case. God cannot do anything that is contrary to his nature. (For example, God cannot lie and he cannot cease to exist). I think that a more accurate definition of God’s omnipotence is to say that there is no power which exists that is greater than God.

God’s omnipotence is clearly seen in that which he has created, and just a moment’s reflection on it is enough to fill us with a sense of awe and wonder. Take our sun, for example. Our sun is considered to be a medium-sized star, yet its energy output is staggering. In order to appreciate just how powerful it is, let’s compare it to something that we are more familiar with. In the last ten years, the Hoover Dam has generated about 4.8 billion kilowatts of energy. In terms of horsepower, this would mean that it has generated about 6.4 billion horsepower over the past ten years. Suppose that we were to combine the total amount of hydroelectric power worldwide. Let’s add in the total amount of energy produced by all of the nuclear power plants worldwide. In fact, let’s combine the total amount of any and all forms of energy produced on the earth since the beginning of time. The total energy combined is still less than the amount of energy that the sun produces in one second! Now, multiply that times the seemingly innumerable stars in the observable universe. No wonder David wrote in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”



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  • One Response to “What Does it Mean to Say That God is All-powerful?”

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    1. Danny says:

      Hi Marty,
      I have heard several answers to that question. They were all good and valid but I think to is the best one yet. Thanks for posting it.

      Danny

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    • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.