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Foundations (3): The Power of God

W S Stevely, Ayr

A common phrase used to describe God is that "He is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent". In this short article I wish to examine what it means for Him to be omnipotent, to be all-powerful. God is surely powerful! However, there are several ways in which that is seen and so there are different ideas behind the notion of power.

He is the origin and source of all

First there is simply the fact that He is the origin and source of all that is. As Creator He brings into being matter that did not exist beforehand. While we cannot fully understand this we recognise that "things which are seen were not made of things which do appear". "Do appear" can be translated "are visible". This quotation from Hebrews 11.3 follows the statement that "the worlds were framed by the word of God". Understanding this is a matter of faith, but it is reasonable faith. As explained in an earlier article, despite the opposition of the atheist it is clear that we do not live in an eternal universe. It came from somewhere or someone. The record of Scripture is coherent and consistent with experience in its revelation of the God who "in the beginning created the heaven and the earth" (Gen 1.1). According to Romans 1.23 man is guilty in not recognising this.

He is powerful

A second sense in which God is powerful is that He is able to enforce His will against any who oppose Him. In Genesis 3.24 "he drove out the man". Adam had no choice in the matter – he was forced to leave. God is described as the Lord of Hosts who has armies of angelic beings at His command who, if required, will ensure that His will is obeyed and His enemies are defeated. The prophet’s servant saw that "the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6.17). That mighty army was available to preserve Elisha should God have chosen to use it.

Similarly, the Lord Jesus speaks of "more than twelve legions of angels" available to Him from the Father (Mt 26.53). The same Lord Jesus is described in Revelation 19.11 as coming from Heaven to "judge and make war". The succeeding verses speak of His absolute, swift victory. God’s power, exercised by the Son, is irresistible. Psalm 2 sums up this aspect of power in stating of God’s dealings with the nations: "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel" (v.9).

He controls creation

Yet another way in which God has power is seen in His control of all creation. He did not simply form it then have to leave it run by the laws He built in to it. According to Hebrews 1.3 He upholds "all things by the word of his power". But that does not mean He is constantly altering how things happen. He has chosen to set in place an orderly universe that can be observed and that behaves according to set patterns. One only has to think of the way in which the movements of the stars and planets can be followed and specific events, like eclipses, can be predicted to realise this. But God can and does from time to time overrule to accomplish whatever He chooses. Miracles do happen!

Examples of God’s control over creation to accomplish "mighty works" abound in Scripture. Children are normally conceived and born in accord with natural processes; but not always. Genesis 21.1 states that "the Lord visited Sarah" and it was as a result of this that she, who until then had been childless, bore Isaac. Hannah bears Samuel in a similar fashion. And greater than any other example is the birth of the Saviour. A woman, not just childless, but a virgin, conceives. "How shall this be?", she asks, and from the angel learns that "with God nothing shall be impossible" (Lk 1.34,37). Here Gabriel echoes the word of the Lord to Sarah and Abraham in Genesis 18.14: "Is any thing too hard for the Lord". One ought not to miss the obvious lesson. If something we ask for is not given it is not because it is too hard for Him but rather in His wisdom He knows it is not for our good.

The One who controls in this way caused His disciples to marvel when He "rebuked the wind and the sea; and there was a great calm" (Mt 8.26). Again, He who made all things can turn water into wine – impossible, but not "too hard" for Him.

He controls history

To say that God has set in place an orderly, predictable universe does not mean that He is normally simply a bystander, interested perhaps but not involved in His world. To follow this it is necessary to learn that God is ultimately in control of history. Let me give an example. In Isaiah 8.7 we read: "the Lord bringeth up upon them…the king of Assyria". Now, although the prophet knew this invasion would be because the Lord was behind it in a very direct way, one can be confident in saying that on the other hand the king of Assyria felt he was doing just as he pleased. Those who were used by God to chastise Israel were unwitting agents in doing His will. I have no doubt that historians would be able to analyse the social, economic, and military reasons for Assyrian power. The adventure into Israel was not a sudden aberrant action undertaken as a willing response to a command from the Lord. Rather, God’s wisdom and power interact with human actions to accomplish His plans.

A wonderful New Testament example is the census of Luke 2.1 that brings Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Augustus makes a decree and the word of God by the prophet Micah is fulfilled!

In this connection it is important to consider Acts 2.23. Says Peter of the Lord Jesus, "Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain". Now of course it is true that the Lord knows everything in advance. But Peter meant much more than this. From Isaiah 46.9,10 we learn, consistent with Acts 2, "I am God, and there is none like me. Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure".

So it was not just that God knew that men would behave wickedly towards Christ but sent him all the same. Rather, all that happened was according to His "pleasure". His power accomplishes His purpose.

Why does He find fault?

Now that raises the question articulated in Romans 9.19: "Why doth he yet find fault? For who has resisted his will?". Acts 2 makes clear that He does indeed find fault. The charge from Peter is that his hearers had used "wicked hands", and he calls on them to "Repent" (v.38). In Romans 9.20 the answer given is simply, "Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?". It is reminiscent of Job’s experience. In 31.35 he pleads, "Oh that one would hear me! Behold my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me". But when God does as he asks, Job recognises his folly. "I know that thou canst do every thing…therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me…I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (42.2-6). Job realised that it was impossible for him to fathom the mind of the Almighty.

Scripture clearly teaches that God works to accomplish His purpose. He is sovereign, an absolute ruler. But He holds men accountable. We are responsible for our actions. When God judges He does so in righteousness (Acts 17.31). He is absolutely just (Rom 3.26). To think that we can fully untangle these is unwise to say the least. I hold firmly to both, because both human responsibility and God’s sovereignty are taught in Scripture. On this subject many books have been written and much strife has been caused when at times a better course would have been to follow the example of a humbled Job!

Our response - worship

A consideration of the power of God, then, should first lead to awe and worship. The majesty of God is beyond our imagining. The wonder of His ability to accomplish His purpose while we, His creatures, often seem to do little but try to oppose Him should humble us. That He asks us to work with Him in accomplishing His will, for example by preaching and calling men to repent, is an astonishing privilege. It also gives tremendous confidence. What can I do? Nothing of value. But with Paul we can say that "we are labourers together with God", and that He "gave the increase" (1 Cor 3.9,6). Furthermore, in His work God takes our prayers into account else Paul would not have written, "Brethren, pray for us" (1 Thess 5.25).

God’s power works for the good of those who belong to Him. As a final reflection on that power it is with joy that we read that "the Lord Jesus Christ…shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself" (Phil 3.20,21).

To be continued.

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