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1

introduction

• What is God? An object amongst objects?
• Different understanding across religions
• Christian God developed from the interweaving of the Bible and Greek philosophers
• Christians adopt the anthropomorphism of the OT e.g. loving/all knowing
• New Testament suggests he is timeless. Ideas of Plato and Aristotle woven into this

council of Trent, 1543: 'great mysteries lie concealed under almost every word'

2

are God's attributes compatible?

• If God is omnipotent, does it mean we don’t have free will as he is in control of everything?
• Can God be omnibenevolent and yet omnipotent and hence can do unloving things?
• Can God be infinite and yet concerned with finite creation within time?
• Can God know the future yet allow us to choose our own futures and be responsible?

3

issues with God's omnipotence

o Is omnipotence compatible with other attributes e.g. if he is omnipotent, he should be able to sin, but this goes against benevolence
o Omniscient suggests he can’t add to his knowledge but this goes against omnipotence?

o Is it not paradoxical to say that a being is omnipotent? Paradox of the stone: omnipotent being should be powerful enough to make a stone that he can’t lift…
♣ H, Wade Savage claims that "S cannot create a stone which S cannot lift" does not entail that "there is at least one task which S cannot perform." It might seem that it does. But, it is claimed, this illusion vanishes on analysis. " 'S cannot create a stone which S cannot lift' can only mean if S can create a stone, then S can lift it.' It is obvious that the latter statement does not entail that S is limited in power."

4

biblical evidence for omnipotence

o Genesis 1:3 – ‘And God said, ‘let there be light’, and there was light’
o Amos 5:8 – ‘He who (…) turns midnight into dawn – the Lord is his name’
o Isaiah 40:28-30 – ‘The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary’
o Matthew 19:26 – ‘Jesus looked at them and said, ‘with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’
o Luke 1:37 – ‘for with God, nothing shall be impossible’
o Although neither the OT/NT employs the terms omni or potens specifically, it seems apparent that God can do anything.

5

theological ideas for god's omnipotence

o God’s omnipotence is necessary for human salvation – without his power he would not be able to create the universe, sustain it, save people from sin, resurrect people from death and give them eternal life in heaven
o Theologians depend on this attribute as part of God’s definition for their ontological arguments:
♣ Anselm – the greatest being that one can conceive
♣ Descartes – God is supreme perfection

6

different definitions of god's omnipotence

God can do absolutely anything (Descartes – bending logic)

God can do everything that is within his own nature, and which is logically possible (Swinburne, aquinas)

God limits his power for our benefit (card, Macquarie, brightman)

God’s omnipotence as an issue within religious language

Perhaps omnipotence is not a great quality and God should be understood as ‘unsurpassingly great’, rather than totally powerful ( process theologians, wainwright, whitehead, hartshorn)

7

God can do absolutely anything (Descartes – bending logic)

• This could be defined as ‘you think of any possible scenario or action, however outlandish or impossible, and God can do that. Or indeed, anything else’
• This would mean God can contradict logic e.g.
o 2 + 2 = 17?
o Square circle?
• Descartes maintained that God could do anything, even the logically impossible:
• God is supreme perfection so it makes sense to say that he can do anything at all. As the source of logic, God is able to bend it to his will.
- god's existence is prior to the laws of logic

8

criticism of God can do absolutely anything (Descartes – bending logic)

o Is it coherent to say that logic can be overcome? Surely all logical statements do not refer to actual states of affairs and thus are just meaningless statements?
o Mackie points out how contradictory this definition is:
♣ Logical contradictions are not things that are extremely difficult or complex; they are simply things which do not describe any state of affairs whatsoever
♣ This shows that there is no omnipotence, and probably no God
♣ BUT… classical theism has not tended to support Descartes’ definition
• It is typically said that God cannot create a logical contradiction/impossibility, this represents no defect in God’s omnipotence e.g. reversing forces of gravity

9

God can do everything that is within his own nature, and which is logically possible - Aquinas

• View favoured by Classical Theism
• Aquinas first recognised that God’s omnipotence must be limited by what is logically possible, ‘he can do everything that is absolutely possible… everything that does not imply a contradiction is among these possibilities in respect of which God is called omnipotent’
• Since the proposition ‘square circle’ is not one that anyone could apply to anything it is therefore a logical impossibility
• Therefore, God cannot make a square circle (or 2+2=17 etc.) but saying that does not represent a defect in his omnipotence


however... is it logically possible for god to ride a bicycle? to ride a bicycle is logically possible, but is it for a transcendent, non corporeal being like god?

10

God can do everything that is within his own nature, and which is logically possible - Swinburne

o ‘A person P is omnipotent at a time t if and only if he is able to bring about any logically contingent state of affairs x after t, the descriptions of which does not entail that P did not bring x about at t. This is subject to the restriction that a person is no less omnipotent for being unable to bring about a state of affairs if he believes that he has overriding reason not to bring it about. So, God is omnipotent even if he is unable to do what he believes wrong. The paradox of the stone has false premises.’

a square circle does not exist and thus god cannot create one. this doesn't limit him because it only refers to logically possible powers

11

God limits his power for our benefit - vardy

• Peter Vardy suggests that God’s omnipotence is far more limited than Christians realise. God does not act like a grand chess master moving his pieces around the board in a pre-destination manner
o Rather, God’s power is necessarily limited – the universe exists in such a way that enables free, rational human beings to exist within it
o This limitation is self-imposed. God created the universe knowing this would be the case – it was his choice
o God would not have been able to intervene frequently without destroying the structure of the universe
o ‘If free, rational beings are indeed a central part of God’s plan, then God’s remaining options would have been very limited’
o ‘To call God Almighty, therefore, is to recognise the ultimate dependence of the universe and all things within it on God. It is to recognise God’s creative and sustaining power. However, it specifically does not mean that God has total power to do anything he wishes. God is limited by the universe he has chosen to create… His limitation does not, however, lessen God in any significant way. It is rather a recognition of God’s wish to create a universe in which human beings can be brought into a loving relationship with him’ (The Puzzle of Evil, 1992, p.124)

12

God limits his power for our benefit - Macquarie

o He also emphasises the need for believers to remember that when we speak about the power of God we are using analogy.
o God’s power is very different from our own, there are aspects of his nature that are unknowable to us. (+Aquinas)
o Even if we can understand them partially, and express this partial understanding with analogy, we should bear in mind that we are fallible and so are unable to provide a full understanding of God.
o God is not constrained by logic/physical world, chooses to limit power out of love for humanity
o He argues that understanding JC as God is key to this idea
o Jesus emptied himself of his divine power in order to come to earth (doctrine of kenosis)
o + Philippians 2:5-8 – ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, asking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’

13

positives of god as limiting his power for our benefit

• This belief helps us answer the issue of whether God can sin if he is omnipotent - Aquinas
o Sin is ‘to fall short of full activity… to be able to sin is to be able to fail in doing, which cannot be reconciled with omnipotence. It is because God is omnipotent that he cannot sin’

14

god limits his power for our benefit - brightman

• Edgar Sheffield Brightman
o He is a personalistic idealist and theist finist: locates the limiting conditions within the personality of God (- Plato makes the limiting conditions external to God)
o The world is co-eternal with God and that God only has limited power to deal with the problem of evil since there are aspects of the created order that God did not deliberately create and which operate independently of the divine will.
o The limitation or ‘given’ not of God’s own making remains internal to God. It includes the eternal laws of reason etc. and also ‘equally eternal an uncreated processes of nonrational consciousness which exhibit all the ultimate qualities of sense objects, disorderly impulses and desires, such experiences and pain and suffering, the forms of space and time, and whatever in God is the source of surd evil’ (surd evil is produced by the divine nature, but not willed by God – the principle of resistance is located within God but it’s not something God chooses.)

15

God’s omnipotence as an issue within religious language

Macquarrie and others emphasise the importance of using the word omnipotence within its context – it is an analogy. We speak of power in relation to human power, we should remember that we need to then relate this to God’s power
• Aquinas recognises how God’s power is unknowable to us.

16

Perhaps omnipotence is not a great quality and God should be understood as ‘unsurpassingly great’, rather than totally powerful
- general and process theologians

• Process theologians such as Whitehead and Hartshorne argue that it is better to think of God as a being whose power cannot be surpassed, rather than a being with total power
• Total power, for them, is not that impressive – it suggests that there is no resistance from those things it has control over – a bit like praising someone who came first in a race with no other competitors
• Beings with free will can resist God – surely it is more impressive for God to overcome that resistance and be thought of as having power greater than that of any other being

17

god need not to be all powerful to be perfect - wainwright

o William Wainwright
♣ Perfect goodness is required, but that God need not be perfect in power
♣ ‘If God’s power and knowledge aren’t vastly superior to that of any other creature, one can’t plausibly regard God as a perfect being, and total devotion and unconditional commitment are inappropriate’
♣ ‘God’s power is subject to logical constraints. It is also limited by His own nature and perfections. The freedom of moral agents may impose a further set of restrictions’

18

god need not to be all powerful to be perfect - rechenbach

o Bruce Rechenbach
♣ In order to be worthy of worship, one must be morally perfect. Perfect power is not a criterion
♣ Highlights how Christian scripture makes no explicit statement concerning God’s omnipotence

19

omniscience scripture

Romans 11:33, ‘oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments and his paths beyond tracing out!’

20

issues with God's omniscience

- Human freedom and God knowing the future
- If God knows what is going to happen, then our choices are predetermined
- How does God know the future?
- We can either say that God is inside of time and somehow sees the future/predicts it (not the same as genuine knowledge) or God is outside of time and sees the whole of time at once (predestination).
- Predestination raises issue with reward and punishment. If we are not free then we cannot be rewarded/punished for our actions. (Yet the Bible talks clearly of rewarding and punishing)

21

omniscience -schleimacher

- In the same way we estimate the intimacy between two persons by the foreknowledge one has of the actions of the other, without supposing that in either case, the one or the other’s freedom is thereby endangered. So even the divine knowledge cannot endanger freedom.
- Could work – if God knows us intimate he will know our likely choices and it does then allow us our choices. BUT… God’s knowledge is supposed to be infallible, is this ‘guessing’ enough to satisfy omniscience?

22

omniscience - types of knowledge

- Knowing what it is like to be something
o Thomas Nagel, What is it like to be a bat?
♣ If we apply this to God, it is difficult to see how God’s knowledge can include knowing what a non-God experience is like.
o If God knows everything and is never ignorant, does he know what it is like to be ignorant?
- Knowing how to do something
o Certain knowledge can only be achieved through practice e.g riding a bicycle
o Does God know how to ride a bicycle? Link to omnipotence

23

durmett and omniscience

- Our sense of knowledge is a lot more subjective than God’s. God has no particular point of view
- God’s knowledge is beyond perspective because it includes everything and hence, unlike humans, he can understand anything.
- If there is no answer to something, there is no answer for God to know. When we speak of God’s knowledge, we are using the tense of timelessness.

24

criticisms of durmett and omniscience

o Some sentences are indexical sentences e.g. I am right behind you. Only works in a particular time. Is this sentence true in a timeless sense? If not, then perhaps God’s view of knowledge is not timeless.

25

omibenevolence - Hebrew bible

- Hebrew Bible – Hebrew word is hesed
o Parental love
♣ Hosea 11:1-3 – When Israel was a child, I loved him.
♣ God loves you and is hurt when you reject him. Yet, he still loves us despite rejection
o Unfailing and just love
♣ Psalm 62:12 - and with you, Lord, is unfailing love"; and, "You reward everyone according to what they have done."
o God’s love is better than life itself
♣ Psalm 63:3 - Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.
o God is worthy of worship because of his love
♣ Psalm 118:1 - O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: because his mercy endureth for ever.
o Protective love
♣ Exodus 19:4 – 6 – You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. 

26

omnibenevolence - NT

- NT – Greek word is agape
o God is source of all love/love through action e.g. through JC as role model
♣ 1 John 4:7-9 - Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.
o Sacrificial love
♣ John 3:16 - For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

27

omnibenevolence - aquinas

o God is goodness itself
o Need to recognise analogical interpretation of God and love
o When we talk about love, we talk about a human experience of love. We cannot know what type of love God experiences

28

omnibenevolence - process theology, boethius, evil nd suffering

- Process Theology – God suffers with us
o They negate omniscience/omnipotence, prefer humanistic view of God
- Boethius
o Links love to justice. If he is rewarding/punishing justly, he is omnibenevolent.
o But, his ideas raise problems with interaction.
- Evil and suffering – Hume, Mill, Dawkins, Rowe

29

omnibenevolence - love as part of God's nature

- God’s love, like existence, has no cause. Is part of nature of God
- Xians believe that as a result of his love, God can interact with humanity (unlike Plato’s FoftheG/Aristotle’s PM)

30

Philosophical issues with God’s omnibenevolence

- Does God’s feelings of love towards us vary day to day?
- What’s the source of God’s moral goodness? If God is will what is good, does he choose what is good?
- Is being loved unconditionally meaningless if God loves everyone?
- Does God feel emotional suffering/pain/jealousy? Does this limit his perfection?
- If God is omnibenevolent and omnipotent, why does he not stop people from hurting themselves and others?
- Evil and Suffering?