Sunday, May 16, 2004


On God's omnipotence

This is a list of some objections or difficulties that have been raised with regard to God's omnipotence:
  • he cannot be omnipotent because he cannot change
  • he cannot sin or deny himself
  • if "God is omnipotent" means that God can do even what seems to us to be logically impossible, why did he not create a world in which human beings freely choose to do what is right in every occasion?
  • the paradox of the stone: "Is God able to create a stone too heavy for him to lift?"
Now, this is Aquinas on omnipotence:
  1. we can distinguish between 2 types of "power": active power (I can play tennis) and passive power (I can be kissed). There is no passive power in God, since he is wholly active and lacking in potentiality. Said otherwise,
    he cannot be acted on or affected by something other than himself.
    Therefore, God cannot change.
  2. God cannot bring about what is contradictory. This is because what is contradictory cannot be, and God's power ranges over what can be. So, for example, God cannot change the past, for the past not to have been implies a contradiction. This solves for example paradox of the stone: it would be contradictory for an omnipotent being to make a thing too heavy for him to lift.
  3. God cannot do all the things that other agents can do. For example, he cannot get drunk, or he cannot sin (sin involving a failure in act -- sin implies mutability and falling short of the perfect good).
So, God's power needs to be understood in the light of the fact that

his proper effect is existence

IOW, God is all-powerful because he can do what is absolutely possible = can bring about whatever can exist without any logical impossibility being involved. That is, if something could be, then God can bring it about.

The revisionist's concept of God's omnipotence assumes that God is no longer thought to be a personal being. This seems to mean that it is now human beings rather than God who are said to be powerful; they have the power to confront [not necessarily win] adversities, to follow a religious life and to work for the good of others. This is quite removed from the traditional concept of omnipotence, though.

The problem with all these reasons God can't be omnipotent, (even the reasons that he is omnipotent in some strange non-omnipotent way...) is that they all fail to recognize that God is all the things that they say he can't do or be. Hence the meaning of omnipotence.
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