Wednesday, August 3, 2016

A meditation on God's omnipotence

Psalm 139:13-16 "For You formed my inward parts;You wove me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; 16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them."

The last couple of days have featured scriptural meditations on those absolute, essential properties of God's Divine nature that we find expounded in Psalm 139. So far we have considered two of these traits: God's omniscience and omnipresence. To briefly review each of these qualities of God, we will first note God's omniscience.

The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell, draws out the following illustration of God's omniscience on page 494: "How can God know the end from the beginning? In a way greater than illustrated in a person's knowledge of a memorized psalm, Augustine suggested. Before quoting Psalm 23 we have it all in mind. Then we quote the first half of it and we know the part that is past and the part that remains to be quoted. God knows the whole history at once, simultaneously because not limited by time and succession, but God also knows what part of history is past today and what is future, for time is not unreal or unimportant to God."

As one begins to contemplate God in His omniscience, this leads us to the second property outlined by Psalm 139: namely God's omnipresence. The short definition of God's omnipresence has to do with His direct influence and presence at all points in space and all moments in time. 

To illustrate what we mean, one writer has compared it to how one has access to all the objects lying before them on a desk. On my desk are various papers, books, a cup, telephone and sundry items. On the surface of the desk those items are certain distances from one another. If I so choose to pick up anyone of those items, I can because all of them are present before me, and in a small way, I relative to them. This illustration of course gives us hooks with which to begin to grasp the grander reality of God's omniscience. God is transcendent with respect to the universe - meaning He is beyond it and is prior to it. God is also immanent or present in not only every point and moment of time, but through and through every point and moment - all the while maintaining what is His clear difference from the created order. 

Now these two traits of omniscience and omnipresence fall and rise together. God as the uncreated, all-consuming flame of deity (see Hebrews 12:29) cannot be omniscient without being omnipresent nor vice-versa. Such and observation speaks to what theologians call God's "simplicity" - which is to say - God is the sum of all His attributes and as such, His attributes function fully, completely, eternally and together. 

The attributes reveal His undivided essence as the One true and living God. Just as a flame would not be one without properties of heat, light and energy - so we find in a much fuller and infinite way the uncreated flame of God's Divine essence. Psalm 139:13-16 above gives the the source for the next eternal quality of God's being - namely God's omnipotence.

Scripture describes God's omnipotence in terms of Him being almighty
Throughout the books of Genesis, Exodus and Ezekiel, we find reference to God being the "Almighty". The first time we come across this title is in Genesis 17:1 "Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; Walk before Me, and be blameless." In four other places in Genesis (28:3; 35:11; 43:14 and 48:3) we find God speaking to the patriarchs and revealing Himself as God Almighty. By Exodus 6:3, God reveals Himself to Moses and, with this designation of Himself as "God Almighty", gives the specific name by which He reveals Himself to His people as "I AM Who I AM". This covenant name speaks of God's self-existence and thus sustaining Himself by His own omnipotent, never ending power. Ezekiel 10:5 rounds out the places in the Old Testament we will consider with respect to this name God Almighty, wherein we read: "Moreover, the sound of the wings of the cherubim was heard as far as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when He speaks." The point of these texts is to demonstrate that from God's very names, we see already implied that He is indeed the Omnipotent God. 

Reflecting and meditating on God's omnipotence in Psalm 139:13-16
A.W Tozer notes in his classic work "Knowledge of the Holy" the following about God's omnipotence: "God possesses what no creature can: an incomprehensible plenitude of power, a potency that is absolute." He then later makes this helpful observation with respect to God's omnipotence: "God has delegated power to His creatures, but being self-sufficient, He cannot relinquish anything of His perfections and, power being one of them, He has never surrendered the least iota of His power. He gives but does not give away. All that He gives remains His own and returns to Him again. Forever He must remain what He has forever been, the Lord God omnipotent." 

Psalm 139:13-16 outlines for us some basic features of this incredible attribute. We could assign "realms" over which God is said to wield His omnipotent power in this Psalm.

1. God's omnipotence over the realms of the extremely small. Psalm 139:13-16
To speak of "sub-atomic" refers to that level of physical reality that corresponds to the extremely small distances we find when considering atoms, their constitute particles (such as the nucleus, orbiting electrons) and the complex physical laws used to describe their behavior. Now I won't stray to far into the weeds on this point, knowing full-well how unimaginably complex these considerations can get. However, the Psalmist's point is well made in giving to us the general categories related to the fields of biology and quantum physics - namely that God so-governed the formation of David from the union of his father and mother's DNA, chromosomal information and the yet-to-be full described emergence of David's human conscience from such interactions to produce the man we know as King David. From his mother's womb, God was superintending over David's development. 

The idea of "quantum physics" deals broadly with the various laws and equations that describe what extremely small systems do under certain conditions. Thus, all of the atoms making up the DNA molecules, chromosomes and such were providentially held together in the proper discrete energy levels (called by physicists "quanta") to be at the right moment and places for God to then construct the biological material ordained by God to produce what would be the person we know as King David. I know this point is bewilderingly complex - but isn't that the point? to show in small measure God's incredible power at work in the realm of the extremely small. 

2. God's omnipotence over the realm of time and the very large. Psalm 139:16
God's omnipotence includes His power to affect future events and outcomes, as well as His interactions with the free-decisions made by human beings. How is it that God's omnipotence on the one hand and human responsibility on the other do not conflict? This millennia-old discussion will not be solved in this post, nor can it claimed to be entirely comprehended. 

At bare minimum, what we do know is that God has so chosen to create a world wherein He exercises His Sovereign, omnipotent power through secondary means and causes. The outcomes of time and history are credited to His ultimate purposes, whilst the details and means to getting to those ends, especially when it relates to evil choices, fall completely in the realm of the creature. Two quotes may aid us in grasping this point. The first comes from the Westminster Confession of Faith's declaration of God's Providence: "Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently." The second quote showing God's omnipotent will and man's responsibility to be complementary is found in the Baptist Faith and Message's summary: "God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures."

God's power, though being potentially unlimited in regards to what He can do in the realms of the very small and very large, is nonetheless governed by His own internal character. When we say "governed", we are referring to the fact that there are things God "cannot do". The old familiar question: "could God create a rock to heavy for Himself to lift" is ultimately a meaningless question, since it entails a logical contradiction. God cannot do what which is logically impossible, since He Himself is the source and standard of what we mean by logic. We know that God "cannot lie" nor sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18), since God is by nature Holy and just. Henceforth God governs the boundaries (if we can use such a term) of His omnipotence. As the later author Herbert Lockyer once quipped: "God is a being, that, if compared to a circle, has a center that is everywhere and a circumference that is nowhere". 

Closing thoughts
I pray these last few meditations have raised the thoughts and heart of the reader to contemplate God in a greater way. Psalm 139 is indeed a rich treasure-trove for considering the greatness of God. May we today praise Him for His omnipotence. 

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