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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dealing with the Problem of Evil, Pt 3

(To read the first two posts in this series, click here and here.)
A couple of weeks ago, we started to look at how to deal with one of the most common and most serious objections to the Christian faith, the problem of evil.  The objection proposes that the existence of evil in the world is incompatible with the existence of a good, omniscient, omnipotent God.  The problem of evil could be formally stated as follows:
“If God is good and loves all people, it is reasonable to believe that he wants to deliver the creatures he loves from evil and suffering.
If God is all-knowing, it is reasonable to believe that he knows how to deliver his creatures from evil and suffering.
If God is all-powerful, it is reasonable to believe to he is able to deliver his creatures from evil and suffering. 
…But evil exists.”[1]
Some then conclude that since evil exists, the God of the Bible – a good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God – cannot exist.
In past posts, we have discovered that the first two of those attributes of God – goodness and omniscience – are essential to the Christian faith.  Not only does the Bible teach that God is good and all-knowing, but also that if we lose those attributes, Christianity is gone.  Today, we will look at the last of the three attributes, omnipotence.  Does the Bible teaching that God is all-powerful?  If so, is that attribute essential to the Christian faith?
It is the consistent testimony of Scripture that God is all-powerful.  Twice in Scripture the rhetorical question is asked, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?”, implying, of course, a negative answer (Gen 18:14; Jer 32:27).  In one of those contexts, Jeremiah makes the explicit statement, “nothing is too difficult for You” (Jer 32:17). 
In Luke 1:37, when the angel tells Mary that she will conceive a Son by the Holy Spirit and that her elderly and formerly barren relative, Elizabeth, will also bear a son, the angel concludes by saying, “For nothing will be impossible with God.”  In Job 42:2, Job says to the Lord, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.”  Paul writes in Eph 3:20 that God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think. 
God’s power is also demonstrated in His acts of creating and sustaining the universe.  Men hold the power to destroy, but only God has the power to create something out of nothing.  And He did so with nothing more than the sound of His voice (Gen 1).  Further, He maintains the existence of all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3). 
So God is all-powerful but we have to be careful how we define omnipotence.  We cannot say that omnipotence means that God is able to do absolutely anything.  There are a couple of categories of things that God cannot do.  First, God cannot do logically impossible actions.  For example, can God make two mountains without a valley in between?  Of course, not – it is not logically possible.  Thomas Aquinas called such acts “pseudotasks.”  A logically impossible task is not an task.[2] That God cannot do such things does not count against His omnipotence.
(While we’re here, I’d like to address another popular objection to God’s omnipotence: “Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?”  This ends up being a pseudotask, too.  God’s power to create is infinite.  His power to lift is also infinite.  It is logically impossible for one infinite power to be greater than another infinite power.  So it is nonsense to ask if God can make a rock so big that He can’t lift it.  Such a question could be asked of a human, though.  Man’s power to build is finite, as is his power to lift.  Two finite powers can be compared to determine which is greater.  But such a question cannot be asked of an infinite being.)
The Bible also teaches that God cannot commit immoral actions.  He cannot tempt or be tempted (Jas 1:13).  He cannot lie (Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18).  He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim 2:13).  So it is clear that it is not accurate to say that God can do anything.  A better definition of omnipotence then is that God is able to do anything that is consistent with His will and character.
With this definition in mind, we can say that the Bible does teach that God is omnipotent.  The next question is, is this attribute of God essential to the Christian faith?  We can answer this by considering all of the things (some of which have already been mentioned) that Scripture attributes to the power of God.
God spoke the world into existence (Gen 1).  God sustains the existence of the world with the word of His power (Heb 1:3).  God gave power to Christ, by which He fulfilled His earthly ministry (Acts 10:38).  It is by God’s power that the gospel saves sinful men (Rom 1:16; 1Cor 1:18).  By God’s power He raised Christ from the dead (2Cor 13:4; Eph 1:20).  By God’s power we will be raised from the dead (1Cor 6:14).  God’s power enables us to suffer for the gospel (2Tim 1:8).  By God’s power we are being kept in the faith (1Pet 1:5).  His divine power has granted to us all things pertaining to salvation and sanctification (2Pet 1:3). 
To limit God’s power is to put all of salvation history in jeopardy.  Christianity cannot exist without an omnipotent God.  This attribute is essential to our faith. 
Now we know that the three attributes of God detailed in the problem of evil – goodness, omniscience, and omnipotence – are clearly taught in the Bible and are essential doctrines of the Christian faith.  So we cannot deal with the problem of evil by denying any one of the three.  We will have to address the issue from another angle.
Until next time, I encourage you to take a few minutes to meditate on the blessings that are ours in Christ by God’s power, as described in 1 Pet 1:3-5.

[1]Ronald Nash, Faith & Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988) p178.
[2]Ibid., 185.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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