Is God’s Power Limited?

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

The classical Judeo-Christian belief has always been that God is all-powerful, or omnipotent.  He can do whatever is actually possible to do, but not what is actually impossible to do.  We previously covered this topic in “Can God Make a Rock So Big He Can’t Lift It?

But there are some who deny that God is all-powerful because of the problem of evil.  An all-powerful God, they say, could defeat evil, but there is still evil in the world.  Therefore, God cannot be all-powerful.

This is exactly the view that Rabbi Harold Kushner took in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.  Kushner’s son died of a horrible disease at the age of 14, and Kushner decided that even though God loved his son and wanted him to live, God could do nothing to stop the onslaught of the disease.  God is handcuffed by the laws of nature.

In essence, Kushner believed that God was either limited in power or not infinitely loving.  Kushner could not stand to worship a God who was not infinitely loving (a God who didn’t care about his son’s suffering and death), but he could stand a God who wanted goodness to reign on earth, but could not make it happen.

Contrary to what Kushner believes, there is another option.  God could be all-loving and all-powerful.  In fact, Christians believe that if God is not all-powerful, then his love is impotent.  Why should we worship a God that wills goodness but can do nothing about making sure that goodness will be victorious?  The God Kushner worships cannot guarantee that evil will ever be defeated and that good will prevail.

The true God is allowing evil for a time, but promises that in the future, all accounts will be settled.  Evil will be defeated and the suffering that humans endure in this earthly life will seem trivial.  Those that love God will spend their afterlife with him, and those who reject God will spend their afterlife away from him.

Rabbi Kushner’s dilemma is resolved by the future promises of God.  This is the blessed hope that all Christians have.

Note: If you would like to see Rabbi Kushner debate the issue of God’s omnipotence, in light of the problem of evil, with Norman Geisler, please order the DVD’s from The John Ankerberg Show.  It is a fascinating discussion.

  • internet elias

    To ‘know’ God within the limited realm of man’s ‘knowing’ is to understand that God is far beyond what the mind of man can imagine, that He is perfect, that His purposes and ‘appointments’ for man…including Life and Death…are perfect, that He prepares glorious destinations for His children who seek them…whether the roads leading there are smooth or whether they are rocky, that God holds NOTHING back from those children who ‘know’ Him as Father, and that His heart is filled with love which He desires to bestow on those who will allow it. Rabbi Kushner son only died physically. He knows NOTHING of the kind of love it takes to willingly and deliberately ‘GIVE’ a perfect and innocent son’s physcial body to be tortured and torn so that His perfect blood and soul is poured out unto death….on behalf of undeserving vile, vile, vile…sinners. Many of us Christians have given up children to physical death. My little one left with the angel who stood against the wall in the delivery room…waiting to take my son’s beautiful little ‘life’ back to the Father…only twenty-two minutes after he was born. But God communed with me while it all was happening as to whether or not I truly ‘trusted’ God. I made my decision and confessed from the depths of my heart, “I trust You with the life of Your child.” It was important for me to ‘know’ and ‘trust’ God’s purposes for ‘good’….in the taking of the little one back to Himself. He didn’t have to ask my permission…BUT HE DID! About four months later, the heavenly Father, by way of the Holy Spirit, spoke to my mind at the graveside and ever so kindly said, “I didn’t let him die. I let him LIVE.” In the past, I have cast these ‘pearls’ just shared..before swine…and they did turn and rend me. I hope that’s not the case here.

    GOOD POST.

    I am internetelias.wordpress.com

  • Bill Pratt

    Elias,
    Thanks very much for sharing your difficult experience with your child. Your trust in God is a great testimony to all of us.

    God bless,
    BP

  • q the physicist

    The problem of evil is indeed a problem for two reasons:
    1. Being all-powerful means he can do anything, so why doesn’t he? You say because he is allowing evil for a time and then he is going to step in. What’s he waiting for? And people claim God/Jesus is watching over them and in their lives everyday. He intervenes in their lives but not in the lives of the starving millions in Africa (some of whom, like the folks of Nigeria, may be the most religious people on the planet). Why? Because Americans pray harder? Which brings me to number 2…
    2. Prayer. If god is all powerful but he is allowing evil for a time, then what’s the use of prayer? He sometimes decides to intervene in our lives to help us start a new career but at the same time lets countless millions, and no that is not a typo, die needlessly every year? How can this be explained?

  • Dena

    As usual, Dr. Ankerberg’s insight into the nature and the power of the love of God, due to his own relationship, and study, and understanding, reveal that we worship a much more powerful and loving God than most people can comprehend, including rabbi Kushner.

  • Brad

    Physicist, do you really want to know, or will you not believe or agree, no matter what we say?

    Just curious.

  • kay

    Don’t have anything new to say. Just wanted to share that I lost my first child at birth, and my son at age 7. Why? Sometimes I think it was to punish me. Could have been to get my attention, but I lean toward punishment. I did not know how to be a good mother although I tried as hard as I could. Just the way I grew up I guess.

    As far as others starving — I have wondered about that also. Could it be because of the father’s sins? Or, the nation is being dealt with?
    Who knows what God’s reason is, but He definately has a plan, a reason. We can not question His intent. Maybe some day all our questions will be answered.

  • Bill Pratt

    Q,
    The reason people are starving in Africa is due mostly to government corruption. There is plenty of food in the world to feed every person, but corrupt governments prevent food supplies from getting to their people.

    God has given humans the good power of free will, but they often use this power for evil. If you don’t like this, then would you be willing to be the first to give up your free will in the name of ridding the planet of evil?

  • akilles1

    Hi, I still think that somekind off allmighty ,power,tao,god ,cosmos,the suorce off everything etc.exists,but that “god”dont care about us in a kind off personal level,that kind off god are impartial.We should ask our self if lord first make us to pleasure creatures and then let us suffer throught pain,the killing principle,natural catastophes etc. what the “lords”purpuse to make that kind off world,conditions etc. are!To begin with look at the nature,the strongers and smartest have te best chance to survive,even humans have to eat either plants or animals(flesh)whits someone have to kill.If some cristians etc. still think there are somekind off God who “loves” us they are wery strange and live in a somekind off “whisful fantasy” land ,right?!!Greetings Aki.T. on e-mail aki@aol.se also.

  • akilles1

    And I still wonder why noone dare to make the Christian bible texts more modern,more true and practical,it looks to me noone have change them in 2000years?The bible are written by antique people who even did not know that the earth goes round the sun etc.Why should the christian authors have a better interpretation to gods intentions etc. compered with any other religion like Taoism,Islam or Hinduism etc?

  • akilles1

    By the way,yuo cannot even prove in what limits our fri will are.Yuo cannot do more that the program in yuor brain allows,someone or something are the programmer off the human brain,like a computer with a certain among off information bits.Thats why we are somekind off “automatic robots”smarter than ants etc.Therefore we also have a bigger responsibillity about our actions compered with the ant for.ex.

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Aki,
    The reason there is pain in the world is because of human free will (see Genesis 3). God has allowed evil in the world, which humans originated, because it brings out good in human beings. Without deprivation, there could be no generosity. Without danger, there could be no courage or bravery. It is often when humans are faced with the toughest circumstances that they shine the brightest. Witness the outpouring of goodness in the US after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi.

    A world full of nothing but pleasure would produce a race of spoiled, immature brats; it would actually produce more evil than good. I think history and experience has shown us this over and over. Why is it that survey after survey demonstrates that the American people are less happy today than 50 years ago, even though American per capita wealth has doubled in that time period? It’s because we are a shallow and spoiled nation full of pleasure-seekers. Pleasure does not equal happiness.

    So God is using this world as a moral training ground, to allow humans to be refined like gold (read Rom. 8:28 to see that God is working out all things for the good of those who love him).

    In the future, when God is ready, he will close down this world, and create a new one where all pain and suffering will end. That is the sure promise that Christians have from the Bible, which we believe is God’s word delivered through human writers. What promises do you have for the future?

  • Bill Pratt

    Christians believe the Bible is God’s word, so why would we want to change it? Its truths are timeless and its wisdom more profound than any other book ever written.

    Why do we believe the Bible instead of other religious books? Because it has been confirmed by supernatural events that are historically verifiable, the greatest being the resurrection of Jesus. No other religious founder predicted that he would die and then rise from the dead three days later, and then actually do it!. Only Jesus did that, and there is solid historical evidence confirming that it did indeed occur. If Taoism, Islam, or Hinduism can show that their religious leaders predicted and accomplished their own deaths and resurrections, then I might be willing to listen. Until then, I don’t see the point.

  • Bill Pratt

    If human brains are mere computers that have been programmed, who or what programmed them?

  • lightsmith

    Bill, “human free will” does not explain the multitude of innocent babies who were killed by a tidal wave around Christmas 2004. It does not explain why deadly viruses exist. Were they engineered by a loving, omnipotent God, a malevolent, omnipotent bioterrorist, or the same evolutionary forces that gave rise to you and me? I’m going with the last option.

    You say “God is using this world as a moral training ground, to allow humans to be refined like gold”. Do you expect your training will continue after you die, or will you be completely refined at that point? Or do you expect to be magically transformed as you pass through the pearly gates?

    Is there free will in heaven? Is there sin and evil in heaven?

    Because it seems to me, if heaven is going to be a perfect place, then what are we to make of your statement “A world full of nothing but pleasure would produce a race of spoiled, immature brats; it would actually produce more evil than good.”?

    If heaven is not perfect, and you and everyone else there will still have your human free will, then all you’ve been “promised” is more of the same. Big whoop.

    But if heaven is perfect, and the only thing that prevents you all from degenerating into an astral plane of spoiled brats is that you’ve been transformed into a horde of mindless, sinless automatons, then what’s the point of this shadow play you’re appearing in now?

    To answer your final question, I don’t have any promises for the future. I think the stories Christians tell themselves are myths which ease their passage through a difficult world, but at the end of life you will experience the same oblivion I do.

    I recognize that today, and you probably never will.

    Maybe that doesn’t make a difference in how either of us lives our life, but for me it means that I don’t want to waste a minute. The ONLY chance I have to leave the world better than I found it is right now. There isn’t going to be a perfect world waiting after I die, so the actions I take (or fail to take) will make a real difference in the real lives of those who come after me.

    For you, I don’t know, it seems like it doesn’t really matter what you do or don’t do, as long as you believe in Jesus, because God has all the power anyway, and He’s going to set things right when we’re all dead, so what difference could it make?

    I know there are Christians, and you’re probably one, who lives life as though it DOES make a difference, which tells me that you don’t really buy the implications of your myth either.

    I think the problem of evil and suffering in this world is a serious one for those who claim to believe not only in a loving, omnipotent God, but in a perfected afterlife.

    If God is capable of creating a perfect afterlife (and even His own press releases cast some serious doubts on THAT claim – Adam – fail, Noah/Flood – fail, Sodom/Gomorrah – fail), then what kind of monster must He be to require all the suffering along the way?

    And if there isn’t going to be a perfect afterlife, but simply an eternity of “more of the same,” well — I don’t know, maybe oblivion isn’t such a bad fate.

  • The heaven are importial it allows lifeforms on Eaert for ex. to die,the wise brother are not to sentimental because he knows because off the tao balance ,people have to die.If yuo study Richard Dawkins or darwinism it say that our brain are an biproduct developpet by darwinian principals.Nothing else are proven to me so far.The darwinian evolution dont have a goal like to explain the meaning off our life or existence,that are for ex. whisfull thinging from us,the universe are not necessarily fittet to our whishis etc.Our morality feeling have also a darwinian explenation.also humansm give us morally goals etc.Principals like be against others like yuo want the othersto be againstyuo dont come only from christiannity and Jesus,konfusius in taoism say that 500 years before Jesus.There is not so much unique things in the christian bible.The Christian bible might are muost spreaden in the history,but we should not mixe up kvantity with quallity.Some final words, If we allow everything to do,what it does truoght its true nature,the nature off everything is gono be pleased,how can it posibly be or work an other way?Greetings Aki.T.

  • There are no real proves to 1 that Jesus was son off God.2 that Jesus existed att all !!So I dont know what yuo mean that Jesus died and came back from the dead,mayby it mean in the christien bible that if yuo do somethings right here on yuo earth life yuo can come to heaven or that things get better if we act in a higher moral etc. way,what can it posibly mean else when Jesus came back after the cryifiction for,ex.I still belive that Jesus might existed but not that he was the son off god etc.Remember the romans often crisified ,rebells etc.by the time Jesus lived.Greetings aki.t.

  • Bill Pratt

    So you don’t believe that an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnisapient God can use natural disasters to bring more people to a knowledge of him? If he can see all of human history, if he knows exactly what will happen in the future, then he can obviously bring good out of evil.

    Time and again, throughout history, we see the outpouring of human responsiveness to God when disasters occur. That is what God ultimately wants from us because he is our ultimate good.

    For you to blame God for creating free creatures who live in a physical world where natural evil may occur is strange indeed. If you understand who God is (all-good, all-knowing, all-powerful) then you could see how natural disasters can forward his good plans for mankind.

    Bottom line: there is nothing imcompatible with the Christian God and natural evil. You may not like natural evil, but God is not in the business of giving you what you like, but what you need, which is Him.

  • Bill Pratt

    In heaven, as in hell, the choice we made about God on earth is confirmed. The freedom we experience on earth is a limited and imperfect freedom, because we are able to choose harmful things. Perfected freedom means always being able to choose the right things, and that is what heaven will be like.

    Hell is reserved for those who yearn to continue being able to choose the wrong things…forever.

    By the way, please don’t tell me that you think that God should give us perfected freedom while on earth, because every word you write proves that you prefer to reject God, which means you very much like the imperfect form of freedom we have. If you can’t stand God now (I believe you referred to him as a monster), imagine how miserable you would be in his presence forever.

  • lightsmith

    I believe an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnisapient God would have a variety of means available to bring more people to a knowledge of Him.

    He could, for example, send an angel to each and every one of His precious children, to show them brochures of heaven and hell, and answer all their questions with divine authority.

    That such a being would instead send a tidal wave into the cribs of infants seems like a failure of the imagination.

    How much knowledge did those infants gain of God’s love as the seawater and silt filled their lungs, which had never breathed a word against Him?

    Mafia Godfathers use “natural” disasters to bring shopowners knowledge of the “special protection” they can provide. It isn’t an act of love when they do it, either.

    I believe we live in a natural world in which natural disasters can happen. That’s life.

    What’s inconceivable to me is that someone who claims to be moral would actually WORSHIP a being that he believes DELIBERATELY CAUSES such disasters as a way to “teach people a lesson.”

    If Stalin kills thousands of people, it’s a bad thing. But for some reason, you can convince yourself that if God does the very same thing, it’s wonderful.

    That’s what I call “cognitive dissonance.”

  • lightsmith

    Sorry, Bill, a good and competent God would have started with “perfected freedom” (do you have a Bible verse where I can confirm that this is something you didn’t just make up?), and spared everyone all the suffering.

  • Bill Pratt

    Perfected freedom is in inference from biblical data. The Bible teaches that heaven is a place of perfection and beauty, therefore no evil or sin is possible. It follows that human beings must be free to only do good in heaven.

    A God who wanted his creatures to love him and learn about him without coercion would not start with perfected freedom. God obviously wants us to choose him without taking away the option to reject him. Again, you are enjoying this freedom right now, but you argue against it? Do you really want God to perfect your freedom tonight? If so, you won’t be able to call him monstrous and incompetent tomorrow. My guess is that you would agree with John Milton’s Paradise Lost: “It’s better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”

  • lightsmith

    So you don’t believe that “free will” is an essential part of being human, and you do believe that those destined for heaven will be relieved of the burden of being able to choose badly.

    If that were really true, the benevolent course of action would have been to create such humans from the beginning. That would have spared humanity the suffering which it has endured to this point, and insured that no one was destined for hell.

    If two courses of action are available, one of which causes transient suffering for everyone and eternal suffering for many, and the other of which causes no suffering for anyone, only a sadistic being would choose the former.

    And the reasons you offer for inflicting such suffering! He wants his creatures to learn about him and love him without coercion. There is no coercion under your hypothetical “perfected freedom,” any more than there is coercion to feel the pull of gravity or choose to breath air. The picture you paint of your God is really a picture of selfish neediness, rather than boundless love.

  • About our suffering and fri will etc.If we talk about a Christian kind off God who are supposet to love us .We can make a choise to avoid accedents in the trafic when we drive a car etc. by our intellectual capacity,accedent in the trafick dont happen so often ,the better driver yuo are the less accedents happen,but sooner or later accedents happen in the traffic no matter how god drivers we are,the kind off accedents where we suffer or die,because the lord did not give us capacity enought to avoid ALL accidents,same goes when that zsunami happent,when eathqueges happen,when storms happen where people suffer and die etc. when we dont have the power to avoid or stop that kind off accedent it clearly show me for.ex.1. That the christian gods powers are limited,2.The Christian god dont care or love us or some innicent people.3. the christian god dont exist.4. The christian God exist and loves us anyway,I think yuo belive in nr.4.Explain then how a god who loves yuo,allow the suffering and wants to pain and torment us because he did not give us means enought to avoid “all” accedents etc.?

  • If yuo dont have a good solution to nr 4 Tao still are even more powerfull and my real lord.I even gonna end this discussion with a Tao solution.When we return to the real suorce,we gonna find the perfect peace.When we emprace all things we can treat them fairly,when we treat them fairly we are noble.When we are noble we are like cosmos.If we are loke cosmos, we also are like Tao .If brother Aki are like Tao,Brother Aki is gonna have a eternal “life” anyway, and dont have to be afraid off dyuin for ex.Greetings Aki:t.

  • Bill Pratt

    Do you not see the irony that you, a person who rejects God, is arguing for God to make it so that you could never have rejected him?

    God obviously thought that this world of pain was worth the price of our ability to love or hate him. Since he is infinitely good and wise and you are not, I’ll go with him on this one.

    You also seem to forget that in the Christian view this life is but a speed bump, timewise. Our afterlives will dwarf this existence, so to judge God for this time while on earth, while never mentioning the fact that those who love him will spend the rest of their lives with him in paradise is to tell a miniscule fraction of the story. Obviously, if this life were it, then we might judge God differently, but it is not.

    Tell me, how can the creator of everything that exists be selfish and needy? He did not have to create anything. He chose to share his goodness and even existence with us. You would not even be able to write comments on blogs about how rotten God is unless he had created you, the universe you live in, the world you live on, and all the people that developed blogging technology!

    Again, you claim you want a world where we all with with God in paradise, a world without suffering. It is coming. God has promised it is coming, and if he doesn’t exist, your hope for that world is gone, because it will never happen. If there is no God, all ultimate hope for mankind is lost. Our species will die out within tens of thousands of years, the sun will eventually burn out and quit producing heat, and the entire universe will suffer heat death, meaning the end of any possibility of any life. This is your destiny without God.

  • Why are yuo not an agnostic or atheist for.ex?We can only prove existence out off existence right?Like in physics energy exist for ever and are therefore noncreated, right?Nothing can also exist parallell to this ,right.?Cyclic(automatic) cosmic and darwinian evolutionmake us to pleasure creatures. Noncaring,impartial and unbiassed etc. natural laws and forces make natural catastrophies like tzunamy and earthquages happen where innecent children and other people die and suffer to keep lifeforms (spicies)in balance etc.are one solution to our suffering. If yuo belive something else like a allmighty god who are the suorce to nature “we” have a problem, because then that god are the end suorce to humen suffering, do yuo wanna be a marionette or a slave to that kind off god?Of cuorse if god dont exist or are not powerfull enaught we dont have that problem, right?The destiny without prier and without (Christian etc) god and (Jesus) is the destiny to have backbone and to be a real man, who dont bend or take orders from ” a slave owner” etc in heavens, who dont care about our suffering and priers, right?!

  • By the way, yuo cannot find anything in yuor christian bible with it dont borrow from philosophy or other kind off thinking systems(about moral etc), not even the golden rule”be against others like yuo want others to be against yuo” comes from christiannity, taoism konfysius etc, said that 500 years Before Jesus! Also it says before christiannity. The heaven and earth are Impartial ,they allow things to die,the wise one are not to sentimental, “he”knows all creatures have to” pass away”.Then i argu that the christian bible are not god words , its written by “ordinary “people, right?!Also I argu that yuo are atheistic against the snowman, bigfoot, Ra, Zeus, Thor Oden, The muslims God(where Jesus did not rise from the dead etc)the spaghettymonster etc, etc. , why are the christian bible better and more true compered with mormons book, qauran veda script etc?They can not all be right at the same time?!?Yuo can behaive morally etc. without religion or “God belive” as supprort, right?!

  • I belive cosmos get consciuosness in our brain by a energy and matter “conversion”(omvandling in swed. )in our level and that cosmos is all that is and will be etc.Two problems comes to the lifeforms in the future , sun becames a red giant and the andromeda galaxy collision.If lifeforms exist in billions off yaers in the future on earth they have to know how to colonizise other solar systems by ramjetpropuolsen or a matter sender etc. Nature gave us a brain as a survivel tool also i think. the better we know cosmos the better we also know how to survive as a lifeform (in matter) right?!

  • Nicky Beet

    If god is all seeing and all knowing then he would have seen before we were given free will that things would come to this-ie war famine&drought,so why did he allow it in the 1st place?
    At the least it would imply that he does not care