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The Meaning of Almighty: Evil as Weakness

by Dr. Ron Galloway

It is still quite fashionable to attempt a refutation of the Christian view of God by asking the following hypothetical question: Can God create a universally unstoppable force, and a universally immovable object? If God cannot do this, the argument goes, then God is not almighty, and therefore the Christian view of God found in the Bible is false. The assumption is that if there is something that God cannot do, He cannot be almighty. This argument is clearly an attempt to show that using the Bible’s own definition of God (which includes being almighty), God cannot exist, because the very concept of omnipotence is incoherent.

But this kind of argument really does not work when one studies the God expressed in either the New or Old Testament documents. The truth is, the Bible never claims that God can do everything that can be imagined. The biblical statement, “There is no matter impossible for God,”[1]must be taken contextually. The biblical passage in its entirety clearly means that nothing is impossible for God, provided that it is not against His own nature and eternal being. There are, in fact, many things we can do that God could never do. Unlike us, God could never lie, cheat, steal, betray, or perform any unwise or unloving act. [2]

It is important to understand that because the God of Israel is the Creator of everything, He is distinct from everything. In other words, He is not in any sense a part of nature, but rather its Maker. This means that there are multitudes of things He is not. He is not a mountain, car, or train, nor is He any other material thing.

 
As for the above question regarding the unstoppable force and the immovable object, God cannot create such a thing because it is entirely against his eternal nature, a nature grounded in infallible reason and love. His nature is not at all in harmony with such an illogical project. Were God to engage in such a contradictory action, it would imply not His almighty power, but an irrational weakness such as is common to us. Owing to the nature of His eternal almighty being, God can never create objects that He cannot stop or that He cannot move because God, being unstoppable, can move or stop anything He wants. If God were to create an unstoppable force or an immovable object, then He would no longer be an unstoppable force (for He would not be able to move the newly created immovable object) or an immovable object (for, presumably, the newly created unstoppable force would be able to move Him). This leads to contradiction, and is therefore absurd. Is not the very idea of God creating such forces absurd, since only the uncreated God who has always been and always will be is immovable and unstoppable? And He cannot re-create Himself, since, in accordance with His nature, the God of the Bible is the eternal One, the Uncreated.

 
It is instructive, indeed, that in the God of the Bible we find a God who goes utterly against the grain of normative gods and religion. It was Ludwig Feuerbach who said that most human ideas of God were unfailingly mere projections of human characteristics.[3]That is to say that, according to Feuerbach, humans make God in their own image. With respect to gods that fit into the normative pattern, Feuerbach was not far off track, if at all. The typical ideas of an almighty God found in polytheism, monistic religions, and secular humanism (religious humanism) stems from the normative ways human beings would act if they were God. For example, in our tainted minds the ability to do all things and cause all things equals divine power.
 
But from Genesis to Revelation the Bible reveals something different. The biblical God has a nature like no other. He is holy and pure, characteristics grounded in His loving nature. God is the Three in One, who gives the word He a very different meaning from simple masculinity. It is this eternal He who makes relationship itself an eternal necessity, for true love and intimacy can only exist in relationship, and God is love.[4] He is the God who desires that we be one with Him, even as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One. He is the God who truly loves the people He created.[5] This love is not merely affection but a defining characteristic of God; it means that He always seeks the good of those He has made. This is why Jesus cried out, “Oh Jerusalem, how I would have gathered you under my wings like a hen gathers her chicks, but you would not.”[6]He is the One who is eternal love, eternal justice, and, thereby, the almighty One. This love is of course most evident to us in how God provides for and takes care of His children. The New Testament builds on what the Old Testament says and reveals that this God is also Jesus Christ the God-Man, the God who is not made in the image of humanity; it is humanity that is made in His image.
In Scripture, we are also face to face with a God who weeps[7]and knowingly dies for all humanity.[8]Some mythical gods die and rise, but none weep for us. In our human nature, we might see this as weakness, but this is far from the case. We are not here dealing with a God who is sorrowful because He is weak, but because He is infinite love and compassion.[9]It is only a God who feels sorrow and heartache at human distress who is truly almighty, because only God could love people so deeply. Human rulers view power as a way to control–God’s rule is about serving others in love. A God who does not love is a cold, dark entity made in the image of human conceptions of God. Such a God does not want our love or our intimacy; He only loves raw power. A God without tears or sorrow is also a weak and sickly construction fashioned out of human evil and the human aspiration for power and dominion.
 
Nothing is beyond God’s ability provided it is in accordance with His nature. But this loving nature also explains what He cannot do. To do anything against His nature is, by necessity, impossible. If, for example, God could lie or cheat, this would not show that God is almighty; it would show weakness instead. Evil by its very nature is weakness. God can do no evil, precisely because He is infinite love. The Bible says He permits evils that He hates, but only for a fixed time and for purposes of His own. It is this truly almighty One who tells us the Day of Judgment has not yet happened because He is not willing that any human being should perish. He is giving the world more time to respond to His calling. Yet the reality is that many will perish because of their stubborn resistance towards their Creator, but this is clearly not what God wants.[10]
Some would argue that the existence of evil is in itself a sign of God’s weakness, and that, therefore, the Bible cannot reliably tell us who God is. But the fact that evil exists is evidence forGod’s good character. What I mean by this is that only the loving patience of God allows for evil to still exist. Of course, it’s also part of God’s loving character that He will, in the day of his choosing, bring evil to an end. For since God is love He cannot allow evil to last forever. Even when Scripture talks about how God hates evil, this is grounded in His divine nature. It is impossible for God to hate in such a way that the hatred is divorced from His love for human beings. He hates evil and therefore hates what human beings do, but He does not hate human beings. Even the most sinful of human beings would be quickly embraced by God if he were truly to give his life to Jesus in repentance and faith. Therefore, God can hate evil only because He is love.[11]He hates to see human beings destroy themselves, because He in His being and nature is perfect love.
 
Moreover, the Christian worldview, grounded in Scripture, declares that God will finally bring an end to all evil. He will do this only because He is love. God will not let evil exist for very long, not when compared to eternity and the everlasting home He has prepared for those who love Him. Eternity means days, months, and years unending. Trillions and trillions of years are just the beginning, and are themselves miniscule in comparison with eternity. In light of this, evil is but a hiccup in the history of time and eternity.
 
What the Christian Bible says about God’s nature does not paint an incoherent picture of God. Some argue this only because their own concepts of God are incorrect. On the contrary, Scripture exposes the bad assumptions we harbour about God’s nature by expressing clearly God’s loving nature and power.


[1] Author’s translation of Luke 1:37. cf Mt.19:26,10:27, Mk. 10:27, Heb. 11:6.
[2].Num. 23:19, Heb. 6:18, Heb. 11:6.
[3]Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 18-41.
[4].John 2:15, 3:10, 3:11, 3:14, 1 John 3:16.
[5].1 John 3:13, 4:7, 4:9-10.
[6].Matt. 23:37-39.
[7]John 3:16, John 1:1-10.
[8] There are, of course, a wealth of dying and rising Gods in myth. However, such Gods never die out of love for every person ever born. Only Jesus the God-man did this. There is nothing even comparable in these myths to the words of the Bible in John 3:16: “God so loved the word that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” For dying and rising Gods in myth, see Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion, and Cosmos and History.  
[9].Ibid., I John 4:8. 
[10]Consider 2 Peter 3:9, cf Isaiah 1 and how throughout God extends His love to rebellious Israel.
[11]John 3:16,  I John 4:7, Psalm 25:10,  I John 4:7, 4:8, 4:9-10.