Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is God Worthy of Trust: Divine Omnipotence

In the Peter Jackson film The Return of the King viewers join Gandalf the White and Pippin at the city of Gondor. The city is about to be attacked by a battalion of Orgs and evil men and we hear one soldier cry out, “It is just as Lord Denethor foresaw.” Apparently the steward of Gondor had predicted that a day of destruction would come upon the city. Gandalf speaking wisely, however, responds, “foreseen and done nothing!” Gandalf found no conciliation in Denethor’s predictions, for foreknowledge with out action means little. An ability to know and predict the coming danger to the city was of no help to its people if the steward would not take action to protect them. We have just finished discussing the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge, and surveyed why that should be a comfort to us, and an encouragement for us to trust God. This foreknowledge, however, is only encouraging in so far as we know about God’s omnipotence. I have argued, in the previous chapter, that involved in divine foreknowledge is divine foreordination. He knows what will happen tomorrow because He has foreordained all of tomorrow to come about. This is part of the teaching of God’s omnipotence, and by grasping hold of this doctrine we can add a final support to the tower of our faith.

Divine Omnipotence is the doctrine that God is able to do everything that can possibly be done.[1]The biblical verses most often appealed to are Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases;” Psalm 135:6 “Whatever the LORD please, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps;” and Daniel 4:35 “…[H]e does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” I want to focus in, however, on a passage in Jeremiah and ask the question that God Himself asks in this section, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

In Jeremiah 32 we read God telling the prophet to buy a field. This is a particularly amusing, even bizarre, thing for God to say to Jeremiah. The background of this command finds Jeremiah shut up in prison, Zedekiah ruling like an ignorant and evil king, and the besieging of Judah. The whole land is eventually going to pass into the hands of Chaldeans and into the hands of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Why does God demand this of Jeremiah at such an odd and hopeless time? Precisely because it is a hopeless time. The possession of the field by Jeremiah is to be a symbol of the possession of all of the land by the Israelites. God will not leave them in captivity and without a possession, but He will bring them back. It is a word of hope and a symbol of God’s faithfulness to His covenant. But, like most of us, Jeremiah has a hard time believing the Lord and so he finally comes to ask for some assurance.

Jeremiah 32:24-25 Behold, the siege mounds have come up to the city to take it, and because of sword and famine and pestilence the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans who are fighting against it. What you spoke has come to pass, and behold, you see it. 25 Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, "Buy the field for money and get witnesses"- though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.'"

Note all that Jeremiah confesses in this prayer. God had foreseen the Chaldean invasion, he “spoke” beforehand and it “has come to pass.” But note also that Jeremiah has concern here. “You had me buy a land, God, but now the Chaldeans are taking all the land. What is the meaning of this?” It is not a demand for God to answer for these actions, it is not an arrogant assertion of supposed rights to knowledge. No, Jeremiah is requesting a greater explanation of God’s plan. He wonders, rightly, how he can own the land that he bought, if the Chaldeans take it all? God answers.

Jeremiah 32:26-42 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: 27 "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me? 28 Therefore, thus says the LORD: Behold, I am giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he shall capture it. 29 The Chaldeans who are fighting against this city shall come and set this city on fire and burn it, with the houses on whose roofs offerings have been made to Baal and drink offerings have been poured out to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 30 For the children of Israel and the children of Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth. The children of Israel have done nothing but provoke me to anger by the work of their hands, declares the LORD. 31 This city has aroused my anger and wrath, from the day it was built to this day, so that I will remove it from my sight 32 because of all the evil of the children of Israel and the children of Judah that they did to provoke me to anger- their kings and their officials, their priests and their prophets, the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 33 They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction. 34 They set up their abominations in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 35 They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. 36 "Now therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning this city of which you say, 'It is given into the hand of the king of Babylon by sword, by famine, and by pestilence': 37 Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. 38 And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. 39 I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. 40 I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. 41 I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul. 42 "For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them.

It is a rhetorical question that God asks, yet He answers it Himself. “Is anything to hard for me?” The answer is an obvious no, but just in case we don’t get that, God spells the answer out in this lengthy speech, of which I have only given a portion. It is God who is “giving this city into the hands of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon.” But, in verse 37, it is also God who “will gather them from all the countries” which He drove them out to.

These are powerful nations that God is referring to here. He has foreordained that they capture Israel, they are His rod to discipline the children of Israel for their rebellion against Him. But, though they are powerful and conquer many nations, God is greater. He foresees their coming destruction, but He is able to bring the captured Israelites back from their bondage. He will do it, He says. What a powerful God this is. No one can “stay His hand,” not even Nebuchadnezzar.

In the Daniel 4 passage quoted above it is Nebuchadnezzar himself who professes the sovereignty and omnipotence of God. The text reads:

Daniel 4:1-3 King Nebuchadnezzar to all peo- ples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth: Peace be multiplied to you! 2 It has seemed good to me to show the signs and wonders that the Most High God has done for me. 3 How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion endures from generation to generation…

Daniel 4:28-37 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, "Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?" 31 While the words were still in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, "O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will." 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws. 34 At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" 36 At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.

God’s promise, His prediction, came true because God is able to do all that He pleases, in heaven and on earth, and beneath the earth.

The great question of this portion of our study is “Is God Worthy of Trust?” The answer, after all that we have considered (His Immutability, Internal Consistency, Foreknowledge, and Divine Omnipotence) must be a resounding, “YES!” The God of the Bible, the only true God, is a God most definitely worthy of trust. Do you trust this God who makes the wind and the waves to cease in the person of Christ? Do you trust this God who commands nations and they obey, who draws a people for Himself from every tribe, and tongue, and nation, and a God who gives spiritual life to a spiritually dead people? Whatever you may be going through in your life that causes you to doubt God’s trustworthiness, either in theology or practice, I ask you the same question God asked Jeremiah, “Is there anything too hard for God?”

Do you despair because of illness, loss, need? Do you feel hopeless, abandoned, alone? Do you feel to sinful, to immoral, to hard-hearted? Are these things impossible for God? They are not! God is the all-powerful, that is omnipotent, creator, sustainer, and Savior. Trust in Him today!

[1] Some would disagree with the addition of the qualifier “that is possible to be done.” There is a debate over whether or not God can do the impossible (i.e. make round squares, etc.). I agree with Ronald Nash and others in saying that it does not detract from God’s omnipotence to say He cannot do that which is impossible. The Bible even plainly asserts that God cannot lie, it is “impossible” for Him. This is a good refutation to the old philosophical trap “Can God create a rock so big He couldn’t lift it?” See Ronald Nash, Faith & Reason. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988). 183.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a highschool student taking a class on apologetics and this article helped me a lot.

3:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for all the verse refrences that was very helpful. I also like how you have a lot of info to back up yuor point.

3:32 PM  

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