Thoughts on the nature of God. A brief consideration of God’s all-powerful characteristic.
Trying to understand the nature of God is a daunting task. There is only so much about God that we can ever hope to come to understanding without a full revelation of himself to us. God has revealed himself to us through the created order he has provided for us. He has also revealed himself to us through his word, the record of his interactions with humanity across history. So, it is from these sources that we are able to formulate a theory about what God’s nature is like. One of the most prominent features of his nature that has tremendous implications is his power. God, being all powerful, or omnipotent if you like, comes to mean many things and this has led to many various ideas about what all they imply. One of the questions that arises is whether or not an all-powerful God must act in order to be in control.
Perhaps the old adage, “Not to act, is to act,” can bring in some clarity to what I mean. There comes into view the understanding of God as being in control of all things going on in the cosmos. He is not only the creator, but he is the sustainer of the cosmos. All things that are temporal depend on something that is eternal both for their creation and their existence. What brings them into being also sustains their being. At least, that is the thought. However, what does the sustainment of that being look like? Does this mean that every act, every decision, and every behavior of that being is controlled by the all-powerful sustaining force? This is where we get the ideas of “predestination” or “Determinism” and the like. Many different terms to identify it, but the point is this: God is in control of everything, therefore God determines all possible outcomes and guides everything to those outcomes how he chooses.
Essentially, this becomes the view of all of humanity being nothing but puppets, bouncing to the pull of our strings controlled by God. This is the extreme understanding of this view. This view suggests that we are all predestined, that is, we all have our destinies set before we come to existence. The whole concept of free will is nothing but an illusion, as all of our paths in life are already set. We just think we are making our own decisions, but in the grand scheme of things, God controls it all. This extreme has the most obvious issue of taking all responsibility for human actions away from the very individuals who make those choices. They are not really choices after all, therefore God is the one ultimately responsible. You are preprogrammed to go to hell or to go to heaven. Many utilize the notion of “election,” to defend this view, and have the tendency to view everything that has happened across the history of man as being programmed by God to happen, leaving not a single thing out. From the butterfly flapping its wing to the hurricane it forms the following year on the other side of the planet. But does that theory reflect reality?
It is here that I have a tremendous issue with this theory of God’s all-powerful nature. Must a God who is all-powerful act on all things to be in control? Does he have to be involved in every little thing of life to be an all-powerful God? Most certainly not. The most clear reality that many seem to set aside is that an all-powerful being (being all powerful) has the ability to choose what it will and will not use its power for. It has the power to use its power, just the same as it has the power to choose not to. God does not have to act 100% of the time to still be in control of the cosmos. His providence is not always active in the cosmos, making every little quark do its thing. All he has to do is one small adjustment, and through that adjustment, 1,000 years are set in stone on what will and will not happen in the cosmos. Just as a referee “controls” a football game, he doesn’t make every play happen, but he is there to halt it when a foul happens, reset the play, and then let go forward. Not the best analogy, but it should suffice to make the point. So, how does that look with humanity?
As human beings, we have a very unique relationship with God. The way he interacts with us is necessarily different from how he interacts with the rest of the cosmos. In most circumstances we find in the bible, he uses the cosmos to influence human affairs according to his will. His will, after all, is that we have free will. This necessitates his decision to not be in control of every human being. Now, this does not take away from the reality that God can see what goes on in the future. Being eternal, we all can come to grasp the understanding that God can see where we are likely to go. However, this does not mean he controls where we go, nor does it suggest that he has to. God does not have to act at all times to control the cosmos. However, he can influence us to the degree that his will is done. Again, all it takes is one small adjustment, and 1,000 years of human free will is guided to God, leaving man free to accept it, or reject it. This does not mean that every human being will end up choosing him. However, it does mean that through these singularities he is able to influence humanity. Such as the singularity of the Christ.
While there are certain human patterns of behavior that allow us to predict the destiny of individuals and even whole civilizations, this does not mean that he has predestined anything. God has shown to us what certain human behaviors will result in. He made us after all. He let us know what human decisions, not based on a certain standard, will result in. There have been times in human history where whole civilizations had gotten so far off the beaten path, that God saw they would come to wreck the whole world if not stopped. He also saw that humanity, in those times, would not be able to stop those events on their own. So, God chooses when to act upon humanity, and when not to. This includes our eternal outcomes.
This brings to light another point. Even though God can see into the future, that does not mean that the future is set in stone beyond certain things. God has set into stone that eventually all will come to an end. But he has set it so that what we see as an end, is actually just a new beginning. Just because God knows the future does not mean that the future he knows can’t change. Just because an all-powerful God can see the future does not suddenly make that future preset, yet we all seem to think that to be the case. We can all make predictions that are sound and reasonable about what a person will end up doing in their life, that does not mean that it will come to pass. This is not limiting God’s power, nor attempting to put it in a box. I’m simply trying to take our grasp of God’s power out of the box it has been put in due to our natures as human beings. Just because God is all-powerful does not mean he controls the future in all of its aspects. He chooses what he will and will not control. It is a bit arrogant for us to think we can say what he does. All we can do is acknowledge that he will do as he wants.
We are not predestined to go to heaven or to hell. At any point in time during our life-times, we can choose God, or not. We can be going down one set pattern of behavior which we can all see will lead to oblivion, and then suddenly be transformed by the love of others to being put on the right path of life to God’s grace. We all desire for everyone to live a happy and blessed life, but we all know that it is ultimately up to the individual to make that decision. It is ultimately up to God where they will go at the end, but it is where we end up at the end that God basis his judgment. If we can see that, why is it that it is so difficult for some to not also realize that God made us that way? God has predetermined that there will only be those who follow his will going into eternity, he has not set who will be a part of that elect group.
He does everything he can to call out to us, to call us back to him. However, he does not force our will. He acts through influence, and ultimately, it is the choice of the individual to respond to the work of the Holy Spirit within them, or to reject it. We can either choose to be a part of it, or not. In the end, God’s all-powerful choice to restrict himself with regards to humanity, is what forms the part of our nature we call Free Will. It is because of that free will that evil comes to be possible. It is our actions alone that bring evil “into existence”, so to speak, as evil is the moral state of lacking what is good, right, and as it should be. That choice is ours by the good grace of God. So, in the end, it is not necessary for God to act, being all-powerful. He can still govern the cosmos without continuous and constant involvement in it. Therefore, we are all ultimately responsible for our own actions. God simply longs for us to return to him, and may choose to act, or not act, in order to communicate with us his presence, and to persuade us to open our hearts to his love.