By James M. Rochford

The term omnipotence comes from two Latin root words that mean “all” (omnis) and “powerful” (potens or potentis). Put simply, this means that “God has unlimited power.” To be “omnipotent means that God can do whatever is possible to do.”[1] God “cannot arbitrarily do anything whatsoever that we may conceive of.” For example, he “cannot do the logically absurd or contradictory.”[2] To give a clear definition, God has unlimited power, but he is only constrained by his own moral and logical nature (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:13; Jas. 1:13).

These “constraints” are not actual limitations of God, however. Would God be greater if he used his omnipotence to torture an innocent person for fun? What about if he used his omnipotence to make 2 = 2 = 5? Moral or logical constraints don’t make God worse. If God broke from his nature, this would make him less than a maximally great being. As Erickson writes, “The inability to do evil or to lie or to fail is a mark of positive strength rather than of failure.”[3]

Biblical Basis

One of God’s names is “God Almighty” (‘el Shaddai, Gen. 17:1). The Greek translation of this text accurately translates this as “all-powerful” (pantokratōr, 2 Cor. 6:18; Rev. 1:8) as does the Latin translation (omnipotens).[4] Rabbis understood the term to refer to the “one who is self-sufficient” (Babylonian Talmud, Hagigah 12a),[5] and this is precisely what we read throughout the Bible.

God created the universe. The opening verse of the Bible states, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The psalmist writes, “By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host… For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast” (Ps. 33:6, 9).

Astronomers tell us that the average galaxy contains about 100 billion stars, and there are roughly two trillion galaxies in the universe. And according to Scripture, God created every single one of them from nothing. Think of that. With a simple “word” and a mere “breath” from God’s metaphorical mouth, the universe burst into existence… out of nothing! What sort of power is this?

Everything in creation owes its existence and sustenance to God’s power. John writes, “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (Jn. 1:3). God’s creation includes both the material world and the spiritual realm. Paul writes, “In him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16 NIV). All existence is contingent on God’s decision to create. In Revelation, we read, “You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created” (Rev. 4:11).

But God is not only the Creator of the universe; he is also its Sustainer. It is because of Jesus that “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17), and he “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3). Hypothetically, if Jesus chose to relax his grip on the existence of reality, the universe would fly apart.

Nothing is too difficult for God. God promised to restore the ravaged land of Israel—even though this seemed utterly impossible. Yet, Jeremiah prayed, “Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You” (Jer. 32:17; cf. Gen. 18:14). Do you see the logic in Jeremiah’s thinking? If God created the universe from scratch, then nothing within the universe can give God problems.

If the first verse of the Bible is true, then miracles are possible. After all, the same God who created water can surely part the Red Sea. The same God who created all of the fish in the sea and can surely multiply fish to feed 5,000 people. Flooding the world is no more difficult to an omnipotent being than filling a bathtub.

No created being can thwart God. Isaiah writes, “There is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?” (Isa. 43:13) Job stated, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:1-2; cf. Jer. 49:19).

Is God powerful enough to create a stone so heavy that even he cannot move it?

This is called the “paradox of the stone.” Critics of Christianity use this paradox to show that the concept of omnipotence is illogical. Yet, it turns out that the critic is illogical in raising the paradox.

God cannot create logical contradictions. A small number of theologians have held that God could do absolutely anything—even create logical contradictions. Rene Descartes[6] thought that God could create logical contradictions, and William of Ockham[7] held that God could’ve commanded us to hate him if he chose to.

However, not only is this bad philosophy, but it is also bad theology. That is, it doesn’t fit with the testimony of Scripture itself. The author of Hebrews states, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18; cf. Titus 1:2; 2 Tim. 2:13; Jas. 1:13). Is God not powerful enough to lie? Lying has nothing to do with power. God cannot contradict his moral goodness; otherwise, he wouldn’t be God.

This question reveals a classic example of what is called a category error. This occurs when we mix up the essential properties of two different concepts. For example, if we asked, “What is the color of the number three?” or “How much does justice weigh?” Consider other examples of category errors:

  • Is God powerful enough to commit adultery?
  • Is God powerful enough to create another God to bow down and worship?
  • Is God powerful enough to make a square triangle?
  • Is God powerful enough to create a married bachelor?
  • Is God powerful enough to make 2 + 2 = 5?

Each of these questions is equivalent to asking, “Is God powerful enough to do something logically contradictory?” Framing these questions in this way reveals the heart of the problem. God cannot create logical contradictions because these are not “things” that can be created. Rather, these are incoherent concepts. When the critic asks for God to create an unliftable stone, he is not asking for a stone, but for an illogical concept.

Jesus didn’t teach that God could create logical contradictions. It’s true that Jesus said, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). Yet, this doesn’t include logical impossibilities. For one, the context refers to “what is humanly impossible, not what is actually impossible (cf. Luke 18:27).”[8] Moreover, Jesus said that “all things” are possible with God, and logical contradictions are not things, but concepts.

This argument against God backfires on the critic. After all, if the critic is indicting God for being unable to create the logically impossible, then he is really asking for the canons of logic to be broken. However, if logical laws can be broken, then there would be nothing wrong with God creating such a stone. Hence, the critic cannot have it both ways: Either (1) logic exists and God cannot create this stone by definition, or (2) logic doesn’t exist and there can be no possible contradiction. Thus, “by insisting that omnipotence should include the ability to do the logically incoherent, it removes our ability to think about these matters at all.”[9]

Practical illustrations can demonstrate the deficiency of this objection.[10] Ask the objector to bend a paperclip into a square-circle. When the person looks at you with confusion, ask them, “What’s the problem? Haven’t you been hitting the gym? Are you too weak to bend the paperclip?” This shows that power is not the problem. The problem is that you’re asking for a logical contradiction. No amount of weightlifting will help you to bend a paperclip into a square-circle.

If God wasn’t omnipotent, what implications would this have for our lives?

If God wasn’t omnipotent, we would wonder if God would fail to keep his promises. Have you ever had a loved one let you down? Perhaps they didn’t make enough money to provide for you. Or maybe they failed to protect you when you needed them. God doesn’t have this problem. When we claim an unconditional promise of God, we can know that he will never fail to keep his word (Isa. 55:11).

If God wasn’t omnipotent, the concept of Satan would be utterly terrifying. Indeed, Hollywood horror movies capitalize on this concept. These films often depict God as coequal with Satan. Now, just imagine if this was true. Imagine praying for protection from the Evil One, all the while questioning if God actually possessed the power to protect you.

It’s good that we will never have to worry about this problem! John writes, “Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world” (1 Jn. 4:4). When you call on the omnipotent name of Jesus, Satan must flee in fear (Jas. 4:7; Acts 16:18; Jude 9). Jesus is the omnipotent King over every species of spirit and demons, and they tremble and whimper before him (Jas. 2:19; Mt. 8:29-21).

If God wasn’t omnipotent, our lives would be filled with “big problems.” God doesn’t know the definition of a “big problem.” To God, a “big problem” is an oxymoron. It’s like saying “bittersweet” or “jumbo shrimp” or “country music.”

God thinks that all of the nations on Earth are “like a drop in a bucket” or “dust on the scales” (Isa. 40:15 NIV). Imagine shaking the dust off your clothes before hopping on a scale. What’s the point? The dust won’t change your weight one way or another. This is how God views the powerful nations on Planet Earth. Think about that the next time you turn on the news.

If God wasn’t omnipotent, we would wonder if evil will ultimately be defeated. Humans continue to make massive strides in technological and medical advancements. Yet, despite all of these achievements, we still haven’t found a cure for the sinful human condition. After the horror of two world wars and massive genocides, secular people have to accept the haunting truth that utopia is never going to arrive. Evil people and organizations of various stripes will persist forever.

Yet, the omnipotent God of the Bible will shatter this dreadful and depressing vision. One day, God will rise up and yell, “Enough!” On this day, he will put evil and suffering to death forever. The suffering of your life is a mere sliver of time compared to eternity, where love and happiness will be the air that you will breathe.

If God wasn’t omnipotent, we would wonder if God would really be able to grow his church. Jesus predicted that the world would grow worse as history ended. He said, “Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold” (Mt. 24:12). As we watch the world become more and more ugly and evil, we might wonder if God really has the power to grow his church. Yet, in the same breath, Jesus also said, “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Mt. 24:14). Jesus promised, “I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (Mt. 16:18).

Isn’t it time to stop worrying that the world is so terrible that God is unable to grow his church? How can you think about God’s church as though it’s a house of cards that is ready to fall apart at any moment? Why do you spend time worrying that people can stop the omnipotent God of the Bible from building and protecting his church?

If God wasn’t omnipotent, you would likely pray small, humanistic prayers. You would make requests that could probably occur by flat coincidence or perhaps self-effort. You wouldn’t want to pray big because this would probably end up in disappointment anyway. Yet, we should pray for a headache just as intently as we should pray for a heart condition. Tozer writes,

We hesitate to ask God to do ‘hard’ things because we figure that God can’t do them. But if they are ‘easy’ things, we ask God to do them. If we have a headache, we say ‘Oh God, heal my headache.’ But if we have a heart condition, we don’t ask the Lord about that, because that’s ‘too hard’ for the Lord! What a shame! Nothing is hard for God—nothing whatsoever. Nothing! In all God’s wisdom and power He is able to do anything as easily as He is able to do anything else.[11]

Does your time with God look like this? Why not pray big? Paul writes, “[God] is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20). Did you catch that? God not only surpasses our requests, but even our very thoughts. Nothing is too big to ask. We don’t believe in what an angry green superhero once called a “puny god.” Who would want to follow a god like that? We follow the omnipotent God of the Bible. So, pray big!

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 487.

[2] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 303.

[3] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology., 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998), 303.

[4] This word occurs throughout Revelation (Rev 1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22) and John only uses it to describe God.

[5] Victor P. Hamilton, “2333 שַׁדַּי,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 907.

[6] Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy 1. There is some debate over the extent to which Descartes believed God’s omnipotence was unhindered by moral and logical limitations. At the very least, there is evidence that he believed that God could “actualize a logically contradictory state of affairs.” John Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001), see footnote on page 824.

[7] William of Ockham, “Sententiarum IV,” Opera Plurima, 4:1494-1496 (London: Gregg Press, 1962), q. 8-9, E-F.

[8] Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology (Arlington, TX: Bastion Books, 2021), 487.

[9] Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty, Contending with Christianity’s Critics: Answering New Atheists & Other Objectors (Nashville: B & H Academic, 2009), 196.

[10] Greg Koukl, The Story of Reality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 88.

[11] A.W. Tozer, The Attributes of God (Volume 2): Deeper into the Father’s Heart (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), Chapter 4: God’s Omnipotence.