The Omnipotence of God in Psalm 139, Part 1

Providence Church (CREC)

Sunday School

Second Sunday of Epiphany, January 18th, 2009.

The Omnipotence of God in Psalm 139

I would like to continue thinking through Psalm 139 this morning. And I am going to focus on a particular dimension of Psalm 139. I learned this in seminary, that when you try to cover too much material, which my professors were experts in doing, you end up not covering much at all. With that in mind, let me narrow our attention to one particular aspect of Psalm 139, and that is the omnipotence of God.

This morning we worked through the four stanzas of Psalm 139. If we were to give systematic categories to the four stanzas, here is what we have:

a)      Psalm 139:1-6 – God is all-knowing, Omniscient

b)      Psalm 139:7-12 God is all-Present, Omnipresent

c)      Psalm 139:13-18 God is all-Powerful, Omnipotent (Remember Handel’s Messiah based on Revelation 19, for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth – He reigns with all power.

d)      Psalm 139:19-24, The Holiness of God.

Our focus will be on the systematic discussion of the omnipotence of God. Let me begin by giving you a working definition of this term. God’s omnipotence means that a) He can do anything He pleases and that nothing is too hard for Him.[1]

Our Westminster Shorter Catechism question four asks the question: What is God? Answer: God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

There is a sense in which all these attributes are found in Psalm 139. And there is another sense in which all the attributes of God are inter-related. For instance, God’s power is eternal, unchangeable, good, true, and so on and so forth.

In simple terms, God’s omnipotence means that God can do whatever He pleases and whatever he pleases to do is not hard for Him to accomplish.

Let me bathe you with some Scripture passages to prove the definition given:

Job 23;13 But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back?
What he desires, that he does.

Psalm 115:3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.

Psalm 135:6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.

Daniel 4:35 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?”

There are many other passages, but these will suffice to prove the fundamental point that God does whatever He pleases. Furthermore, nothing that He does is too hard for Him.

Genesis 18:14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Or the angel who comes and announces to Mary that she will bear a Son echoes that same language: “Nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).”

Another interesting passage is in the book of Numbers where God asks rhetorically to Moses, “Is the Lord’s Arm too short?” Meaning, is He not able to extend His power to accomplish anything? Is anything too hard for Him?

So proving the Biblical point that God can do whatever He pleases and that nothing is too hard for Him is abundant in the text. These are all very clear and explicit statements teaching us that He is powerful, but the Bible also tells us the effects of His power.[2] The Scriptures teach us that His almighty power is seen in the works of creation (Romans 1:20), in providence as He upholds the universe (Hebrews 1:3), and redemption, that is, the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). So, His Mighty Power takes effect in all things from creation to redemption.

However, this definition can be very deceitful in one important sense, and that is, that when we say that God can do whatever He pleases, we do not mean that He can do anything. But wait a minute. If He can do whatever He pleases, then why can He not do anything? What is the difference? The difference is in the phrase “whatever He pleases.” The question is, “What is He pleased to do?” He is pleased to love, to create, to redeem, to adopt, to elect, to bring us joy, and so on. These things He is pleased to do are part of His nature, His essence. But what can God not do? The first thing God cannot do is whatever is metaphysically or ethically contrary to His nature.[3] Let me give you a few examples:

a)      God cannot lie. Titus 1:2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.

b)      God cannot break His promise. II Corinthians 1:20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him.

c)      He cannot change. Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.

These are according to Robert Raymond “divine cannots.” These do not detract from His power, rather they exalt His perfection.

So, if you ask the great philosophical question: “Can God create a stone too heavy for him to lift?” The answer is No He cannot, because that would be contrary to His nature. God’s power is the final authority. God dictates what He pleases to do with His own power. And because of His infinite Wisdom, He will not use His power in a way that contradicts who He is, because that would mean that God is not all powerful.[4]

———————-

Another element that needs to be discussed is the impossibility of God exhausting His power at any given moment.[5] If we assume that God can exhaust His power than we are saying that we can place a finite limitation on His power. He did, however, create a finite universe, but this does not mean that He exhausted Himself in creating the finite universe and this is why He rested on the seventh day. The resting on the seventh day is a sign of completion, not exhaustion. In fact, if God wanted to create an extra trillion stars on day four He could have, but He decides that He was pleased with His creation. According to Psalm 33:9 …God spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. God simply spoke and it came into existence. As Job asks the question, “Who can understand the thunder of His power?”[6]

The conclusion is that even the power of God is under His perfect control and divine purposes. For instance, Psalm 139 ends with David’s prayer that God would end the suffering being caused by His enemies. This leads us to the question of theodicy. Theodicy is essentially the attempt to justify God in light of all the sufferings in the world. This is the strongest argument the atheist has. How can you reconcile a righteous God with the evil in the world? Why can’t God use His power to rid the entire world of evil? That is a fair question in the realm of philosophy. If you attempt to answer that question through the means of human reason, you can see that the atheist has a legitimate point but our presupposition is that God defines Himself in the Scriptures, not through human definitions. The way God defines Himself in the Scriptures is one who unfolds His plans for redemptive history in His timing. His ways are higher than our ways and His eternal purposes are beyond our capacities. So, God will rid evil when He deems ready to send His Son to judge the Living and the Dead in His Second Coming.


[1] Frame, John. The Doctrine of God, pgs. 515-516.

[2] Raymond, Robert. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, pg. 192.

[3] Ibid. 192.

[4] The Nominalistic view of William of Occam says that God has the power to do logically contradictory things, even to change the laws of logic themselves.

[5] Insights from Raymond’s Systematic Theology, pg. 192.

[6] Job 26:5-14.

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