THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD:
FATALISM VS. FAITH
"Is God good, or is He all-powerful?"
According to popular logic, only one of those can be true at the same time. Believers and unbelievers alike presume that this is so, in my experience. If all that happens is God's will, it is argued, it means that we would have to become fatalistic about things and passively accept all that happens to us, lest we be guilty of resisting His will. On the other hand, it is argued, if it is all right to resist the threatening things that happen to us, it must mean that God does not cause all that happens. If it is right to run away from an earthquake then it must not have been caused by God; if it is right to fight against sickness and deformity then they must not come from God, so it is argued or assumed.
In believer's circles in our day God's goodness is what is asserted, but almost always at the expense of His omnipotence. In Christianity at large the secular interpretation of natural events is presumed: God does not cause each earthquake that happens, with its destruction of the "innocent along with the guilty" -- we look to plate tectonics to account for it, don't we? God does not receive the blame for creating the hurricane any more -- we blame it on the earth's rotation combined with several other factors. "Bible-believing" Christianity still asserts the omnipotence of God as a doctrine, but it has refused to make Him omnipotent in the realm of natural process and historical events. It makes Him, in fact, almost like the God of the Deists: He has ordained the general flow of history and the patterns and cycles of nature in such a way that things will ultimately turn out the way He wants them to, but He is not to be held accountable for any particular event of history or catastrophe of nature. Supposedly, He knows the catastrophes which are to happen, and works within the context of that foreknowledge to help His people, but basically He has "wound up" the Earth's history and nature clocks, and then backed off. Such is the deistic logic assumed by a great many Christians, even though they would consider "Deism" to be a heretical doctrine.
But, as any astute unbeliever can point out, if God does have all power and if He does know of these things in advance even though He does not cause them, it still amounts to the same thing. He is just as responsible as if He had personally caused them, for by doing nothing to keep them from happening He has in effect caused them (by approving them in advance of their happening).
The Scriptures, however, affirm both God's goodness and His omnipotence without qualification: God is not as eager to "get off the hook" of responsibility as all too many of His children are to remove Him from it.
He causes it all
On the one hand, the Scriptures are full of affirmations about His good intentions for man and the goodness of every one of His acts. "As for God, His way is blameless" (Psalm 18:30), "The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all His deeds" (Psalm 145:17). On the other hand, it is God who is described as the ultimate source of our afflictions, as we pointed out in Chapter One. It is true that we bring our curse upon ourselves as a race: what we sow is what we reap (Galatians 6:7). It is also true that we have an enemy who sows discord and who loves to afflict us (i.e., Satan). But, as we learn in the Book of Job, Satan acts with God's permission (Job 1-2; also Luke 22:31); if he is restrained, it is because God has built a hedge around the one He wants to protect -- Satan afflicts us, therefore, to the degree that God has limited the hedge. Satan's activity may be the instrumental cause of many (perhaps most) afflictions, and man's sinfulness may be the procuring or meritorious cause of our afflictions, but it is God Himself who is the ultimate or moving cause of them all.
In the Book of Job, the only person against whom God never speaks at all is Elihu; and Elihu spoke most clearly of the Lord's responsibility for what goes on in the planet:
God thunders with His voice wondrously, doing great things which we cannot comprehend. For to the snow He says, "Fall on the earth..." Also with moisture He loads the thick cloud; He disperses the cloud of His lightning. And it changes direction, turning around by His guidance, that it may do whatever He commands it on the face of the inhabited earth. Whether for correction, or for His world, or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen (Job 37:5-13).
And in the very next chapter, God Himself affirms the same thing: He personally supervises the natural events on the earth (38:12-41). And later He says that if the ostrich is stupid and careless, it is "because God has made her forget wisdom, and has not given her a share of understanding" (39:17).
You see, God does not want to be relieved of responsibility for the many unpleasant things we see going on around us on this planet. Indeed, they form one of the most powerful incentives for what He calls "the fear of God." One reason we know so little fear of God in the Christianity of our times is because "our God" does nothing terrifying: the secularization of natural forces and historical events has relieved Him of both blame and of power -- and Christians have been the chief instigators of this horribly anti-Biblical doctrine!
God Himself told Moses, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him dumb or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?" (Ex. 4:11). Just how much clearer does He have to speak before we will accept His word on the subject? Those who do yield to this sobering revelation can go on to see that His attitude toward us as a race is manifested to us in nature: nature reflects His basic good will, but also His having set Himself against us because of our ungodliness. He brings not only spring, but spring's floods; not only the body's wholeness, but its sickness and disease. He brings about the beauty of the beasts, but also their destructiveness. He brings cooling breezes -- and destructive gales. He causes not only the rotation of the earth, but its earthquakes as well. He has caused the emergence and the greatness of these United States, and will cause their destruction as well. Know Him as He is, pilgrim: know Him as He has revealed Himself. And, if you have not already so learned, then learn to fear His past, present and future wrath upon this sinful race.
Man may have difficulty walking in the dual roles of lover and adversary at the same time, but God has no such difficulty. "I prefer being your friend, but I know how to be your enemy," is what the God of the Bible says to this race, through Biblical revelation, through history, and through nature. The true God is the God of Ezekiel, who would prefer to rule over us to our well being, but knows full well how to rule over us despite our enmity:
"'As I live', declares the Lord God, 'surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out, I shall be king over you'" (Ezekiel 20:33).
"They forgot Me. So I will be like a lion to them" (Hosea 13:6-7).
Not fatalism but faith
But if God has appointed sickness, deformity and catastrophes to be His afflictions upon this godless race, in order both to judge us and to break down our godless pride and self-sufficiency, how can we justify such things as medicine, dams to hold back the floods and hurricane shelters? Are we resisting His will in fighting to stay alive? Does the fact that He has brought about all that has come to pass on this planet and this race mean that fatalism is necessary?: "I must accept passively whatever happens to me."
To adopt such an attitude is to misunderstand His intention in mixing curses with His blessings upon us and our planet. His omnipotence is directed both for us and against us at the same time, because He has ordained that we are to struggle. His exercise of omnipotence in conflicting directions does not mean passivity, but struggle. Think back to the Lord's sentence upon the newly fallen Adam and Eve:
Then to Adam He said, "Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, 'You shall not eat from it': cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life... By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground " (Genesis 3:17-19).
So, God wants fallen man to learn faith, not fatalism. It is with our eternal blessedness in mind that He has appointed us to struggle against hostile forces, that we might learn to do so with confidence in His power to give us the victory according to His promises. It is too simplistic to say only that He has appointed sickness; what He has really appointed is for us to struggle against the power of death, feeling its sting but then learning to trust in His promises and depend upon His good will through all of it. Remember, fellow child of Adam: our race deserves condemnation and extinction, and so do we as individuals, but He does not judge us as sternly as we deserve:
For the Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His lovingkindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men... Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both the evil things and the good go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint, in view of his sins? (Lamentation 3:31-33, 38-39).
God brings sickness not because He wants us to accept being sick, but because He wants us to struggle against death and against its sting, sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). Faith in the good will and in the promises of God has to be restored to our godless instincts in order for Satan's influence to be broken and for us to be saved. And for fallen man, faith cannot come about without there being a context of struggle. It did not have to be that way before the fall, but it must be that way now.
So do not reject the true revelation that God is omnipotent and has brought all of this world's happy and sad conditions to pass; reject only the fatalistic conclusion that worldly logic says is the necessary consequence of such an omnipotence.
I will be like a lion to Ephraim, and like a young lion to the house of Judah. I, even I, will tear to pieces and go away; I will carry away, and there will be none to deliver. I will go away and return to My place until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me. Come let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before Him. So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord (Hosea 5:14-6:3)!