God is Power
By Lucas Sharley
Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strengthIsaiah 40:31
They will mount up like eagles
They will run and not be weary
They will walk and not faint
So continues the knowing God responsive reading which we’re exploring in this series. God is power; therefore, he can give strength and endurance to fragile people like us. But how powerful is God? The favourite question of teenage atheists everywhere: could God make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it?
Stop. Time out. The reading doesn’t say God is powerful. It says, God is power. Completely different idea. Christians have spent a lot of time thinking about the difference between God is powerful and God is power. Here’s a couple of ideas that help us explain the difference.
On one hand, there’s the creator–creature distinction. In the category of creature, you have all the stuff and people God has made. You, me, fish, Joan of Arc, volcanoes, the Devil, Moses, and platypi – we are all creatures. We exist in a set place with limits. Because all creatures have limits, all creatures are quantifiable. My arm is a certain length. I can carry my niece for a certain number of seconds before I must put her down. Our limited existence means we can ask questions like, how powerful is that volcano? How big is that fish? How far away is that star?
And our existence is limited because we receive it from someone else. From God. He makes us, and he makes us in a certain way. To be a creature means you didn’t make yourself. It’s a one-way relationship. God creates; creatures are created. Sometimes life feels very unfair, and we want to say to God, I didn’t ask to be made like this! But nothing asks to be made. The universe didn’t choose to exist. God decided to make it.
Everything around us seems like it makes sense. Rocks, trees, mountains, buildings, planets, moons, stars. They seem solid and reliable. But in fact, all of this exists because of God’s will. There was only God, and then he blew a soap bubble. Our universe is a plate God is spinning. Its solidity is fragile. The universe is reliable only because God is reliable.
And this takes us to the other hand, the idea of participation. God shares what he has with his universe. In a dim and second-hand way, like a mirror reflecting the Sun. Goodness in the universe comes from God’s goodness. Jesus makes this point in Mark 10 when a man calls him “good teacher.” Jesus replies, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
We mean two different things when we say good teacher and when we say God is good. God has the real and complete version of what we share. Goodness in the universe comes from God’s goodness. Wisdom in the universe comes from God’s wisdom. And power in the universe comes from God’s power.
If we come back to the annoying question, can God make a rock so big he couldn’t lift it? We have to say that in a sense, the answer is no he cannot. Because God is not an object that can be quantified or measured. He is where the existence and ability of things comes from. The power of inertia to keep a rock in place, the power of gravity to hold things together – these things come from God by participation. It’s like asking whether the definition of ‘can’ can do something.
I know we’ve done a lot of deep thinking. But even the simplest statements about God come with big footnotes and asterisks. But I want to end with an encouragement. God gives you strength. He has been doing it your whole life. Even the firing neurons as you read this article, are firing because God shares his can-ness with you. The strength that Isaiah 40 is talking about—the endurance of suffering through knowledge of God—is a variation on what God has been doing all along. You know God can give you strength through the Holy Spirit. Because God has already been giving strength in many other ways.
God is powerful? No, God is power. He is not a creature but creator. And he is generous with his power.
Lucas pastors the English congregation at Eight Mile Plains Methodist Church in Brisbane, QLD.