Omnipotence is the quality of having unlimited power. Monotheistic religions generally attribute omnipotence to only the deity of their faith. In the monotheistic philosophies of Abrahamic religions, omnipotence is often listed as one of a deity's characteristics among many, including omniscience, omnipresence, and omnibenevolence. The presence of all these properties in a single entity has given rise to considerable theological debate, prominently including the problem of theodicy, the question of why such a deity would permit the manifestation of evil.
The word omnipotence derives from the Latin term "Omni Potens", meaning "All-Powerful".
The term omnipotent has been used to connote a number of different positions. These positions include, but are not limited to, the following:
However many modern scholars (such as John Polkinghorne) hold that it is part of a deity's nature to be consistent and that it would be inconsistent for a deity to go against its own laws unless there were an overwhelming reason to do so.
Thomas Aquinas acknowledged difficulty in comprehending the deity's power: "All confess that God is omnipotent; but it seems difficult to explain in what His omnipotence precisely consists: for there may be doubt as to the precise meaning of the word 'all' when we say that God can do all things. If, however, we consider the matter aright, since power is said in reference to possible things, this phrase, 'God can do all things,' is rightly understood to mean that God can do all things that are possible; and for this reason He is said to be omnipotent." In the scholastic understanding, omnipotence is generally understood to be compatible with certain limitations or restrictions. A proposition that is necessarily true is one whose negation is self-contradictory.
It is sometimes objected that this aspect of omnipotence involves the contradiction that God cannot do all that He can do; but the argument is sophistical; it is no contradiction to assert that God can realize whatever is possible, but that no number of actualized possibilities exhausts His power. Omnipotence is perfect power, free from all mere potentiality. Hence, although God does not bring into external being all that He is able to accomplish, His power must not be understood as passing through successive stages before its effect is accomplished. The activity of God is simple and eternal, without evolution or change. The transition from possibility to actuality or from act to potentiality, occurs only in creatures. When it is said that God can or could do a thing, the terms are not to be understood in the sense in which they are applied to created causes, but as conveying the idea of a Being, the range of Whose activity is limited only by His sovereign Will
Aquinas explains that:
Power is predicated of God not as something really distinct from His knowledge and will, but as differing from them logically; inasmuch as power implies a notion of a principle putting into execution what the will commands, and what knowledge directs, which three things in God are identified. Or we may say, that the knowledge or will of God, according as it is the effective principle, has the notion of power contained in it. Hence the consideration of the knowledge and will of God precedes the consideration of His power, as the cause precedes the operation and effect.
Omnipotence is all-sufficient power. The adaptation of means to ends in the universe does not argue, as J. S. Mill would have it, that the power of the designer is limited, but only that God has willed to manifest his glory by a world so constituted rather than by another. Indeed, the production of secondary causes, capable of accomplishing certain effects, requires greater power than the direct accomplishment of these same effects. On the other hand, even though no creature existed, God's power would not be barren, for "creatures are not an end to God." Regarding the Deity's power, medieval theologians contended that there are certain things that even an omnipotent deity cannot do. The statement "a deity can do anything" is only sensible with an assumed suppressed clause, "that implies the perfection of true power". This standard scholastic answer allows that acts of creatures such as walking can be performed by humans but not by a deity. Rather than an advantage in power, human acts such as walking, sitting, or giving birth were possible only because of a defect in human power. The capacity to sin, for example, is not a power but a defect or infirmity. In response to questions of a deity performing impossibilities, e.g. making square circles, Aquinas says that "everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: 'No word shall be impossible with God.' For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing."
His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to his power. If you choose to say 'God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,' you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix to them the two other words 'God can.'... It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of his creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because his power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.
Early Freudianism saw a feeling of omnipotence as intrinsic to early childhood. 'As Freud and Ferenczi have shown, the child lives in a sort of megalomania for a long period...the "fiction of omnipotence"'. At birth 'the baby is everything as far as he knows - "all powerful"...every step he takes towards establishing his own limits and boundaries will be painful because he'll have to lose this original God-like feeling of omnipotence'.
Freud considered that in a neurotic 'the omnipotence which he ascribed to his thoughts and feelings...is a frank acknowledgement of a relic of the old megalomania of infancy'. In some narcissists, the 'period of primary narcissism which subjectively did not need any objects and was entirely independent...may be retained or regressively regained..."omnipotent" behavior'.
D. W. Winnicott took a more positive view of a belief in early omnipotence, seeing it as essential to the child's well-being; and "good-enough" mothering as essential to enable the child to 'cope with the immense shock of loss of omnipotence' - as opposed to whatever 'prematurely forces it out of its narcissistic universe'.
Some monotheists reject the view that a deity is or could be omnipotent, or take the view that, by choosing to create creatures with freewill, a deity has chosen to limit divine omnipotence. In Conservative and Reform Judaism, and some movements within Protestant Christianity, including open theism, deities are said to act in the world through persuasion, and not by coercion (this is a matter of choice—a deity could act miraculously, and perhaps on occasion does so—while for process theism it is a matter of necessity—creatures have inherent powers that a deity cannot, even in principle, override). Deities are manifested in the world through inspiration and the creation of possibility, not necessarily by miracles or violations of the laws of nature.
The rejection of omnipotence often follows from either philosophical or scriptural considerations, discussed below.
Process theology rejects unlimited omnipotence on a philosophical basis, arguing that omnipotence as classically understood would be less than perfect, and is therefore incompatible with the idea of a perfect deity. The idea is grounded in Plato's oft-overlooked statement that "being is power."
My notion would be, that anything which possesses any sort of power to affect another, or to be affected by another, if only for a single moment, however trifling the cause and however slight the effect, has real existence; and I hold that the definition of being is simply power.— Plato, 247E
From this premise, Charles Hartshorne argues further that:
Power is influence, and perfect power is perfect influence ... power must be exercised upon something, at least if by power we mean influence, control; but the something controlled cannot be absolutely inert, since the merely passive, that which has no active tendency of its own, is nothing; yet if the something acted upon is itself partly active, then there must be some resistance, however slight, to the "absolute" power, and how can power which is resisted be absolute?— Hartshorne, 89
The argument can be stated as follows:
For example, though someone might control a lump of jelly-pudding almost completely, the inability of that pudding to stage any resistance renders that person's power rather unimpressive. Power can only be said to be great if it is over something that has defenses and its own agenda. If a deity's power is to be great, it must therefore be over beings that have at least some of their own defenses and agenda. Thus, if a deity does not have absolute power, it must therefore embody some of the characteristics of power, and some of the characteristics of persuasion. This view is known as dipolar theism.
The most popular works espousing this point are from Harold Kushner (in Judaism). The need for a modified view of omnipotence was also articulated by Alfred North Whitehead in the early 20th century and expanded upon by the aforementioned philosopher Charles Hartshorne. Hartshorne proceeded within the context of the theological system known as process theology.
In the Authorized King James Version of the Bible, as well as several other versions, in Revelation 19:6 it is stated "...the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (the original Greek word is παντοκράτωρ, "all-mighty").
All the above stated claims of power are each based on scriptural grounds and upon empirical human perception. This perception is limited to our senses. The power of a deity is related to its existence. There are however other ways of perception like: reason, intuition, revelation, divine inspiration, religious experience, mystical states, and historical testimony.
According to the Hindu philosophy the essence of God or Brahman can never be understood or known since Brahman is beyond both existence and non-existence, transcending and including time, causation and space, and thus can never be known in the same material sense as one traditionally 'understands' a given concept or object.
So presuming there is a god-like entity consciently taking actions, we cannot comprehend the limits of a deity's powers.
Since the current laws of physics are only known to be valid in this universe, it is possible that the laws of physics are different in parallel universes, giving a God-like entity more power. If the number of universes is unlimited, then the power of a certain God-like entity is also unlimited, since the laws of physics may be different in other universes, and accordingly making this entity omnipotent. Unfortunately concerning a multiverse there is a lack of empirical correlation. To the extreme there are theories about realms beyond this multiverse (Nirvana, Chaos, Nothingness).
Also trying to develop a theory to explain, assign or reject omnipotence on grounds of logic has little merit, since being omnipotent, in a Cartesian sense, would mean the omnipotent being is above logic, a view supported by René Descartes. He issues this idea in his Meditations on First Philosophy. This view is called universal possibilism.
Allowing assumption that a deity exists, further debate may be provoked that said deity is consciously taking actions. It could be concluded from an emanationism point of view, that all actions and creations by a deity are simply flows of divine energy (the flowing Tao in conjunction with qi is often seen as a river; Dharma (Buddhism) the law of nature discovered by Buddha has no beginning or end.) Pantheism and pandeism see the universe/multiverse itself as God (or, at least, the current state of God), while panentheism sees the universe/multiverse as 'the body of God', making 'God' everybody and everything. So if one does something, actually 'God' is doing it. We are 'God's' means according to this view.
In the Taoist religious or philosophical tradition, the Tao is in some ways equivalent to a deity or the logos. The Tao is understood to have inexhaustible power, yet that power is simply another aspect of its weakness.
Amos (Hebrew: עָמוֹס, ʻAmos) was one of the Twelve Minor Prophets. An older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, Amos was active c. 760–755 BCE during the reign of Jeroboam II (786–746). He was from the southern Kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos wrote at a time of relative peace and prosperity but also of neglect of Yahweh's laws. He spoke against an increased disparity between the very wealthy and the very poor. His major themes of social justice, God's omnipotence, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy. The Book of Amos is attributed to him.Attributes of God in Christianity
The attributes of God are specific characteristics of God discussed in Christian theology.Book of Amos
The Book of Amos is the third of the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Tanakh/Old Testament and the second in the Greek Septuagint tradition. Amos, an older contemporary of Hosea and Isaiah, was active c. 750 BC during the reign of Jeroboam II (788–747 BC), making Amos the first book of the Bible to be written. Amos lived in the kingdom of Judah but preached in the northern kingdom of Israel. His major themes of social justice, God's omnipotence, and divine judgment became staples of prophecy.Counterdependency
Counterdependency is the state of refusal of attachment, the denial of personal need and dependency, and may extend to the omnipotence and refusal of dialogue found in destructive narcissism, for example.Divine command theory
Divine command theory (also known as theological voluntarism) is a meta-ethical theory which proposes that an action's status as morally good is equivalent to whether it is commanded by God. The theory asserts that what is moral is determined by what God commands, and that for a person to be moral is to follow his commands. Followers of both monotheistic and polytheistic religions in ancient and modern times have often accepted the importance of God's commands in establishing morality.
Numerous variants of the theory have been presented: historically, figures including Saint Augustine, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Søren Kierkegaard have presented various versions of divine command theory; more recently, Robert Merrihew Adams has proposed a "modified divine command theory" based on the omnibenevolence of God in which morality is linked to human conceptions of right and wrong. Paul Copan has argued in favour of the theory from a Christian viewpoint, and Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski's divine motivation theory proposes that God's motivations, rather than commands, are the source of morality.
Semantic challenges to divine command theory have been proposed; the philosopher William Wainwright argued that to be commanded by God and to be morally obligatory do not have an identical meaning, which he believed would make defining obligation difficult. He also contended that, as knowledge of God is required for morality by divine command theory, atheists and agnostics could not be moral; he saw this as a weakness of the theory. Others have challenged the theory on modal grounds by arguing that, even if God's command and morality correlate in this world, they may not do so in other possible worlds. In addition, the Euthyphro dilemma, first proposed by Plato (in the context of polytheistic Greek religion), presented a dilemma which threatened either to leave morality subject to the whims of God, or challenge his omnipotence. Divine command theory has also been criticised for its apparent incompatibility with the omnibenevolence of God, moral autonomy and religious pluralism, although some scholars have attempted to defend the theory from these challenges.Entropy (comics)
Entropy is a fictional character appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character is a Cosmic Entity in the Universe who possesses Nigh-Omnipotence. A representation of Eternity formed at the beginning of time, whose purpose is to undo, so the cycle of creation and destruction will forever continue. Primarily associated with Genis-Vell of Earth, he was first mentioned in Captain Marvel vol. 5 #2 (Oct. 2000) and seen in Captain Marvel vol. 5 #4 in the same year.Evil demon
The evil demon, also known as malicious demon and evil genius, is a concept in Cartesian philosophy. In the first of his 1641 Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes imagines that an evil demon, of "utmost power and cunning has employed all his energies in order to deceive me." This evil demon is imagined to present a complete illusion of an external world, so that Descartes can say, "I shall think that the sky, the air, the earth, colours, shapes, sounds and all external things are merely the delusions of dreams which he has devised to ensnare my judgement. I shall consider myself as not having hands or eyes, or flesh, or blood or senses, but as falsely believing that I have all these things."
Some Cartesian scholars opine that the demon is also omnipotent, and thus capable of altering mathematics and the fundamentals of logic, though omnipotence of the evil demon would be contrary to Descartes' hypothesis, as he rebuked accusations of the evil demon having omnipotence.It is one of several methods of systematic doubt that Descartes employs in the Meditations.Fear of God
Fear of God refers to fear or a specific sense of respect, awe, and submission to a deity. People subscribing to popular monotheistic religions might fear divine judgment, hell or God's omnipotence.God in Sikhism
Sikhism is a monotheistic religion and hence, believes that "God" is One, and prevails in everything, as symbolized by the symbol Ik Onkar (one all pervading spirit). The fundamental belief of Sikhism is that God exists, indescribable yet knowable and perceivable to anyone who surrenders his egoism and Loves the Almighty. The Sikh gurus have described God in numerous ways in their hymns included in the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of Sikhism, but the oneness of the deity is consistently emphasized throughout.
God is described in the Mool Mantar (lit. the Prime Utterance), the first passage in the Guru Granth Sahib:
"ੴ ਸਤਿ ਨਾਮੁ ਕਰਤਾ ਪੁਰਖੁ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਨਿਰਵੈਰੁ ਅਕਾਲ ਮੂਰਤਿ ਅਜੂਨੀ ਸੈਭੰ ਗੁਰ ਪ੍ਰਸਾਦਿ ॥" "ikk ōankār sat(i)-nām(u) karatā purakh(u) nirabha'u niravair(u) akāla mūrat(i) ajūnī saibhan(g) gur(a) prasād(i)." "There is but one all pervading spirit, and it is called the truth, It exists in all creation, and it has no fear, It does not hate and, it is timeless, universal and self-existent! You will come to know it through the grace of the Guru."
(SGGS. Pg 1) Sri Guru Granth SahibIncompatible-properties argument
The incompatible-properties argument is the idea that no description of God is consistent with reality. For example, if one takes the definition of God to be described fully from the Bible, then the claims of what properties God has described therein might be argued to lead to a contradiction.Islamic view of miracles
A miracle in the Qur'an is a supernatural intervention in the life of human beings. According to this definition, miracles are present "in a threefold sense: in sacred history, in connection with the Islamic prophet Muhammad himself and in relation to revelation." The Qur'an does not use the technical Arabic word for miracle (مُعْجِزَة Muʿjiza) literally meaning "that by means of which [the Prophet] confounds, overwhelms, his opponents". It rather uses the term Ayah (literally meaning sign). The term Ayah is used in the Qur'an in the above-mentioned threefold sense: it refers to the "verses" of the Qur'an (believed to be the divine speech in human language; presented by Muhammad as his chief miracle); as well as to miracles of it and the signs (particularly those of creation).In order to defend the possibility of miracles and God's omnipotence against the encroachment of the independent secondary causes, medieval Muslim theologians rejected the idea of cause and effect in essence, but accepted it as something that facilitates humankind's investigation and comprehension of natural processes. They argued that the nature was composed of uniform atoms that were "re-created" at every instant by God. Thus if the soil was to fall, God would have to create and re-create the accident of heaviness for as long as the soil was to fall. For Muslim theologians, the laws of nature were only the customary sequence of apparent causes: customs of God.Luqman (sūrah)
Sūrah Luqmān (Arabic: سورة لقمان) is the 31st chapter (sūrah) of the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an. It is composed of 34 verses (āyāt) and takes its title from the mention of the sage Luqman in verses 12–19. It was, according to Islamic tradition, revealed in the middle of Muhammad's Meccan period, and is thus usually classified as a Meccan sura.Narcissistic elation
Narcissistic elation or narcissistic coenaesthetic expansion were terms used by Hungarian psychoanalyst Béla Grunberger to highlight 'the narcissistic situation of the primal self in narcissistic union with the mother'.Narcissistic elation has also been used more widely to describe a variety of conditions, including states of being in love, of triumph, and of obtaining self-understanding.Narcissistic rage and narcissistic injury
Narcissistic rage is a reaction to narcissistic injury, which is a perceived threat to a narcissist's self-esteem or self-worth. Narcissistic injury (or narcissistic scar) is a phrase used by Sigmund Freud in the 1920s; narcissistic wound and narcissistic blow are further, almost interchangeable terms. The term narcissistic rage was coined by Heinz Kohut in 1972.
Narcissistic injury occurs when a narcissist feels that their hidden, "true self" has been revealed. This may be the case when the narcissist experiences a "fall from grace", such as when their hidden behaviors or motivations are revealed, or when their importance is brought into question. Narcissistic injury is a cause of distress and can lead to dysregulation of behaviors as in narcissistic rage.
Narcissistic rage occurs on a continuum, which may range from instances of aloofness and expressions of mild irritation or annoyance to serious outbursts, including violent attacks and murder. Narcissistic rage reactions are not limited to personality disorders and may be also seen in catatonic, paranoid delusion and depressive episodes. It has also been suggested that narcissists have two layers of rage. The first layer of rage can be thought of as a constant anger (towards someone else), with the second layer being a self-aimed wrath.Natural evil
Natural evil is evil for which "no non-divine agent can be held morally responsible for its occurrence." By contrast, moral evil is “caused by human activity.” The existence of natural evil challenges belief in the omnibenevolence or the omnipotence of deities and the existence of deities including God.Omnibenevolence
Omnibenevolence (from Latin omni- meaning "all", bene- meaning "good" and volens meaning "willing") is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "unlimited or infinite benevolence". Some philosophers have argued that it is impossible, or at least improbable, for a deity to exhibit such a property alongside omniscience and omnipotence, as a result of the problem of evil. However, some philosophers, such as Alvin Plantinga, argue the plausibility of co-existence. The word is primarily used as a technical term within academic literature on the philosophy of religion, mainly in context of the problem of evil and theodical responses to such. Although even in said contexts the phrases "perfect goodness" or "moral perfection" are often preferred because of the difficulties in defining what exactly constitutes "infinite benevolence".Omnipotence paradox
The omnipotence paradox is a family of paradoxes that arise with some understandings of the term 'omnipotent'. The paradox arises, for example, if one assumes that an omnipotent being has no limits and is capable of realizing any outcome, even logically contradictory ideas such as creating square circles. A no-limits understanding of omnipotence such as this has been rejected by theologians from Thomas Aquinas to contemporary philosophers of religion, such as Alvin Plantinga. Atheological arguments based on the omnipotence paradox are sometimes described as evidence for atheism, though Christian theologians and philosophers, such as Norman Geisler and William Lane Craig, contend that a no-limits understanding of omnipotence is not relevant to orthodox Christian theology. Other possible resolutions to the paradox hinge on the definition of omnipotence applied and the nature of God regarding this application and whether or not omnipotence is directed toward God himself or outward toward his external surroundings.
The omnipotence paradox has medieval origins, dating at least to the 12th century. It was addressed by Averroës and later by Thomas Aquinas. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (before 532) has a predecessor version of the paradox, asking whether it is possible for God to "deny himself".
The most well-known version of the omnipotence paradox is the so-called paradox of the stone: "Could God create a stone so heavy that even He could not lift it?" This phrasing of the omnipotence paradox is vulnerable to objections based on the physical nature of gravity, such as how the weight of an object depends on what the local gravitational field is. Alternative statements of the paradox that do not involve such difficulties include "If given the axioms of Euclidean geometry, can an omnipotent being create a triangle whose angles do not add up to 180 degrees?" and "Can God create a prison so secure that he cannot escape from it?".Process theology
Process theology is a type of theology developed from Alfred North Whitehead's (1861–1947) process philosophy, most notably by Charles Hartshorne (1897–2000) and John B. Cobb (b. 1925). Process theology and process philosophy are collectively referred to as "process thought".
For both Whitehead and Hartshorne, it is an essential attribute of God to affect and be affected by temporal processes, contrary to the forms of theism that hold God to be in all respects non-temporal (eternal), unchanging (immutable), and unaffected by the world (impassible). Process theology does not deny that God is in some respects eternal (will never die), immutable (in the sense that God is unchangingly good), and impassible (in the sense that God's eternal aspect is unaffected by actuality), but it contradicts the classical view by insisting that God is in some respects temporal, mutable, and passible.According to Cobb, "process theology may refer to all forms of theology that emphasize event, occurrence, or becoming over substance. In this sense theology influenced by Hegel is process theology just as much as that influenced by Whitehead. This use of the term calls attention to affinities between these otherwise quite different traditions." Also Pierre Teilhard de Chardin can be included among process theologians, even if they are generally understood as referring to the Whiteheadian/Hartshornean school, where there continue to be ongoing debates within the field on the nature of God, the relationship of God and the world, and immortality.Right hand of God
The right hand of God (Dextera Domini "right hand of the Lord" in Latin) or God's right hand may refer to the Bible and common speech as a metaphor for the omnipotence of God and as a motif in art.
In the Bible, to be at the right side "is to be identified as being in the special place of honor". In Jesus' The Sheep and the Goats, the sheep and goats are separated with the sheep on the right hand of God and the goats on the left hand.
It is also a placement next to God in Heaven, in the traditional place of honor, mentioned in the New Testament as the place of Christ at Mark 16:19, Luke 22:69, Matthew 22:44 and 26:64, Acts 2:34 and 7:55, 1 Peter 3:22 and elsewhere. These uses reflect use of the phrase in the Old Testament, for example in Psalms 63:8 and 110:1.
The implications of this anthropomorphic phrasing have been discussed at length by theologians, including Saint Thomas Aquinas.