Tag Archives: ronald h. nash

Theological Reflections: God’s Omnipotence and Logical Possibility

The omnipotence of God is a central, biblical doctrine to Christianity. It refers to God’s all-encompassing power. He is the all-powerful Lord who has created all things and sustains them by the Word of His power (Gen. 1:1-3; Heb. 1:3). God reveals in the Bible that He is all-powerful and in the final sense, He is the ruler of nature and history. Psalm 147:5 reveals, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.” Similarly, Job says “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2, emphasis mine). The Scriptures reveal, then, that God is all-powerful—He is omnipotent. Further, if God is infinite, and if He is sovereign, which we know He is, then He must also be omnipotent. He has all power over all things at all times and in all ways.

Given this understanding of God’s omnipotence, does this mean that God can sin or bring about contradictions in Himself? After all, He can do all things. Some people shriek when any limitations, logical or physical, are placed on the power of God. The Scriptures reveal, however, that there are certain things that even an all-powerful God cannot do. Ronald H. Nash writes, “If there is anything to be learned from the classical Christian discussions of omnipotence, it is that omnipotence was always understood to be compatible with certain limitations on God’s power.”¹ How is God’s power “limited” in regards to logical and physical possibilities? First, if something is physically impossible, no human can perform that act in the real world. More than that, if something is logically impossible, then it cannot be done in the real world (or other possible worlds) by anyone or anything under any conditions (that would include God). So in relation to God, His omnipotence does not extend to things that are logically impossible. This does not count against His omnipotence, however, because as Frankfurt observes, “If an omnipotent being can do what is logically impossible, then he can not only create situations which he cannot handle but also, since he is not bound by the limits of consistency, he can handle situations which he cannot handle.”² If God was above the law of non-contradiction and the matters of logic, then He would be unknowable and unintelligible. So then, God’s inability to perform the logically impossible does not count against His omnipotence. Those logical impossibilities just cannot be done.

So when it comes to matters of contradictions within the Godhead, or the question of God’s ability to sin, or ability to bring about a contradictory state of affairs, those are logical impossibilities. Logical consistency is a necessary condition for God’s omnipotence, not merely physical possibility. Is sin a logical and physical possibility? Yes. After all, sinning is done by humans all the time and it is logically and physically possible. How then, can God not sin? Early Christian thinkers like Thomas Aquinas and Anselm were faced with the same question. They pointed out that God could not sin because the ability to sin is not a power. Writing about Anselm, Nash observes that “[Anselm suggested] that the ability to sin results not from power but from lack of power.”³ If God could sin, then that would mean a lack of power, which would then mean that He is not omnipotent. God’s inability to sin, then, is not contradictory to His omnipotence. This compatibility does not mean that “God is above logic” or that the law of non-contradiction is a limitation on God’s power. Nash writes, “no logical contradiction results from ascribing a certain action like sinning to a human being, the action does become self-contradictory when it is attributed to God.” In conclusion, the Scriptures attest to God’s omnipotence, but do not support the view of a God who can do the logically impossible—it cannot be done.

1. Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 306.
2. Harry G. Frankfurt cited in Nash, 311.
3. Nash, 312-313.
4. Nash, 314.

Theological Reflections: Is Open Theism Biblical?

There are certain essential attributes that theology ascribes to God. These attributes are drawn from what is clearly revealed in the Bible about God’s nature. Among these essential attributes are: omnipotence (God is all-powerful), omnipresence (God is all-present), and omniscience (God is all-knowing). All of these are equally important, and require careful study and attention. For God to be God, these attributes must be His nature. He must be all powerful, able to do anything—He must be always present with His creation, and He must be all-knowing, not restricted by any means.

God’s omniscience, however, presents a struggle in matters of God’s power to know all things, and how that relates to human freedom. Omniscience refers to God’s perfect knowledge about the past, present, and the future. Biblical Christians have always affirmed that God is omniscient, but recently certain thinkers have denied God’s perfect knowledge about the future. These “certain thinkers” are proponents of what is known as open theism. Their denial of God’s complete omniscience is due mainly to their system of theology that seeks to answer a problem in relation to God’s omniscience and human freedom.

Since God is all-knowing, this implies that He must know the future. If He knows the future, this poses difficulties for the freedom of human choices and ability. If God knows what humans will do in the future, do humans have the ability to do anything other than what God knows they will do? If humans had the power to do something other than what God foreknows, then God would be mistaken—His knowledge would be false, thus He would not know the future. Ronald H. Nash writes, “God’s foreknowledge would have actually been fore-ignorance.”¹ So the nature of the problem is reconciling God’s divine foreknowledge of the future, with human freedom in regards to their choices and abilities.

The system of theology known as open theism has attempted to provide an adequate answer to this difficulty. Defined by Nash, the basic tenet of open theism is this: “[Proponents of open theism] believe it is necessary to eliminate God’s knowledge of future human actions in order to preserve a sphere of human free will.”² In order to “protect” human freedom and reconcile this problem of divine-foreknowledge-human-freedom, God cannot have knowledge of any future human decisions, or those decisions would lose their significance. As open theists propose, God can have no knowledge about future human possibilities. Those who hold to this view say that God cannot know these things because there is nothing to know—the decisions, choices, and actions have not been made by humans yet because they are future contingents, and not done in the past. The past is fixed, but the future is not, and since those actions have not yet been done, God could not possibly know them.

It is important to point out that, though open theist deny God’s knowledge of the future, they are not necessarily saying that God doesn’t know about everything in the future. According to their view, God knows that “the multiplication tables will be true in the future, just as he knows that the law of gravity will continue to obtain.”³ God doesn’t know the specifics about future contingents—He just knows the fundamentals, if you will, those things which can be accurately predicted because they do not change. Things like natural laws and obvious consequences. But if God can know one contingent like these, how can He not know more? Who or what is the authority in determining how many future contingents God can or cannot know?

Open theism, then, creates more problems than it attempts to resolve. The theological implications of a limitation on God’s foreknowledge are possibly something the proponents of open theism have not considered. One implication is that God would have no knowledge of which human beings will come into existence in the future. God had no knowledge of anyone’s future existence, and He couldn’t have (if they did not yet exist). How then, would the atonement of Christ accomplish anything at all? This would mean that God sent Christ to die with the possibility of dying for no one—for He had no way of knowing if even one human being would come to faith. Nash writes, “Just as the God of open theism cannot know which future human beings will exist, neither can he know which future humans will become Christian believers, will receive his salvation, and will be blessed with eternal life.”

This theory of open theism also does serious damage to the teaching of the knowledge of God revealed in the Scriptures. God “knows everything” (1 John 3:20), and even says of Himself, “[I declare] the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose’” (Isaiah 46:10). The psalmist writes, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4). Open theism, therefore, cannot provide an adequate reconciliation for the struggle between God’s foreknowledge and human freedom. The Bible affirms that God knows all things, and that He knows the future perfectly. God has true foreknowledge of what human beings will do in the future, and those actions are determined, while at the same time, not violating human free will. All human choices and future contingents will therefore be what God already knows they will be.

1. Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 316.
2. Nash, 317.
3. Nash, 320.
4. Nash, 323.