And the ways Christians like to show off some of the Latin we know.
- Omni- /'ɑm.nɪ/ pref. adj. All. Every.
Since humans covet power, one of our favorite subjects to talk about is “the attributes of God.” By which we mean God’s superpowers. You know, the things he can do which make him almighty. Four of ’em start with the Latin prefix omni-, so sometimes Christians dumb ’em down by referring to them as “the omnis.”
- Omnipotence (Latin omnia potens/“all power”). Almightiness: God has no physical or spiritual limits, and can do whatever he wants, whenever he chooses.
- Omnipresence (omnia praesentia/“all at hand”). Ubiquity: God touches every point in spacetime, is consciously aware of everything he touches, and can be contacted at every point.
- Omniscience (omnia sciens/“all knowledge”). All-knowingness: God isn’t just aware of all, but understands all—cause and effect, past and future, potential timelines, and all the complexity of the universe he created.
- Omnibenevolence (omnes bene volentia/“[of] every good intention”). Always doing good: God holds to his own standards of right and wrong, has no hidden agenda, and isn’t secretly evil.
That last one tends to get skipped by Christians who aren’t so sure God doesn’t have a secret, evil plan. Mostly ’cause they can’t fathom how God can be almighty, yet permit evil in his universe, without some degree of moral compromise on his part—though they’ll try their darnedest to embrace logical arguments which keep him in the clear. Which is kinda impossible to do if you believe in
But that’s a discussion for another place. Suffice to say I believe talking about “God’s omnis” is seriously deficient if we drop his goodness. ’Cause power corrupts. The only way God is an exception to that rule, is because God is always good, never evil. And if God isn’t omnibenevolent, he’s in some degree evil—which, in an infinite being, is an infinite problem. It makes God evil. It corrupts all the facets of his almightiness. It makes God dangerous and untrustworthy, for he could lie to us if it suits his secret, evil plan: We have no guarantee he’s planning to save us, not destroy us. His promises aren’t yea and amen;
Well, considering how irritated Jesus constantly was by hypocrisy, I can’t believe God’s a hypocrite too. So omnibenevolent he is.
Jesus: God, depowered.
The other mistake Christians make is to assume these attributes are necessary attributes. In other words, if God doesn’t have ’em, he’s not really God: A less-than-almighty God isn’t God, or a limited-in-space-and-time God isn’t God, or if God doesn’t know all he’s not really God. This belief presents a giant problem when it comes to Jesus—who’s wholly God, but gave up these divine privileges to become human:
Philippians 2.6-11 KWL
- 6 Existing in God’s form,
- he figured being the same as God wasn’t something to clutch,
- 7 but poured himself into a slave’s form:
- He took on a human likeness.
- 8 He was born; he was found human in every way.
- Being obedient, he humbled himself to death: Death by crucifixion.
- 9 So God exalted him. He gave him the name over every name.
- 10 In the name of Jesus, every knee may bend—heavenly, earthly, and underworldly—
- 11 every tongue confess Christ Jesus is Lord,
- to the glory of God the Father.
He’s still God, but can’t do ’em anymore.
- Not omnipotent: He can only do miracles through the Holy Spirit’s power,
Ac 10.38same as us.
- Not omniscient: He only knows what he sees the Father doing,
Jn 5.19and doesn’t know what the Father hasn’t revealed to him, like the time of his second coming. Mk 13.32
- Not omnipresent: He’s no longer everywhere, but was limited to one place and time on earth, and limited to the Father’s right hand now. (True, some figure when we Christians gather in his name, he’s here among us,
Mt 18.20but whether he means this literally is debatable.)
- Still omnibenevolent though.
Now, this is a hard concept for a lot of us humans to wrap our minds around. Give up power? Willingly? God? He’s not God without his special God powers!
So there’s gotta be some trick to all this: Jesus only appeared to give up all his superpowers, and make it look like he’s an ordinary, powerless, fragile human. The theological term for this is
The problem with the God-faking-powerlessness theory is, again, omnibenevolence. Jesus pretended nothing, and deceived no one. He is as the authors of the New Testament described him. He’s not merely God appearing as a human, like when God appeared to Abraham.
His behavior indicates he wasn’t even trying to hide his divinity. He’d blow his own cover by saying something only God could say: He’d forgive sins,
The other mistake we Christians make is we assume Jesus got these attributes back after he ascended to heaven, after he resumed God’s glory.
The reason people of the first century couldn’t identify Jesus for who he really is, once again, is ’cause humans covet power. We can’t wrap our brains around the willing surrender of power. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus returning to his farm instead of staying dictator? George Washington stepping down after two terms as president? Both times, blew people’s minds. Who does that? And people unthinkingly expect God to do likewise. People expect God incarnate to retain the one attribute we regularly identify with divinity: Raw, infinite power. Likewise the Pharisees expected Messiah to come in great power and conquer their foes: When he showed up as an ordinary man, they rejected that concept entirely. That’s not the sort of God people want. We can’t use that sort of God.
You starting to see the problem? Our desires get in the way of good theology.
But since Jesus was depowered, yet did mighty things, it demonstrates we can do mighty things when we work with the Holy Spirit like Jesus did. We can even do greater things than Jesus did.
Sometimes God’s almighty.
Thing is, there are things God actually can’t do. Like be evil. Like tempt others with evil.
Skeptics like to test God’s omnipotence with logical impossibilities: “If God can do anything, can he make a triangle with four sides?” or “Can he create a boulder so heavy he can’t lift it?” But that’s not what almightiness means. God can do whatever he wants; emphasis on what he wants. If he doesn’t wanna, he’s never gonna. Like sin. Like perform illogical, brain-bending stunts for the sake of silencing skeptics (especially when they’ll just dismiss it as trickery anyway). God is unlimited when it comes to what he wants to do—and self-limited when it comes to everything else.
That self-control thing, though, is why such unlimited power definitely needs to stay out of human hands. Because God has infinite self-control. We don’t. The Holy Spirit may grant us power, but certainly not unlimited power: He retains control of it, because we’re too self-centered to wield it properly. We’ll do it lovelessly, and botch it. It’s why we Christians tend to turn to other routes, like peer pressure, politics, economic boycotts, or even guns. You know, like pagans do.
Almightiness is something God can do, but it’s not who he is. He’s love,