September 11, 2007

Omnipotence? of God

George A. Smith
March 18, 1855

In the Clementine Recognitions (written around the second century A.D.) Clement happens across a man in the street giving a religious discourse to a passing crowd in Rome. The preacher's name is Peter, the apostle, and Clement describes the scene:

Truly I perceived that there was nothing of dialectic artifice in the man, but that he expounded with simplicity, and without any craft of speech, such things as he had heard from the Son of God, or had seen. For he did not confirm his assertions by the force of arguments, but produced, from the people who stood round about him, many witnesses of the sayings and marvels which he related.
Peter was bearing testimony along with a few other witnesses, some people were impressed, but then the heckling began:

Now, inasmuch as the people began to assent willingly to the things which were sincerely spoken, and to embrace his simple discourse, those who thought themselves learned or philosophic began to laugh at the man, and to flout him, and to throw out for him the grappling-hooks of syllogisms, like strong arms (Clementine Recognitions 1.7-1.8).
These syllogisms included questioning why God created a little gnat with six feet, whereas a giant elephant has only four. This instantly reminded me of certain philosophical questions sometimes asked of theologians: Can God microwave a frozen burrito so hot that even He can't eat it? Can He make a rock so big He can't move it?

The basis of these questions intimate God is not "all-powerful," that He is somehow limited.

We want to have faith in an omnipotent God, a God with the power to save. The Lectures on Faith[1] claim in order for "rational beings" to exercise sufficient faith in God they must understand or believe He actually exists, have a correct idea of His character, perfection, and attributes, and finally, know that their choices in life are according to God's will (see Lecture 3:2-5).

As for the second requirement-- having a correct idea of His character, attributes, etc.-- the philosophical questions about God's power require more than a superficial toss-away answer. Though the questions themselves seem ridiculous, you might stop and think for a moment. Can God do anything?

The Lectures on Faith say we need to know God has "power over all things, and [is] able by his power to control all things, and thereby deliver his creatures who put their trust in him from the power of all beings that might seek their destruction, whether in heaven, earth, or hell" (see Lectures on Faith 4:12b).

Again- is God's power unlimited in the complete sense? Does He have any needs? Does He ever need help? George A. Smith had an interesting answer; for his text he took Matthew 23:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Matthew 23:37).
After quoting the verse he continued:
"These words were uttered by the Savior while looking at the vast city and surrounding country which was then inhabited by the Jews, who were residing there in security, surrounded with plenty, and were at the same time almost universally in open rebellion against the law of heaven.

It has been a very common saying in the world that the Lord was able to do everything, that he could do anything he had a mind to do, and accomplish what he pleased; that he possessed universal power, and could accomplish what he, undertook. But what says our text? 'How oft would I have gathered you, but you would not.' This indicates that he could not do it, because they were not willing; that is the way we understand the language."

God's work and glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, is a rock so large He cannot move it on His own. Moving this rock requires our submission; God is gathering us back under His wings, but if we will not, he cannot.

George A. explained the purpose of this gathering:

Among the first principles that were revealed to the children of men in the last days was the gathering; the first revelations that were given to the Church were to command them to gather, and send Elders to seek out a place for the gathering of the Saints.

What is the gathering for? Why was it that the Savior wished the children of Israel to gather together? It was that they might become united and provide a place wherein he could reveal unto them keys which have been hid from before the foundation of the world; that he could unfold unto them the laws of exaltation, and make them a kingdom of Priests, even the whole people, and exalt them to thrones and dominions in the celestial world (George A. Smith, Journal of Discourses 2:211).
This gathering requires our own willingness to participate. God won't, perhaps can't, force salvation upon anyone; to do so would be contrary to eternal laws, (see 'the law of restoration' in Alma 41).

I think it is fair to say God is omnipotent in every area He ought to be in order to save His children. However, in order to exalt His children, God does have needs- he needs us to submit:

The submission of one's will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God's altar. The many other things we 'give,' . . . are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God's will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession which is truly ours to give! (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, Nov. 1995, 24.)


The Lectures on Faith is a set of seven lectures included in the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants (The title "Lectures on Faith" was not given until 1876 by Orson Pratt). While Joseph Smith was most likely involved in their preparation and/or publication (see History of the Church 2:169-170 and 2:180) the actual authorship is in question. It has been argued, for example, the lectures were written mainly by Sidney Rigdon (see Noel B. Reynolds, "The Case for Sidney Rigdon as Author of the Lecture on Faith," Journal of Mormon History, vol. 31 Fall 2005) and that others helped in writing them, as well (
see the FAIRWiki article "Lectures on Faith Removed From Doctrine and Covenants," accessed April 2008). As the wikipedia entry explains, the Lectures "were removed from the Doctrine and Covenants in the 1921 edition, apparently without a vote by the church body, with an explanation that the Lectures 'were never presented to nor accepted by the Church as being otherwise than theological lectures or lessons'. (See Introduction , 1921 edition.)" An interesting discussion on Lectures was started by "Jacob J" on the New Cool Thang blog.

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