The Nature or Attributes of God



Omnipotence means all powerful. The Bble attributes omnipotence of God through miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea and feeding of the 5000.

Descartes - argued that God must be omnipotent in the sense of being able to do even the logically impossible, because God has all the perfections so therefore God has no limitations at all. This means that God can create a stone too heavy for himself to lift. Most scholars such as Mackie disagree with Descartes. Things that are logically impossible such as a square circle are not really 'things' at all, because they are impossible. They believe that God can do anyhing, but not the logially impossible. They also dsagree because a God who could do anything at all would be able to do things that go against his loving nature, such acts of cruelty. Descartes' view of a totally powerful God who can do the logically impossible makes it difficult to find an acceptable theodicy.

Aquinas -  argued that God's omnipotence means God can do everything that is within his nature and does not imply a contradiction. So God cannot be cruel or fail or be unwise. Some people argue that if there are things that God cannot do and he is limited by his own nature, then he cannot be omnipotent.

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Omnipotence 2

Swinburne - argued that God can do everything, but logical impossibilities are not things. Square circles are not things- they could never exist. God can do anything possible.

Vardy - argues that God deliberately limits his own power. God created the world in such a way thay his own power would have to be limited as a result. This does not reduce or undermine God because God chose to do this in order to create a world suitable for human beings. The letter to Philippians in the Bible supports this as it suggests that when God came to this world as Jesus, he deliberately limited his own power in order to be accessible to humanity. Kenosis is the idea that Gd deliberately empties himself of his own power.

Other ideas - there are discussions about whether omnipotence is compatible with other attributes traditionally ascribed to God. There are also discussions about whether omnipotence makes sense as a concept. Perhaps an all powerful being could not possibly exist.

Whitehead and Hartshorne - argue that a totally omnipotent God would not be as impressive as a God who could meet resistance.

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Omniscient means all knowing.

Ideas about the omniscience of God raise issues about God's relationship with time and with human free will. If God knows with absolute certainty and is never mistaken, then God's knowledge of people's future actions could be seen to 'fix' those actions and remove freedom of choice.

Schleiermacher - argued that God can know us as close friends know us, so he can know what we will do without forcing our choices. But his critics argue that God's knowledge is not like the knowledge friends have because God never guesses or makes mistakes.

Boethius (book= 'The Consolation of Philosophy') - argues that what an omniscient God forsees in the future must happen. Whether is happens because he sees it, or, he sees it because it will happen is irrelevant.

Geach - uses the analogy of playing chess with the grand master. Although you are free to make a move where ever you like, the grandmaster will ultimately win the game. (example of an omniscient and everlasting God)

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Omnibenevolence means all loving. When God creates the universe in Genesis, everything is 'very good' (Genesis 1:31) suggesting that God only does good. The God of the Bible is interested in moral behaviours, he creates the 10 Commandments in order for his people to follow. For Christians, God's goodness is exemplfied in the person of Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross.

'Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.' - Psalm 118:1

Moltmann (book= 'The Crucified God') - argues that Christianity shows that God does not just sit outside of time being perfect and immutable. He gets involved with us and shares the pains of human existence to the extent of suffering death and torture.

Aquinas (book= 'Summa Theologica') - thought that everything we say of God is not literally true but is using analogy. We can only understand a tiny proportion of divine love, ''the perfections of everything exist in God, he lacks no excellence of any sort.''

Swinburne - draws analogies between God's goodness and the role of parent. e.g. rewarding and punishing.

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Omnibenevolence 2


  • Some argue that the God of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament, is not particularly good e.g. he asks Abraham to sacrifice his own son Isaac and he also regretted the flood which suggests that God can make mistakes.
  • The problem of evil raises questions of whether a God of omnipotence can be all-loving when there is evidence of evil in the world (inconsistent triad - Mackie)
  • Omnibenevolence might be considered incompatible with other attributes of God, for example is God is omnibenevolent then he cannot do evil but if God is omnipotent then he can do anything.
  • Plato's Euthyphro Dilemma (book='The Republic') - ''Are actions right because the gods says so or do the gods appr'ove them because they are right in themselves?'' Socrates (character in Plato's book) didn't like this idea and wanted rational proof (argument to defend it). He thought there must be more to morality then simply the consensus of agreement.
  • Wiles- ''Why turn water into wine, yet let the holocaust happen?''
  • Mill - stated that a God cannot be loving if he created a world where animals kill each other in order to survive.

Kant - argues that God's omnibenevolence is redeemed in heaven, and links this to his moral argument for the existence of God.

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The relationship between God and time

Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas -  argue that God is eternal in a timeless way- God created time and exists in the past, present and future.

Swinburne - argues that God is everlasting in a way that moves along the same timeline as we do. This gives us genuine free will and allows us to have a relationship with God who responds to ouor behaviour and prayers.The past is past for God as well as for us, and the future has not yet happened for God as well as us.

Boethius -  questioned whether an omniscient God could justifiably reward and punish. He concluded that God can see time 'as from a lofty peak' and can observe us making free choices in our lives whilst being outside time himself. We live inside time, on a timeline with a past, a present and a future, but God is timeless and sees things simultaneity (all at once)

Anselm -  took a four dimensional approach to God's relationship with time. The past, present and future all 'exist'. God can be in all times at once, and all times are 'in God', because God created them. We are restricted to being in one place at one time, and we have genuine free will, but God has no restrictions and can be in all places at all times.

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God is eternal-

  • If God is timeless then he does not change so he does not respond to people's behaviour, for example with anger or love.
  • God knows everything for all time so our freedom is restricted, for example, predestination.
  • God cannot interact with the universe in a meaningful way at a particular time.
  • God is not omniscient because, as he is eternal and outside time, he does not know what day it is.

God is everlasting-

  • It makes God seem less impressive because God is restricted by time and has to wait for things to happen.
  • It puts limits on God's omniscience as he cannot know the future with certainty.
  • It raises questions of what God was doing before he created the universe.
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