The Nature of the Cosmic Conflict and Limits of Omnipotence
When sharing the theme of the Great Controversy with others, the most common question I receive is, “How could any created being hope to win a war against an all-powerful God?” This is a great question since, if God is as powerful as Scripture portrays Him, then why is this war still going on? To many, the answer should be as simple as God flicking His fingers together and instantly eliminating all the evil in the universe. But, this answer reveals a misunderstanding of the very nature of the conflict itself.
The issue at stake in this conflict has nothing to do with power. Lucifer never claimed that he was more powerful than God. If I claim that I can do more push-ups than my friend Miguel, there is a simple way everyone could know whether or not my claim is true or false: a test. In Heaven, Lucifer slandered the character of God (Ezekiel 28:16, 18). He caused many to doubt whether or not God had the right, morally, to be in charge of the universe.1 He claimed that God was untrustworthy and, ultimately, that he would do a better job if he was in God’s position. This kind of assertion cannot be answered by a simple test, nor can it be resolved by a display of power.
While initially we might think that there is nothing an all-powerful God cannot do, Scripture tells us that God cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13), God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), cannot be tempted (James 1:13), and also mentions a sin which God cannot forgive (Matthew 12:31). God cannot make two mutually exclusive things true at the same time. For example, God cannot force beings to freely love Him, since contained in the very definition of love is the prerequisite of freedom. Either God made us with freedom or without it; both certainly cannot be true. Scripture is full of stories that show that humans were indeed created free, and with a kind of freedom that experiences the consequences of actions. True freedom must have attached to it the ability to act, both for good and, unfortunately, when it is misused, for evil.
Another aspect that is often overlooked in the Great Controversy is that God does not rule in a vacuum. God cares about how other beings in the universe perceive Him. Even in the creation of our world, God gave Adam and Eve the ability to “rule” and have “dominion over” the things in this world (Genesis 1:26). The book of Job reveals a heavenly council that meets to discuss various affairs in the universe (Job 1 & 2). Satan arrives as representative of earth, something he gained with the fall of Adam and Eve, and accuses God of bribery in front of the whole council. How can this accusation be proven false? God cannot do nothing and allow Satan’s false accusation to stand, and yet God does not want Job to suffer, particularly because God knows Job is faithful. But, for the sake of others in the council and beyond, Satan must be granted certain power. At the same time, God must limit the extent of His own power for Satan to have a “fair” chance to prove his point. Anything less and Satan’s accusations against God would not be proven false. These rules of engagement, the various limits placed upon God and Satan through this conflict, become essential to God’s ultimate purpose of placing the universe in a state of eternal security (Nahum 1:9).2 While some of these rules are revealed in Scripture (Mark 6:5, 6; Matthew 17:21), we are not privy to them all. Prayer actually changes things. It allows God to work in ways that He otherwise could not, not because He doesn’t have the power or desire, but because He may not have permission.
What does all of this mean for me today? It means that the solution to suffering and evil in this world is not as simple as some make it out to be, but there is actually a lot going on behind the scenes. God does not want any of His children to suffer, and yet there may be good reasons God must permit suffering temporarily. While this may not make our journey easy, it does make it one where our trust in God can grow. Faith and prayer are powerful weapons in this conflict, and we should never tire of raising our petitions to God. One day soon all will be revealed, and all will declare that God is love.3
By Endi Stojanovic, M. Div. Stojanovic is an associate professor of religion at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas.
1 John C. Peckham, God with Us: A Introduction to Adventist Theology
2 John C. Peckham, Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil
3 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy