“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Revelation 1:8
And, “You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” Hebrews 1:10-12
“Such is the way it will be pleasing to Zeus, who is too strong, who before now has broken the crafts of many cities and will break them again, since his power is beyond all others.”
Agamemnon in The Iliad, 9.23-25 (Lattimore)
As we study the nature of God it is important to understand where we get our conception of God from. We often don’t think about this. What makes God, God and everything else not? The answer to these questions is brought out when we consider how other cultures view the concept of God. For instance, the Greeks in their ancient pantheon have approximately 12 major gods and goddesses. What makes them major gods versus others which are considered minor gods? Basically, the 12 major gods were determined by which supposedly sat in council on Olympos, and this sometimes changed. How did it change? Well at least one goddess was annoyed at the others so she left the council.
Beyond that there is the highest of the gods, Zeus. In the end Zeus is depicted as the most powerful of the gods. Everyone has to go through Zeus. So even in the Illiad, the scenes of all the gods supporting one side or the other doesn’t matter. Zeus is the one who oversees the war in total (it is a mess by the way). He is the most powerful, but he is still a part of the bickering council. Agamemnon, the commander of the Greeks and king of Mycenae, says of Zeus, ‘who is too strong…since his power is beyond all others.’ Zeus is the greatest god because he is the most powerful. We can also observe what he is not. He is still within the cosmos. The Greek gods sit in council on Olympos. Zeus did not create the world. He can change. What and who he loves seems to change from day to day. He has to weasel his way out of Troy in what seems like a haphazard way (with some of his favorite heroes dying). Although his power is beyond all others, it really isn’t a power that can uphold the whole universe. Instead he’s just more able to manipulate the world compared to all the rest of the gods.
There is quite a difference between these Greek gods and our God, and what we even think of as God. Even angelic beings are not called gods according to our understanding of what a god is. Even though they seem to have power it is a derived power. The angelic power comes from someone else. It is because we understand that God created everything. So angels only have power that has been granted them by their creator. In the same way, we humans only have power as it has been granted us by the creator. If our God is the creator of the world, he is also outside of it. He is not a part of the world, so his almightiness isn’t just that he can manipulate the world better than everyone else like Zeus, creation holds together because he has spoken it into being and because his almighty power maintains it. Consider the passage from Hebrews above: ‘You, Lord, laid the foundations of the earth in the beginning and the heavens are the works of your hands, they will perish but you remain. They will all wear out like a garment, but you are the same, your years have no change.’ We see in the scriptures how God’s creative nature is tied to his unchangingness, his immutability. He doesn’t change. He doesn’t have roller-coasters of passions and argumentative councils with the gods. His works are unified, and his will is consistent from day to day. This is our God, and he is so much greater than any other conception of a god.
For the Greeks, many grew to disbelieve the original teaching of the gods because it didn’t accord with reality. Why would the gods have the same bitter passions and conflicts that humans had? The problem was that there was no other holistic view of the world that they could put their trust in.
What is our response to our conception of a God? First, it ought to give us hope. Because he is eternal and almighty, he is able to bring good through the evil in the world. We see this in the life of Joseph who was imprisoned, but his imprisonment through the work of the almighty God brought good and provided for the people of God. We see this even more in one of the greatest works of God in sending his son to give his life as a ransom for many. In the evil of an unjust death, God redeemed humankind. From another point of view we could say that our conception of God brings us comfort. We can rest in his superseding hand of provision. In Philippians, Paul teaches this, ‘do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’ How can we not be anxious when the news reports that another child has died from the flu? We are not anxious because of the nature of God. This doesn’t necessarily mean perfect health or that death will never come to your home, but it does mean that our God’s great power will provide a sure foundation on which we can rest our anxieties. Peter even calls us to cast them on God. In other words, throw them away to him who is able to carry them with ease. May we find great comfort in our great God who is almighty, unchanging, and the creator of all.