What isn’t Omnipotence?
Orion asked on Mi Yodeya:
Hashem’s infinite power
I’ve heard many times that Hashem is infinitely powerful. But how do we know this? Perhaps he’s just very powerful or even all powerful (possessing all power there is, which is possibly finite). Is there a source for the ‘infinite’?
I liked how my answer came out, so here it is:
The Rambam says that “all powerful” is actually a description of what G-d isn’t. (Moreh Nevuchim, 1:15). And if G-d did have attributes, there would have to be a cause for that composite coming together. Since G-d is the Creator, not a created entity, He must be Purely One, without any real attributes. (ibid book 2, intro. postulate #21.) These “attributes” are really approximate statements based on what Hashem isn’t.
(Philosophers call this approach to theology the Via Negativa — the path of denials. The Rambam also describes a second kind of “attribute of G-d”, those that describe how his Action looks to us. “Just as He is called compassionate, so too should you be compassionate.” – Hilkhos Dei’os 1:6)
Let me start with an easier example of a negative “attribute”: Omnipresence.
Where is “1 + 1 = 2”. On the one hand, you can say it’s everywhere, because there is no place in the universe where 1 + 1 will equal anything but 2. On the other hand, it’s a concept. It doesn’t have a volume; it doesn’t take up space. One can also say “1 + 1 = 2” is nowhere.
Similarly, location isn’t really applicable to Hashem, so one can describe G-d as both everywhere and nowhere, depending on perspective. Although we tend to use “shebashayim — Who is in heaven” rather than “nowhere” to mean spaceless existence.
We talk about G-d always having Been and always will Be. But again, in reality what we are approximating is the idea that Hashem is “lemaalah min hazman — beyond time.” “When” isn’t a meaningful thing to say about G-d.
With those two examples setting a pattern, let’s look at Omnipotence.
We aren’t so much saying that Hashem has Infinite Power vs A Real Lot of Power. Rather, the expression means that Hashem doesn’t even involve the concept of power. Hashem’s Will simply becomes reality in a way that doesn’t involve power. Therefore He can’t have too little power to get anything done.
Which is the same effect to our eyes as if Hashem had infinite power — anything He Wills to happen will happen. Omnipotence.