The Limitations of God
We think a great deal about the power, the omnipotence of God, but we seldom think about the limitations of God. There are many things which the Lord cannot do today. Although He is omnipotent, He has limitations, and those limitations are clearly taught in the Word. We will look at some examples.
Reading: 2 Kings 13:18,19: Mark 9:22,23; John 5:19,30; Luke 12:49,50; John 12:24-26; Numbers 14:22-24; Ephesians 1:23.
Matt. 13:22. We know the Word of God is a mighty thing. It is God’s declared will that it shall not return unto Him void; but we read that the Word can be choked, it can be limited.
Matthew 23:37,38. The Lord Jesus said, “I would… and ye would not”. There was nothing wrong with the Lord Himself, nor with His will, nor with His power to accomplish that will, but there was something on the side of man which had the power to limit the Lord Himself.
Numbers 14:22-24. Jehovah Himself declared time after time that the land was going to be given to His people, and He had the power to bring them in. But we see in this passage that the people had the power to defeat the purpose of God, to limit Him, so that He could not do what He had sworn to do.
Isaiah 59:1,2. The hand of the Lord is not shortened, and the ear of the Lord is not deaf. Then why did He not save, why did He not hear? It was because of the sins and the iniquities of His people, which limited Him.
Malachi 3:10. God wanted to bless the land of Israel with so much blessing that there would not be room to receive it, but He could not do it because the tithe had not been brought into His house.
Mark 1:45. The Lord told this man, whom He had healed, not to say a word about it, but he began to blaze the matter abroad, with the result that the Lord could not enter into the city, but had to shut Himself away in desert places. Natural zeal limits the Lord.
Mark 6:5. In this case the Lord could do no mighty works, because of unbelief.
2 Chron. 16:9. Here we see that the Lord is looking for a man whose heart is perfect toward Him, to show Himself strong on his behalf: so that we see that God is limited by an imperfect heart.
If you go through the Word of God, you will find these facts established. God is omnipotent, but His omnipotence is subject to limitations. He must have conditions which are suitable to His working. The question is whether God is going to be limited, or is going to be unlimited. We have to learn through bitter experience that we cannot help God, but we have the full power to hinder Him. The Creator of heaven and earth can be bound by us, just flesh and blood! It is very serious. I trust the Lord will search our hearts and deal with us in a drastic way, so that we can see clearly if there is anything in us which is hindering and limiting His power. Are we willing to let go anything that may be a hindrance? Are we relying on sight and feeling, or are we living by faith in the living God? Are we trusting God – on the one hand to bring something out of nothing, and on the other hand to bring the dead back to life? Do we believe it, or does our lack of faith hinder Him from showing His power?
There are many things which may hinder, but it would not be profitable for us to attempt to deal with them here – we should get nowhere. The Lord must give us light, and light is certain if we abide in Him. It is not by self-examination – it is by coming to God alone; and the difference between the two is the difference between heaven and earth. We will leave that just for now, and go on to something which is important.
Luke 12:49,50 is a passage speaking of the limitations of the Son of God while in the flesh on earth. The word “straitened” can be translated “crowded”, “cramped”, “not having a free way”. The life, the power, of the Son of God was cramped in His body; He was limited by the condition of being in the body. For instance, He could not be at Jerusalem and Galilee at the same time. He was looking for the day when there would be a “baptism” – that is to say, His death on the Cross – and when that came He would be released from the body of the flesh, and in resurrection would have a spiritual body that would not cramp Him, and His life could be imparted to His people.
That passage is exactly parallel to John 12:24-26. the grain of wheat falling into the ground and dying and bringing forth much fruit. There is life, there is power to reproduce, encaged in that grain – something which has been straitened, cramped, crowded; but when the grain dies, there is a great release, no more limitation, it will come up in much fruit.
The question of “the church, which is His body”, comes in here. The body is for the full expression of the personality of the person. The Lord Jesus shows Himself through each member of the Body, and He shows the whole of Himself through the Church. When the Lord was in the flesh, He was moving in a fleshly body. Today He still manifests Himself in a body, but now it is a spiritual Body, and we are the members, and as members of His Body, either we may be used to express Him, or we may limit Him. The Body is the way in which He expresses Himself; He has no other way. This is a great responsibility. We are the only means of expression that He has. That is why the utter Lordship of Christ is so very important. We have to come to the place where we are not in any way limiting Him; so that, through His Body, He may bring Himself to bear on the world and on the spirit-world of evil powers. That is what the Lord is seeking in these days.
How does it come about that the omnipotence of God becomes limited by man? And will this limitation be continued for eternity? We find in the Word of God that, in eternity past and eternity to come, God is omnipotent and not subject to limitation. But, in the eternal purpose of God, He wanted a people to share the life of His own Son, and to manifest His Son. In order to bring this about, He created man a free-willed being; and then the limitation of God began. There are now three wills at work, the Divine, the satanic, and the human. God will not destroy the human will. He wants the will of the creature to be put on His side instead of on the side of Satan, and so He has accepted a position of limitation. If man is not on the side of God, God cannot do anything with him. God will not compel him to do anything.
But God is working toward a goal. There is One whose will is absolutely identified with the Father’s. There is One who will not limit God; and, by His death and resurrection, His life is imparted to us. A Body is being formed by the power of the Spirit, and God is looking to the members of the Body to function in such a way that they will not limit Him – they will be responsive to Him; and in this new creation, identified with His will, His limitations will be for ever put out of the way. God will be able to come back to His omnipotence without any hindrance. So we are entrusted with the great mission of restoring His omnipotence without limitation. We must first come to the place where God has a free way in us, before He can bring the whole creation back to that. The Church is a firstfruit of God’s creation, so what is going to be true universally in the Kingdom-age should be true at least of the overcoming company of the people of God today.
What is the Kingdom? “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” That means that there will be no human will coming out to limit Him. When the question of the will is settled, then the question of power is also settled. What is the secret of really serving the Lord? It is not doing a hundred and one things for the Lord. Service is really submission to the Lord – knowing the true meaning of that word, “to obey is better than sacrifice”. Abraham was one who obeyed God’s voice, and the Lord is after utter responsiveness to Himself, so that He can have a free way, unhindered.
May the Lord speak to our hearts and show us whether there is anything there which will undermine the sovereignty, the lordship, and the headship of Jesus. Once more let us say, Jesus is Lord!
By Watchman Nee, first published in “A Witness and A Testimony” magazine, March 1953.