Theologians like creating words to explain concepts that appear obviously biblical but aren’t labeled in Scripture. These words can help us understand the truth of Scripture in ways we wouldn’t otherwise.
Omni-, as a prefix means, “all-” in Latin. So you can take any word (it’s probably best to use the Latin translation of the word) to make a new word that means all-that-word. For example, you may remember from elementary school that there are animals who are herbivores (eat plants), carnivores (eat meat), and omnivores (eat all the food). Here’s the breakdown: omni (all)+vore (one who eats) = omnivore (one who eats all of it). I am an omnivore. I tried to find the Latin root for ice cream because I would like to be called “one who eats ice cream” but, alas, Latin is a language that died before ice cream.
So when you see omni words, like omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent in theological writing, you know that it means all-something. I’ve listed some of the more common omni words above and I’ll define a few of them below:
- omnipotent: all-powerful
- omniscient: all-knowing
- omnipresent: being all-places
- omnisapient: all-wise
- omnibenevolent: all-good
- omnitemporal: existing in all-time
These omni words are not used in the Bible (the Bible was not written in Latin) but the ideas they represent are. The Wesleyan Church’s Articles of Religion don’t use omni words either but, again, they use the ideas they represent and it’s good for your theological education to know what these words mean and why they matter.
Unlike the rest of the created world, God has always existed. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He existed independently and chose to create everything else. This means he is inherently different than us it also means he intentionally created the world because he wanted us. It also means he always has been and always will be. This world is temporary, our trials are temporary, God is forever. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega (the A and the Z in Greek).
He is bigger than anything we’re facing and has a much longer perspective than we do. When my daughter was six (and we lived in a country where we had a car) car rides as short as 10 minutes were filled with commentary like, “This is soooo looong!” “Are we there yet?” I wanted to help her understand that our trips around town are nothing compared to the cross-country trips my husband and I took in college (or even the 14 hour drive from our old house to her grandparents house that she’d taken several times). But she was just a kid. And she had a limited perspective. So she couldn’t understand that as bad and boring as it seems right now, it’s just a blip in time and will soon be over.
Unlimited in Power (omnipotent)
God can do anything he wants. I cannot do anything I want. I am bound by time, location, and my inherent capabilities. Things I cannot do include, but are not limited to, being in two places at once, reading people’s minds, going back in time, singing on key. God can (literally) move mountains. He can turn the hearts of kings. God can heal those suffering from disease and deliver those in danger. Because we know he can, and believe he might, we should ask him to. We can ask God to do big things because God can make big things happen.
Unlimited in Wisdom (omnisapient)
Wisdom does not mean knowing everything, it means knowing how to best use the information and resources you have. God always knows what the best thing to do is (if there is a best thing). Because God is all-wise and I am not, I ask him for wisdom. I can ask for wisdom when parenting my daughter. I ask for wisdom when listening to my husband process work. I ask for wisdom when listening to a friend talk about challenges in her life. I ask for wisdom when preparing to teach. James 1:5 reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you,” and who better to get wisdom from than the one who is unlimited in wisdom?
Unlimited in Goodness (omnibenevolent)
If you have lived (or currently live) with someone who is prone to mood swings (like maybe a toddler, a teenager, or someone who struggles with addiction to a mood-altering substance) you understand what it’s like to live with relational instability. You never know how they’ll respond, when they’ll be mad at you, or when everything will be okay. So you understand the value of a God who is consistently good.
He will not suddenly and unexpectedly dive into darkness, melt down in tears, or burst out in anger. He remains constant, good, and you need not fear unexpected changes in mood or character or walk on egg shells around him. You can walk in peace because his constancy provides stability.
When I surrendered my life to him as a teenager I could do so because I trusted him to be who he said he was, who I’d seen him to be. I knew he was consistently good and that I could trust that he would continue to be good.
I also believe that he is working all things together for my good. I don’t believe that everything that has happened to me or around me is good (or even necessary for God’s goodness or glory) but I believe he can take it and use it for my good eventually. “ And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28) I believe he works all things together for my good (and the good of those who love him) because he is good.
Theodicy: A Very Real and Important Problem that I’m not Solving in This Post (sorry)
But sometimes life sucks. Your world gets shattered by death, divorce, cancer, violence, war, betrayal and God does not feel good, or powerful, or wise. There’s a name for trying to figure out how the omnipotent, omniniscient, onmibenevolent God could allow bad things to happen. It’s called “the problem of evil” or “theodicy.” This struggle is real and should not be ignored, discounted, brushed aside or treated with platitudes. When people are wrestling with God because of evil’s impact on their lives we should allow and even encourage them to wrestle. We should join them in the wrestling so they are not alone. We’ll address theodicy eventually…but not in this post. If you want to explore more, just google “problem of evil” or “theodicy” and you’ll get a lot of passionate posts and videos to stretch your brain (you don’t have to agree with all of them).
“We believe in the one living and true God, both holy and loving, eternal, unlimited in power, wisdom and goodness…”
What does this mean to you?
How have you experienced God’s omni-ness in your life?
Which omni- is easiest for you to relate to?
Which omni- might God want you to experience in a new way?
I noticed the Wesleyan Articles of Religion don’t use the phrase “unlimited in knowledge” or “omniscient” instead, focusing on “unlimited in wisdom.” Omniscience is pretty common to include in lists of attributes of God, unlimited in wisdom is less common. I’m not sure why this is *[EDIT: a trusted Wesleyan Scholar suggested it was because the writers of the articles likely chose to stick to words that are actually in the Bible and not the Latin omni-s.] The language has left the door open for Open Theists (who generally believe that God knows all the things that can be known but the future is not a thing that exists so it cannot be known) though this isn’t a mainstream Wesleyan view our language doesn’t outright exclude it and I know a few Wesleyan pastors who hold this view. I’m doing a bit of research and will update this section and/or add another post when (if) I get answers.