When Jesus walked the earth, His critics would often ask Him trick questions meant to ensnare Him in His own words. One such question that was put to Him by the Sadducees concerned a hypothetical situation about a woman who had been married seven times. They asked him, "Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her. Jesus answered and said unto them, Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matthew 22:208-29).
Throughout the scriptures there is frequent mention of God's power and we see it manifesting itself in many different ways. In fact, the scriptures tell us that there is nothing God can't do (Mark 10:27). But the answer Jesus gave the Sadducees raises an interesting and important question, which is: What is the power of God and how can we come to know it? Or, stated a different way, Why is God so powerful and what is the source of His power?
Most Christians believe that God is all powerful simply because He's God. In other words, the definition of a God is that He can do whatever He wants because there is no one or anything that is greater than Him. They contend that if He wasn't all powerful then He wouldn't be God. Therefore, to be God is synonymous with being all powerful.
But that doesn't answer the question, it merely restates it. The question isn't whether God is powerful or not. The question is: Why is He so powerful? While most Christians would still answer by saying: "Because He's God!" to help us appreciate the significance of this question, perhaps we can look at it from a different perspective.
Suppose 4,000 years ago we posed the question: Why does the sun come up in the morning and sets in the evening? The answer that most people back then would give is: Because it does. Since they don't know why it does, they merely accept it as a fact that needs no explanation. However, today we have a clear understanding of why the sun comes up and goes down.
In the same way, since most Christians don't know why God is so powerful, they merely accept it as a fact that He is without ever questioning why. Yet, it was Jesus who upbraided the Sadducees for their lack of knowledge concerning the power of God. Therefore, it seems that Jesus felt it was important that we understand what this power is and where it comes from.
One of the definitions the dictionary gives for the word "power" is "the ability to exercise authority, influence or control over others." There is no question that God has full authority to exercise influence and control over all things so this is a fitting description of His power. But God isn't the only Being who is able to exercise influence and control over people and things. This is also a common trait among humans. And, since most Christians believe that God made us in His image, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the way men acquire power in this life is not unlike the way God has acquired His power.
There are only two ways that people gain power. One is by taking it through the use of force or coercion and the other way is by having it bestowed or given to them.
An example of a person taking power is by gathering an army and, through a force of arms, violently taking control over a group of people, including their lands and their possession. Another example is through the use of deceit or trickery. In olden times people who desired power would covertly plot to have the current king killed and then take their place. Power can also be acquired by tricking people into giving them power and blackmail is yet another example of how someone gains power over others through the use of deceit or trickery.
The other way people acquire power is by having it bestowed or given to them. For example, kings have authority bestowed upon them, and it is by virtue of that authority that then grants them the right to exercise power over others. But without that authority, their power to control or influence others are limited, at best.
In olden times, a king usually designated who was to rule in his stead when he died. An example of this is when King David chose his son Solomon to succeed him to the throne. In this case, Solomon was given the kingdom by his father and he legally took possession of it upon his father's death. In addition to this, the people of Israel also accepted him as their king, thereby granting him their approval to rule over them.
In most democratic countries, people campaign to persuade others to vote for them and, when an election is held, whoever has gathered the most votes is granted the power to govern their nation. In this situation it is the people who have given that individual the right to rule over them. When the next election is held, it is the people who will once more have the opportunity either to allow that person to continue holding their power or take it away from them and give it to someone else.
But there is yet another way that someone can be given power. Suppose there is a group of people working together with everyone being equal. In the normal course of events, one person usually begins to stand out from among the others. It may be because of their work skills, or the forcefulness of their personality, or the ability to communicate or organize, or some other quality that sets them apart from the others. Eventually what usually happens is that the rest of the group either formally or informally, gives to this individual their support, thereby giving him the power to have authority over them. We call this kind of an individual a leader.
These are the only two ways people come to power but, once gained, they must also have the ability to keep their power or authority over others. No matter whether a person takes power or it is given to them, there will come a time when that power will be challenged and there will always be people who will defy those in authority over them.
To illustrate this point, in the work place, a supervisor has authority over their employees and that authority was given to them by the company. Yet, there will be people under them who will not obey the rules and when that happens, if a supervisor is to retain their power to influence and control others, they must have a way to persuade their employees to do as they are told. If they can't do that then they will lose their power of influence, not withstanding it was given to them by the company. What this illustrates is that there is a difference between getting power and keeping that power.
In a dictatorial regime the power to rule over others is maintained by force. Those who disobey the rules are brutally punished, which also serves as an example to others not to defying their government leader. In a democratic state, those who violate the law are also subject to punishment and, even in the workplace, a person who violates the rules must face some sort of punishment.
Therefore, it is clear that without some sort of punishment no power can be maintained for very long because once one person can defy authority it won't be long before others will try to do the same and, if that situation isn't corrected, the person in authority will lose their ability to influence or control others.
Even in a democratic state, when a large scale act of disobedience occurs, the state has no choice but to use a show of force to regain control of the situation. If this doesn't happen then anarchy will become the rule of law. This is why people are arrested and brought into court where, if found guilty they are either fined or sent to prison.
But the rule of law can only be enforced if there is some sort of support group that has the power to impose penalties. In a democracy this organization is the police who work in conjunction with the courts. Without them people could violate the law without fear of facing any consequences for their behavior. Kings and dictators maintain their control over people through the use of a loyal army of men who have pledged themselves to protecting the ruler's life as well as his power. These are the king's most loyal subjects and it is they who enforce his orders. Without them a ruler has no defense against those who seek to overthrow him. Therefore it is essential for a ruler to keep them loyal to him because if he loses their loyalty he runs the risk of losing his power.
This is what happened to the Roman Emperor, Caliglia. He was so arrogant and so brutal that eventually even his own guards could not tolerate his abuse of power and successfully plotted to kill him. During World War II there were people within Hitler's closest circle who were sickened by what they saw him doing and plotted to assassinate him. When their attempts failed, it was other armed soldiers loyal to Hitler who then set out to protect and preserve the Fureur's power by eliminating all those who opposed it.
Saddam Hussein had tremendous power over the people of Iraq but he maintained that power through the use of a group of loyal soldiers known as the Republican Guard but, when they could no longer protect him, he lost his power. Even the President of the United States has a special, elite group of soldiers, known as the Secret Service, who risk their lives to protect him and thereby protect his power.
This is how man gains and maintains his power but what about God?
If we were to define God's power we could say it is His ability to speak and have His words obeyed. For example, in the book of Genesis we read "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light" (Genesis 1:3). It is generally taught that God is so powerful that all He has to do is simply say the words, "Let there be light" and magically light appears all by itself, or when He says the words, "Let there be an earth," suddenly, out of nowhere, an earth appears. Whether that's the way it actually happened the Bible doesn't clearly explain, but by whatever means creation occurred, it shows the great power that God has to command and to have those commands obeyed. On the other hand, if God said, "Let there be light" and no light appeared we wouldn't think very highly of His powers. But it is real power when God can command even the very forces of nature and they obey His word.
The scriptures tell us that God is a King, which means He is the head of a government, and all kings, by definition, are dictators. That is, their authority to dictate what should be done is supreme. Whatever a king orders is final because no one has any power to override anything the Kings says. Therefore, his authority is absolute in that it overrides all other authority.
However, there are two kinds of dictators - malevolent and beneficent. One is cruel and the other is compassionate. One is interested in using others for self-serving reasons and the other is interested in serving the needs of others. The God that Christians worship is believed to be a beneficent King, whose primary purpose is to save us from harm. Therefore, every order, command, edict, and law He gives is meant ultimately to make us happy and be for our good.
If that is true, then such a king would never take power unto Himself. Therefore, what power God has must have been given to Him. And, in fact, when we worship God, we are, in effect, giving Him the right or authority for Him to rule over us. What we are saying is that we recognize that His wisdom, skill, and goodness is greater than ours and we voluntarily choose to make Him the leader in our life.
However, that isn't to say that God's power is dependent upon our approval of Him. Whether we acknowledge Him as our supreme ruler or not, doesn't diminish His power over all things. It only diminishes or increases His power in our life but only because that is what we choose. But that still doesn't answer the question of where God's power comes from.
Most Christian faiths believe that God's power is an inherent part of who He is. That is to say, it's part of His natural makeup, it's part of what makes Him God. Therefore, most people believe that God's power comes from some magical ability He has that we don't possess. But Jesus told the Jews of His day that they did err in not understanding the power of God therefore our assumptions about God's power may not be correct.
It has been said that the President of the United States is the most powerful person in America but his power doesn't come because he has a magic wand or that he possesses some sort of supernatural talent. Instead, it comes from his ability to give orders and have those orders obeyed.
Within the realm of his authority the president has the ability to control a vast number of people working in many different executive departments and he is able to exert this power through his right to give orders and his ability to insure that they are carried out. However, if enough people are willing to defy the president's orders, in spite of whatever consequences they might face, his power would be lessened and, if that situation were allowed to continue, he would eventually lose all his power, not withstanding that he had been given the right to issue orders.
We have seen this happen many times throughout history as people rose up against their leaders even to the point of being willing to give up their life. This is what happened in 1776 when ordinary American citizens defied the King of England who was the most powerful ruler in the world at that time. And because he was not able to have his orders obeyed, by1784 he lost all power to rule over the American colonists.
In the same way, God gives orders and by virtue of His ability to have those orders obeyed He has the power to influence and control both people and things. For example, when God issued the order, "Let there be light" and light appeared, it is obvious that His order had been obeyed. It doesn't make any difference how that light came into existence, - whether it happened magically from nothing, or someone built a fire or turned on a light switch or God create the Big Bang. The fact that God was able to issue an order simply by saying the words and that order was fulfilled demonstrates His power.
Jesus once issued an order for the winds to cease blowing and the rain to stop falling and they both obeyed His command (Mark 4:36-41). While that may seem like miraculous power, in essence it's not much different than the power a president of a company has in issuing an order to shut down his production line. When that order is issued, all production stops as he directed. The only difference between that situation and what Jesus did is that Jesus was able to issue an order to the elements of nature and they obeyed His will.
But, we know that not everyone obeys God, neither in heaven nor on earth. The scriptures tell us there was a war in heaven, where Lucifer defied God and tried to set his throne above that of the Almighty. If God allowed Lucifer to succeed in his efforts, He would have lost His power of authority. Therefore, God has to have some method of enforcing His power to control things. But how does He do that?
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that the source of God's power comes from the priesthood which He holds and it is by virtue of that priesthood that God has the right to exercise authority over both people and things, including the very elements of nature. It is by virtue of that priesthood that when God gives a command, He has a right to expect it to be obeyed, no differently than a king expects to be obeyed when he issues a command.
But, without the priesthood, God has no such power. Even though He could still issue orders, His words would lack the authority to have them implemented. And if He couldn't have His words obeyed, then He wouldn't have the power to influence or control anything.
However, the priesthood isn't something someone can take for themselves. It has to be bestowed upon them through an ordinance, much like a king is endowed with power through a coronation ceremony. The crown a king wears is a symbol of his right to rule and, in a similar way, it is the priesthood that symbolizes or authorizes someone the right to rule in the heavens.
This is not much different from the way we do things here on earth.. For example, there are several living past presidents of the United States who once served as the commander-in-chief of the entire American military but when their term in office is over they no longer have the right to exercise any power over our fighting forces. It is only while holding the office of the Presidency that someone has the right to control the entire military.
Because of the great power that the priesthood gives, it is not bestowed upon just anyone. It's only given to those who have earned the right to possess it. In the eternal heavens, holding the priesthood is sign of the righteous character of the person possessing it and, as long as a holder of the priesthood conducts themselves in a righteous manner, the priesthood will serve to grant him the right to issue heavenly commands. And the more righteous a person becomes the more those commands will be obeyed, thus giving him more power. The reason why our Father in heaven is God is because He holds the priesthood but the reason why He is so powerful is because of his extreme righteousness.
In a sense, the priesthood can also be thought of as the guards who surround and protect the king. As long as the priesthood is honored in the way it is used, the words of the priesthood holder will be honored, thereby giving that person great power. But should someone dishonor their priesthood by the way they behave or the things they do, they will become unworthy of respect and their commands will no longer be obeyed. When this happens their priesthood can no longer protect them from losing their power.
The Lord explained it this way: "the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven, and that the powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness. That they may be conferred upon us, it is true; but when we undertake…. to exercise control or dominion or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men, in any degree of unrighteousness, behold, the heavens withdraw themselves; the Spirit of the Lord is grieved; and when it is withdrawn, Amen to the priesthood or the authority of that man. (D&C 121:36,37).
The scriptures tell us that "as many as received him (Jesus), to them gave he the power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name" (John 1:12, emphasis added). What God is trying to do is not merely save us into the kingdom of heaven but he wants us to become sons of God who have the right to inherit all that God has, including even the power of God.