What God cannot do…

We believe that God is All-Powerful. Have you ever had anyone say to you, “OK, then, can God create a rock so big that he cannot lift it or a snowball so heavy that he cannot throw it?” Ah, trick questions, but they have filled cynics with glee and provided Christians with head-scratcher for centuries. I couldn’t trace who first asked the rock question, but did find that it is  part of a larger system of questions composing “the omnipotence paradox,” which actually dated back to the Middle Ages. They were addressed by Christian Theologians like Thomas Aquinas and even the Muslim Scholar Averroes. Enough history…

The point I am going to make here may surprise you but I believe that there are things that God cannot do.  Some theologians have tried to explain these paradoxes by making a distinction between power and ability. In the words, God’s power can make the big rock- no problemo – but he does not have the ability to lift it because he cannot do what simply cannot be done.

Clear as mud? Let me get more specific. God cannot do those things which are limited by the illogical. I am not saying that God is limited by the laws of logic because he is Logic. Just as he is Love, he is also Mind, Intelligence. Thus God is limited by that which is not logical.

For example, Aquinas said, “God cannot make the things that are, never to have been.” In other words, God cannot make something that has happened to “unhappen.” While he forgives the sins of the past and does not deal with us according to them in Christ (treating us just-as-if-ied never sinned), he cannot make us so that we never committed those sins in the first place. In the same way, God cannot make a square circle, a giant midget, a jumbo shrimp (sorry- that’s an oxymoron) or a rock so big that he cannot lift it. These concepts are not even “things”; they are contradictions that have no reality.

This “limitation” is actually an encouragement to my faith. I believe that God does not use his power to play around with things that do not matter, like some immature wizard. But his power is demonstrated in things that directly affect us, such as Creating the universe and Redeeming sinful people like me, through Jesus Christ  (Colossians 1:13-20).

I’ll let you think about this and maybe you can come up with some other things that God cannot do. By the way, I’ve got two more… later.

What God cannot do (3)

We have discussed the fact that God cannot do that which is illogical (make a rock so big he cannot move it), and he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make us free moral agents and prevent us from choosing evil at the same time).

There is one more thing that God cannot do. God cannot do anything that morally contradicts his own nature. For those of you who have studied philosophy, I am not going to get into the Euthyphro Dilemma or argue the Divine Command Theory. Suffice it to say, that the Bible reveals that what we know of goodness, rightness, justice, morality, ethics, law, etc., flow from the very nature of God. How can I grasp goodness apart from a God who is good? How do I really understand social justice apart from a God who is just?

To digress: A question that is often debated is relevant here; can someone be good (moral) without God? Well, yes and no; how’s that for being definitive? By saying yes, I mean that a person can be a moral person without believing in God. Atheists can be good people from a human point of view. However, by saying no, I mean that if God did not exist we would not know what good or right means in an absolute sense. Every culture might have its own code of “ethics,” but this code would have little significance in another culture. Thus there would be no Geneva Conventions, International Tribunals, International Criminal Courts (Hague), or International Courts of Justice (UN) because there would be no common understanding of morality by which justice could be determined.

Back to our main point: God, therefore, cannot do anything that is contrary to his own moral nature. In Hebrews 6: 18, it says that God cannot lie; Psalm 89:34, God cannot break his promise. James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted with evil nor can he tempt anyone to do evil. In 2 Timothy 2:13 we read that God cannot deny himself, which in the context means that God can never be faithless or untrustworthy. Habakkuk 1:13 states that God “cannot look upon evil,” which means that he cannot approve of evil. Finally, in Malachi 3:6 God declares “For I the Lord do not change…” God is eternally consistent with himself; he is not subject to mood swings and never reconfigures himself for a new generation.

“It would be appropriate to say God cannot do what is incongruous with himself. He is morally prohibited from doing what is not right because that would be disconsonant with his own (nature) of rightness. The limitation on his ability…is not logical but moral.” (JonTal Murphree, Loving God and a Suffering World, 31)

In summary, there are 3 things that God cannot do: God cannot do that which is illogical (make something that has happened never to have happened); he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make a square circle); God cannot do anything that is against his own moral nature (he cannot lie).

Now, what are things God can do? Find out for yourself and read the Bible!