Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
There’s a question to think about, one it’s been on the minds of people for centuries: Is there anything God cannot do? I think it’s a really fascinating question.
For centuries philosophers, Christians and non-Christians have debated whether God is all-powerful. Throughout the Bible, there are many references to God’s omnipotence, i.e. his ability to do everything (‘omni’ from the Latin omnis meaning all or total, ‘potent’ meaning powerful, from the Latin potis).
For example, in Jeremiah 32:27 (ESV) God asks, rhetorically, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” And in Matthew 19:26 (ESV) Jesus says, “But Jesus looked at them and said, With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
What Can’t God Do?
Many theories have been stated over the years of things God can’t do. God can’t do things that are:
- simply absurd.
For example, God can’t draw a round square or a triangle with seven sides. God can’t be a married bachelor or win a game of chess after he’s been checkmated. Such theories are reminiscent of the classic paradoxical dilemma philosophers have argued over for years: Can God make a rock too heavy for himself to lift?
Seemingly, either answer to this question would prove God was not omnipotent, i.e. either he couldn’t make the rock, or he couldn’t lift it. This style of paradox is called reductio ad absurdum—reduced to absurdity—and is designed to make a self-contradictory answer.
Being omnipotent, God can lift a rock of any weight, so to ask him to make one he can’t lift is self-contradictory. It is like asking God to draw a three-sided square; the notion itself is logically impossible. His inability to do so is not, therefore, evidence that he is not omnipotent.
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Some Christians argue that God’s powers are not limited by human logic—e.g. to say a square has four sides is human logic, and God works outside such logic, therefore can create a square with three sides. This view seems perhaps to be motivated by overzealous piety.
As renowned Christian writer, the late C.S. Lewis, once said, “Nonsense does not cease to be nonsense when we put the words God can before it.”
Some of the things God ‘can’t do’, rather than seemingly detracting from his omnipotence, actually enhance his status as an almighty God.
For example, we could argue that if God is everywhere, then he can’t move. But surely not needing to move to be ever-present is another sign of his all-powerfulness. Likewise, God can’t do things that require a body; he can’t scratch his nose, get a cramp, cough or break a finger. But being free from the limitations of the human body is surely more of a strength than a weakness.
The question of what God can do—and has done—is probably a more meaningful one when seeking out evidence for or against his omnipotence. Let me try and make it a bit more simple.
God cannot do anything that is contrary to his character. For example, lying—God cannot lie. And the Bible actually tells us this in Titus 1:2 (GNT): “…God, who does not lie, promised us this life before the beginning of time.” So God cannot lie, I mean, falsehood is completely out of harmony with God’s nature. Here’s another verse from Numbers 23:19 (CEV): “God is no mere human! He doesn’t tell lies or change his mind. God always keeps his promises.” That’s a great verse.
So because God is a holy God, he cannot sin, he can’t go back in his word, he can’t go against his nature, and he can’t play favourites—he shows no favouritism. And Romans 2:11 (CEV) says, “God doesn’t have any favorites.” In other words, our God is even-handed, he’s above-board with everyone.
Focusing on what God can do is much more valuable than pondering the things he can’t do due to their inherent self-contradiction, inconsistency or absurdity.