Episode 199 - Can God Do Everything?

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Transcript

Today we're going to talk about God and what is possible for him to do. And I want to tell you a story. I was speaking at a retreat for a church and they were singing a song before I went up to speak and the song went something like this, maybe you've heard it, "Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there's nothing our God cannot do." And it repeats and it repeats, and then there's this nice chorus and then it repeats again. Like any good church song, it must repeat a lot of times.

So, I was going up then to speak about God and the attributes of God and can God do everything, like can God make square circles? And they've just sang this song that says our God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there's nothing our God cannot do and then I get up there and talk about this category of thing God cannot do. It made for a little bit of a fun time, but you never want to be the one that comes after the singing and then contradicts the singing.

But let's talk about this idea, is everything possible for God? We have verses in the Bible like Luke 1:37, which right after the virgin birth is announced, we are that told nothing will be impossible with God. Everything is possible with God, for God, by God. Job, in the book of Job we see in chapter 42 where it says that I know you can do all things, no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

And to both of these verses I say yes and amen, this is true. But we must ask, what do they mean? Language and statements are always in a context and we have to understand them in the context. If I say everyone's invited to my house on Thursday night, who's the everyone? Is it everyone I'm talking to? Is it every person on the planet? Is it every person who's ever lived? I mean words have a context, I'm not expecting everyone from the state of Florida to show up at my house.

So words have context, statements like this have context. And if we just simply say everything is possible for God, there is no sort of thing that could be said that God can't do, we run into some issues.

I remember being in middle school and being asked, "Can God make a rock so big he can't lift it?" And you want to say, "Well, no." And then you're like, well that means God can't do something. And you want to say, "Yes," and you're like, okay, but also means God can't do something. And you're left with almost one of those questions like have you stopped beating your wife? Because if you say yes, that means you used to beat her. And if you say no, that means you're still doing it. So it's one of these kind of questions that seems to put you on the horns of a dilemma.

So, how do we work through that? That's what we're going to talk about today. Well the first thing to ask is, what attribute of God is actually in view here? And one of the attributes of God, we might call them the omni attributes, omni meaning all. We would say that God has all power, that he has all knowledge, that he's all good, that he is everywhere present. Those sort of things have fancy theological terms, but the one that's actually in view when we're thinking about this topic is that God is all powerful, he is omnipotent. He is all power.

And then we have to say, well what is power? And what types of things are we talking about? And are they things that power could actually accomplish? So, for instance, I think there are a few categories of questions that get asked that can stump us when really the thing that's being brought up isn't something that should concern us necessarily at all.

And the first thing to point out is, there's a whole category of things that God cannot do. They are sinful, evil actions. God cannot do evil. Just categorically, so many things he cannot do. In fact, our whole faith is predicated, it's founded on this point that Jesus could not and did not do evil. Because if he did, then he is not a Savior for us and we are still dead in our sins. It doesn't matter if he died if he did not live a perfect life so that we could be credited with his perfect righteousness, which requires him to not have sinned. And that means he also did not have the ability to sin.

This is also our hope as Christians, that we will not be able to sin in heaven. Which means there will be a whole category of things we cannot do. So God can't sin, there's a whole category right there that he can't do. But this is not a liability. It's only in our western culture today that has a radical view of personal autonomy that thinks if you tell me I can't do something, that's a bad thing. I must be allowed to do everything. No, actually, we should not want to even have the ability to do evil things. It's not a good thing to be able to do evil. It's not a good thing to have evil desires. And it's certainly not a good thing to actually do evil actions.

Freedom, from a Biblical standpoint, is being able to do what you ought to do. And that often means not desiring to do things you should not do. So, God cannot do evil. There's a whole category right there. Just based on who he is, he can't do evil.

And so we have to understand that when we come to verses that say God can do everything, there's nothing that will be impossible for him. Well it's impossible for God to do evil. It's impossible for God to want evil. So we have to understand the type of being we're talking about when we talk about God. It would be kind of like me saying, I can do anything a human can do, but that doesn't mean I can do everything a fish can do. God can do everything that someone with God's attributes can do. So he can do everything that power can accomplish. But power for an infinitely good God does not mean you can accomplish evil. So that's kind of how these attributes come together.

Well there's another type of thing that God cannot do and that's something that is logically contradictory or logically impossible. So, for instance, can God make a square circle? Can he make a married bachelor? Can he make a two sided triangle? No, he can't do those things. Is that liability on him? No, because those things aren't actually things. We call them things, we can describe them with words, but they're nonsensical. They are actually self-contradictory statements because to be square is to mean you have angles. Like four 90 degree angles and sides that are of equal length. And to be a circle is not to have any angles, not to have any sides.

So to be circular is actually to not be square. And to be square is to not be circular. Now there are many things that not being square means and there are many things that not being a circle means, but in general you cannot be square and circular. So we can put those words together and we can say a phrase like square circle, that doesn't mean there's actually that sort of thing that could exist. It's not the sort of thing that power can create because it's not actually something that could be created if you had enough power. It's a nonsensical idea. We can put the words together, but the reality in principle cannot exist. It doesn't matter how much power you have, it can't exist.

So God can't create things that are logically impossible, because they're not even things to be created, like a married bachelor, right? To be married is to not be a bachelor and to be a bachelor is not to be married. To be a triangle is to have three sides, so a two sided triangle is not a thing. You can use the words, but it's not a thing.

And we have to be careful here, there's kind of a tangent I would love to go on and we don't have time, but people can make up words for ideas and that doesn't make the ideas real. It doesn't mean they're Biblical. So we have to be very careful how we use words and we don't get tricked into thinking that just because someone used words for something that means it does or does not exist.

So, for instance, there's this whole conversation around did the universe come from nothing? And sometimes scientists will say it came from nothing, but they don't mean the absence of every single thing, which is what nothing means. They mean something like a quantum vacuum which has energy fluctuations and things like that. That's not nothing, that's something. Where did the vacuum come from? Right? So nothing actually means the absence of every single thing. Words have meanings, we've got to be in tune to how people are using words. But you can't just redefine a term or put two words together and think it describes a possible reality when it doesn't.

So square circles, married bachelors, three sided squares cannot exist. So they're not something that power could actually accomplish. So it's not a liability, it's not a knock on God's character or the perfection of his attributes to say that he can't make something that's logically contradictory. And some people aren't even comfortable with this, I've talked with Christians who were very uncomfortable with saying God can't do things that are logically impossible, that God can't break the laws of logic. Well it's also like saying God can't do something that's evil, he can't break his own personal moral code that's grounded in who he is. And logic is a feature of the universe, it's just universal because it's grounded in the person of God. God can't break the things that flow from his essence. And if he could, that would not be a good thing.

One of the laws of logic is the law of identity which says that something is identical to itself. If God could somehow break this law, God could not be himself. That's horrible, that's not good. If he could break another law of logic, then he could make his promises true and not true. That's not something we want in the grounding of all existence. We should be very careful in saying God can break the laws of logic, he can't and we actually would not want for him to be able to. That would just be a kind of crazy, non-trustworthy God to start with, but the world would be in utter chaos.

So that's the second category. God can't sin, he can't do things that are logically contradictory, and also there's another category which may be kind of like a subset of the previous one, but we can't pit the infinite attributes of God against one another and expect to come up with something sensical. So, for instance, can God make a rock so big he can't lift it? We're basically asking, can the creative power of God do something that is more great than maybe the strength of God could overcome? So if God is infinite in his creative power, is he infinite in his ability to move things that have been created?

And then let's say, well, which one of these is greater? Well, when you have an actually infinite amount of something, and I'm not saying you can quantify power, but let's just say you could, one is not bigger than the other. If you actually had an actual infinite amount of something, one is not bigger than the other. You can't compare them in that way. So we can't pit the infinite attributes of God against each other. We can't say, is he more just than he is good? Is he more loving than he is righteous? See, these questions don't make sense. It's the same way of saying, can you pit one attribute of God like creating a rock against lifting the rock? Well, no, you can't. It doesn't work like that. And so that's another category that just kind of fails out of the gate.

But people don't think about it, right? That's not a short answer. You actually have to engage your mind. It sounds like a nice pithy little statement you can throw out to shut a Christian up if they haven't thought carefully about these things, but also, just while we're here, let's just say you can't answer this question well, does that mean Jesus didn't die and rise from the dead? No. Does that mean that 2,000 years of critical thought about Christianity invalidated because you didn't have a good answer? No, it doesn't. The truthfulness of Christianity, the beauty of the Gospel does not depend on your ability to answer every single question that's asked of you.

My friend, Hunter Levine, has made this point and I think it's a great one. Now, yes, we should be prepared to answer objections, to give a defense for the faith and to become increasingly more prepared to do this. Most of us just sit on our heals and we shouldn't. We should get more equipped to defend our convictions. But, the truthfulness of Christianity, it does not just totally depend on you. There are going to be questions you cannot answer, there are questions that I get asked that I cannot answer. But faithfulness looks like continuing to increase in our doctrine and devotion and our ability to give an answer.

So if you've been stumped on these types of questions before, don't fret about it. Don't think poorly of yourself. Just get more equipped moving forward, continue to get more equipped.

So, just quickly to sum up, there are things God can't do. That's not a liability, there are things we should want not to be able to do, like not to sin. That's the hope we have. I think the longer every Christian lives, the more they should desire to not even have the ability to sin, to long for Jesus to come back to glorify them and to live without this inner turmoil against our sinful selves. Like not having that is true freedom, that's important for us to remember.

So God can't sin. God can't do things that are logically impossible, nor would we want him to. And lastly, we can't pit the infinite attributes of God against one another and think we've come up with something that's coherent and understandable. That's not even an understandable type of problem to have. For instance, is God more good than he is righteous? No. And so we can't pit two types of power against one another.

Well I hope this has helpful and I'll talk with you next week. But wait, before you go, we are coming very close to episode 200 on this podcast. And for those of you have been with me throughout this journey, thank you very much. I'm looking to give away copies of Unapologetic, A Guide For Defending Your Christian Convictions, and Gender, A Conversation Guide For Parents and Pastors, after the 200th episode of this podcast. And here's how you enter to win those, you go to the contact form and submit your name, your email, and the episode that's been most helpful to you and I will enter your name into that drawing.