It started with what seemed like a normal conversation with my six-year-old. Sam began, as he often does, “Daddy, I have a question.” “Ok, son” I said in my most confident stereotypical Dad voice, “I have an answer.” “Daddy, can God make a picture?” (By the way, to this day, I have no idea the train of thought that drove this idea along Sam’s mental railroad. Where this particulr question even came from is beyond me.) Anyways, I said, “Well, yes. If He wanted to, God could make a picture.” Case closed. Question answered. Child satisfied. Daddy wins again! Yeah! Three cheers for Dad!! Or so I thought.
“Daddy?” Sam asked again. “Is there anything that God can’t do?”
Anytime I deal with a question about God, I begin by searching my mental concordance to see if I can think of any Bible verses that address the topic. This time, my initial thought was Matthew 19:26 “with God all things are possible.” But just before I answered with this verse, Titus 1:2 came to mind. There Paul makes a reference to “God, who cannot lie.” I briefly froze. Sam stared at me. I stared at him. Together, in the silence of that moment, we collectively pondered, “Is there anything that God can’t do?”
If you have ever taken a basic Philosophy 101 class (or known someone who has), you’ve probably encountered similar mental quagmires about the nature of God. A favorite gotcha-question among anti-theists is, “If God is all-powerful, can He make a rock so big that even He can’t lift it?”
Most Christian freshmen that encounter this for the first time (even those who faithfully attended Sunday School in a Baptist church all their lives) inevitably reply with something like, “Well, yes…er, on second thought, no…but…um…maybe if…um…I…I…um…hmmmmmm.” Usually this jumbled reply is either followed by the student a) hating philosophy forever and ever or b) becoming an avowed atheist. (By the way, neither one of those is a good outcome.)
The response to this classic omnipotence paradox is simple: the problem, here, is not with the power of God, but with the question itself. It is self-contradictory. Asking whether or not God can make a rock so big that even He can’t lift it, is like asking, “Can a bachelor celebrate his ten year anniversary with his wife?” The mathematical version of this is asking, “What is twelve divided by zero?” To borrow from Chris Rice’s whimsical lyrics, answering these questions is like trying to “smell the color nine.” It is impossible. You cannot find sense within nonsense.
Sam’s question, however, was not a paradox. He was asking a legitimate question. Are there things which God cannot do? Believe it or not, the answer is yes. The Bible reveals many things that God is unable to do.
This, however, is not as disappointing as it sounds. As Saint Augustine pointed out, “There are some things that God cannot do, not in spite of who He is, but precisely because of who He is.”
The things that God cannot do are not examples of His limitations; as much as they are examples of His consistency. God always acts and speaks in a way that is 100% consistent with who He is. Thus, in order to do certain things perfectly and eternally (as He does), this means that the opposite of these, would be impossible for Him to do. Think of it this way: every example of something that God can’t do, is also an affirmation of something wonderful that He, and He alone, can do.
Consider 9 things that God can’t do (and the implications of what He can).
1. God cannot lie. (Ergo, God always tells the truth.)
“… which God, who cannot lie, promised long ago…” (Titus 1:2, also see Heb 6:18)
2. God cannot be tempted to sin. (Ergo, God is always holy an untainted.)
“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God;’ for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.” (James 1:13, also see Numbers 23:19b)
3. God cannot change. (Ergo, God is always reliable.)
“For I, the Lord, do not change…” (Malachi 3:6)
4. God cannot be wrong. (Ergo, God is always right.)
“For I am God…declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done.” (Isaiah 46:9-10, also see Psalm 33:11)
5. God cannot stop being God (Ergo, God is always God.)
“If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)
6. God cannot be defeated. (Ergo, God is always victorious.)
“Therefore if God gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also…who was I that I could stands in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17, see also Acts 5:39)
7. God cannot learn. (Ergo, God always knows everything.)
“…for God…knows all things.” (1 John 4:20, also see Psalm 139:4)
8. God cannot take a nap…ever. (Ergo, God is always attentive.)
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God…does not become weary or tired.” (Isaiah 41:28, also see Psalm 121:4)
9. God cannot break His promises. (Ergo, God, and His word, are always dependable.)
“Thus says the Lord, ‘If you can break My covenant with the daytime and nighttime, so that day and night will not be at their appointed time, then My covenant may also be broken with David…” (Isaiah 33:20-21, also see Deut 7:9)
As odd as it sounds, it’s a good thing that God can’t do everything. He is only limited by His own unlimitedness.