This is often used as a witty challenge to an all-powerful God by those looking for holes in Christian belief. As silly as the question is, it does bring up a good topic. Is God capable of creating circumstances beyond His control?
What Is God’s Nature?
Let me ask the same question, but in an anthropocentric way. Can a human being create something that would allow him or her to live forever? What would this take? Well, it would mean we would have to find some way to keep the body from aging, getting ill and diseased, and experiencing all the degenerative effects of the material body.
While we certainly can use our imaginations to envision such a technology, the reality is such an idea is impossible. Why? Because it violates the nature of humanity. It is the nature of man in his fallen state to experience old age, sickness, disease, and death.
The material body is susceptible to all of these defects. In fact, the entirety of the material universe is bound by similar laws of nature that permit time, decay, and entropy to have their way.
It is actually very similar to God. We have to understand God’s nature in order to answer the question at hand. So, what do we know about the nature of God? We know the following:
- God is omnipotent. That is, He is unlimited power. There is nothing that is impossible for God, with one caveat, which we will get to momentarily (Matthew 19:26; Job 42:1-2; Luke 1:37).
- God is omniscient. He knows all that is, and all that could possibly be. He is absolute knowledge (Psalm 147:5; 1 John 3:20).
- God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere, and nothing is hidden from Him. He is the absolute presence (Jeremiah 23:24; Proverbs 15:3; Psalm 139:7-10).
- God is omnibenevolent. His compassion and care are without limitation. He is absolute love (Psalm 145:17; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16; John 3:16-17).
What all of these “omnis” tells us is that God is an Infinite Being, unlimited in His nature. Humans, by contrast, are finite beings, very much limited in our nature, which is why we experience old age, sickness, disease, and death.
God is a Spirit Being, we are material beings. God is Self-Existent, and we are contingent beings. We are not capable of matching or even imitating the nature of God.
Would God's Nature Allow This?
As we have noted, we, as humans, are limited by our nature as finite beings and will experience the cycle of growth, old age, disease, and death. We might use medical science to cure illnesses at times, to manage disease, and prolong our lifespan, but ultimately it is our nature as fallen material beings to die.
While God’s nature is perfect and imposes no such negative effects, His nature does mean that there are certain things that even He cannot do. For example, God cannot sin, because God is all-holy and perfect. God cannot make mistakes because He is perfect in knowledge and judgment.
God cannot be the cause of evil because He is goodness and mercy itself. Are you starting to see where this is all taking us? God cannot violate His own nature, since to do so would mean there is something greater than Him.
We all understand there are greater and lesser degrees of truth, goodness, beauty, strength, etc. Greater and lesser signifies things as they approximate the greatest of their category. For example, when we speak of the stove as being hot, we speak of it in terms of how close it approximates the greatest heat.
What this principle tells us is that there is something that is the greatest in truth, goodness, beauty, strength, etc. What is the greatest in these categories cannot increase nor decrease in its nature. It is the absolute, the pinnacle.
For God to create a circumstance in which He would be somehow decreased or limited in His nature would be impossible, since He is the supreme Absolute Being. Furthermore, any being that could do so would be proving that he or she is indeed not God, but a finite being already limited by its nature.
Certainly, humans can create things so heavy we can’t lift them without the aid of sophisticated machinery. This is because our nature limits us. We are not the greatest in any category. Only God is, as His omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence clearly indicate.
The Church Father Irenaeus wrote of the Infinite nature of God:
“The rule of truth which we hold, is, that there is one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist. Thus saith the Scripture, to that effect ‘By the Word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all the might of them, by the spirit of His mouth.’”
“And again, ‘All things were made by Him, and without Him was nothing made.’ There is no exception or deduction stated; but the Father made all things by Him, whether visible or invisible, objects of sense or of intelligence, temporal, on account of a certain character given them, or eternal; and these eternal things He did not make by angels, or by any powers separated from His Ennœa.
For God needs none of all these things, but is He who, by His Word and Spirit, makes, and disposes, and governs all things, and commands all things into existence, — He who formed the world (for the world is of all), — He who fashioned man, — He [who] is the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, above whom there is no other God, nor initial principle, nor power, nor pleroma, — He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we shall prove.”
What Does This Mean?
The fact that God is the Absolute, the greatest in all of these qualities should be a cause for joy for us, since only an Infinite God, the greatest in mercy, compassion, goodness, and love could redeem us from the penalty of sin, save us from the curse of death and make us like Him, sharing in the divine nature and eternal life.
Rather than looking for some clever way to find limitation in God, it is far better to praise the Absolute, the Greatest who loves us as only He can-infinitely.
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.