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Are There Things God Cannot Do?

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  • Are There Things God Cannot Do?

    While this article is not strictly classical it addresses a classical issue of Christianity and Judaism.
    More than any attempt to convince it gets the reader considering.

    Godís nature that makes it impossible for God to act in certain ways?
    Thomas Jay Oord
    I sometimes hear the argument that we should not speculate about the attributes of God’s nature. Overall, I don’t find this argument convincing.

    To put it succinctly: Should we say God CANíT do some things?
    A number of theologians are comfortable saying God voluntarily chooses not to act in certain ways. God voluntarily self-limits, creates space for creation, and gives creatures freedom, say theologians as influential as Jurgen Moltmann and John Polkinghorne. This limitation is based on Godís free decision.
    Instead of wondering whether God could or would do something, however, Iím wondering if God essentially canít do some things. Thereís a big difference between ďcanítĒ and ďwonít.Ē
    The distinction between ďGod canítĒ and ďGod wonítĒ is especially important for accounting for Godís action or inaction to prevent genuine evil. I try to account for this in light of the genuine evil caused by pain and suffering in our world. The recent Haiti earthquake and the million or more people negatively affected brought the problem of evil to the fore of my mind again.
    If God wonít prevent evil even though God could, weíre left with the same essential questions about evil. But if God canít prevent the evil, a completely new way of thinking emerges.
    God Can Do Anything
    For some people, of course, merely asking the question, ďShould we say God canít do some things,Ē is blasphemous. For them, the Bible clearly indicates that God can do all things.
    A few passages Ė but not many Ė explicitly support the view that God can do anything. The most well known is probably when Jesus says, ďwith God all things are possibleĒ (Mtatthew 19:26 and elsewhere). In this passage (and the other gospels reporting the same conversation), Jesus seems to be saying that offering salvation is always possible for God. That would be different that saying literally nothing is impossible for God to do.
    Bible Reveals God Can Not Do Some Things
    There are passages in the Bible that specifically say God canít do some things. Notice: these passages arenít saying God voluntarily chooses not to do some things. They say God simply cannot do them. Here are four biblical verses as illustrations:
    ďIt is impossible for God to lieĒ (Hebrews 6:18). See also Titus 1:2.
    ďGod cannot be tempted by evilĒ (James. 1:12).
    ďIf we are faithless, [God] remains faithful ó for he cannot deny himselfĒ (2 Timothy 2:13).
    The statement in the last of these passages ó God cannot deny himself ó covers the others. Paul seems to be saying that Godís own nature places limits on what God can do. God must be God, and God cannot be otherwise.
    We must come to terms with the fact that the Bible says God canít do some things. Christians should not ignore statements that seem to tell us something about Godís nature and Godís inherent limitations.
    How Could God be Limited?
    If we think about it a bit, however, these limitations based on Godís nature arenít that big a deal. They shouldnít shock us, even if we havenít thought much about it previously.
    Does it diminish our view of God, for instance, to admit that God canít lie? I doubt it. And I doubt our view of God is diminished if we consider other attributes we typically think apply to God.
    Can God be confined to just one location? Or, God must be omnipresent rather than confined to one place or another. And we probably donít worry about God being limited to an eternal existence instead of being able to choose to have a beginning or end.
    Upon reflection, the fact that God canít do or be some things doesnít seem so bad after all.
    God Must Love
    One of the most important biblical statements about Godís nature is that Godís eternal and unchanging nature includes steadfast love. God cannot not love, to use the double negative.
    Hereís where I wonder if thinking about Godís nature as love helps with the problem of evil. Hereís the love theo-logic Iím proposing: perhaps we are justified in speculating that part of what it means for God to love others is that God never controls others entirely. To put it positively, Godís love always involves giving freedom and/or agency to creatures. Because Godís nature is love, God cannot do otherwise.
    John Wesley writes, ďwere human liberty taken away, men would be as incapable of virtue as stones. Therefore (with reverence be it spoken) the Almighty himself cannot do this thing. He cannot thus contradict himself or undo what he has done.Ē
    John Wesley, ďOn Divine Providence,Ē Sermon 67, The Works of John Wesley, vol. 2 (Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1985) paragraph 15.
    God is Powerful but Not Controlling
    If Godís loving nature prevents God from controlling others entirely, we might have to rethink how we understand Godís mighty acts recorded in Scripture and evident in our contemporary lives. We donít have to reject that God acts in mighty and miraculous ways. God still acts providentially and miraculously. But we might need to think of Godís acts as not involving the entire control of others.
    Admittedly, looking at Godís power through the lens of Godís love and not total control is new to some people. But I know of nothing in the Bible to suggest that thinking in this way does injustice to the overall biblical witness. After all, most folk think God always acts lovingly Ė even when biblical writers report God being angry with sinners.
    I donít have it all figured out. I see through a glass darkly. And I admit there are a few biblical passages that arenít easily explained by the idea that God always acts loving. They are the exceptions.
    But I am trying to propose a biblically supported view of Godís nature that helps us make sense of why God doesnít prevent genuine evil. God canít prevent genuine evil, because Godís nature of love always gives freedom and/or agency to others.
    My speculation is based upon the biblical witness that God canít do some things. I have the Bible as my primary resource. I affirm with the Bible that Godís inabilities to do some things come from the truth that God ďcannot deny himselfĒ (2 Timothy 2:13).

  • #2
    Hi Glen,
    I read the blog and I am a little lost as to why he rejected creation from nothing.
    I agree there are things that God cannot do, such as lie or fail to keep a promise.
    But if the creation didn't come from nothing to something, what does Genesis 1 mean?
    Hard to wrap my head around it.


    • #3
      Obviously The Truth can not lie. Also Eternal life, or The Life can not die. That is why He had to be born of a woman to become a man. This does not limit God. For He has unlimited Truth, Righteousness, Life, Mercy, Justice, and Grace.

      Truth does not limit God. For the whole universe is built on His laws that are TRUE. Satan is very limited for he is the father of lies and the whole universe opposes him.

      Truth, Mercy, Grace, Love, and Righteousness bring unlimited power to the ones who follow God. For the creation obeys it's Creator.

      Those who follow Satan are very limited because they oppose the very creation itself. They are deceived by the father of lies into believing that they have power as they make their way to destruction. Death is very limited and it is not eternal life. They are all going toward death.

      Eternal life is unlimited and it is forever with no limits.

      Last edited by Lou Newton; November 17, 2017, 10:57 AM.