Friday, March 1, 2013

What God Cannot Do, Even If He Wanted To

Is there anything that God cannot do? Whatever God wants to do he certainly can do, in that there is nothing outside of himself that could possibly prevent him. That is true in regard to beings (for there are no other beings beside God at his level), or with regard to things that are abstract, like morality. In the instance of morality, there is nothing which could be imposed upon God as to measure him by, because there is nothing greater than him which could label a thing he would want to do as moral or immoral. God, in his perfections, is himself the only and final measure of what is good. Therefore, his very wanting to do a thing would be sufficient to make it moral.

Furthermore, if we tried to formulate a conception of the character of God that described him as being unable to do anything against his own nature, we would end up with a self-referent piece of fluff that neither described nor clarified anything about the actual nature of God. Besides, God has done and continues to do things we don't understand, or for which we don't have a full enough picture of to be able to say whether or not it went against his nature in the first place. There is a black box phenomenon at work here. We understand God's nature to the degree we do, not because we can dissect him and see for ourselves what he is, but because we hear his word and see his actions.

All of that not withstanding, there is at least one thing God could not do even if he wanted to: God could not make a replica of himself. If God could be made, even in replica, then God wouldn't be the unmade. The great I AM wouldn't be but would begin. The Creator would be but a creation. If God could be more than one in essence, the ones being considered are not the One. If something else could be made almighty, then the almighty would be so no longer. No, the best that God could do along this line is to make someone like himself, in his image, but not him in his power and perfections.

Which brings me to another thing God could not do even if he wanted to--preserve his image in a being made in it while determining that being's actions. If a being were made in God's image, that being would have to have freewill analogous to God's, or it would not be in his image. God is not under necessity nor are his actions determined, and neither could a creature in his image be thus confined in will. This is verified by the descriptions of Adam's freedom in the Garden. He had the freedom to do a thing or to not do it, and God "waited" observationally to see what Adam would do.

So, though God is the very perfection of all that he is, in power and in ability, there are a few things that God cannot do, even if he wanted to.


  1. This is actually a more common question than some people would think but it is mainly asked in silly ways such as "Could God make something so big that He could not move it." The God we worship has revealed Himself in such a way that I would have to say that He cannot do anything contrary to His nature, even if it is fluff. Of course the only reason I could say it is because that is the kind of God He says He is.

    A great topic for the coffee shop.

    Grace and peace.

    1. Pumice,
      Great to hear from you!

      It is very true: we can get somewhat silly in speculating about things we cannot see or prove, like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, string theory (and its children), or the possibility of God making objects so massive as to be unmovable even by him. ;-)

      The reason, however, I think the "not against his nature" description isn't descriptive is that we can only derive a notion of his nature by looking at what he's said and done (as you said). One the one hand, if God did something "new" which went against his nature as we had been describing it, then we'd be forced to conclude that our description of his nature couldn't have been his nature in the first place. On the other hand, if God did or said nothing "new", then we'd be left, it seems to me, saying nothing more than God acted according to his nature because that's what his nature is. Either way, I don't think that description offers anything substantive.

    2. One of the differences between God and the god of the Koran is that he is not bound by his own moral code and God is. At the same time I concede the danger of us laying our interpretation on who God must be.

      Grace and peace.

    3. Pumice,
      I don't believe God is bound by any code and I know he's not bound by the same code as us. For instance, we are not to take a person's life because we feel his time is done, whereas God is free to do so without a moral implication. True, some find that hard to swallow (Sam Harris, et al), but the faithful do not.

      It is scary, I think, for us to imagine an all-powerful being unshackled by anything but his own desire, but that is where faith comes in. Faith is not untargeted (blind), it is instigated by what God says (and does) as per Romans 10:17. Faith looks at that God who speaks and acts and responds with trust (it perceives God to be trustworthy). Faith is willing to trust the desire of God, to trust the wants of the God who does as he pleases. The kind of things that God says and does lead the faithful to trust him even if they cannot understand or postulate the morality of what he does (as has often been the case for the faithful as demonstrated by the endless contortions we have gone through in establishing theodicies).

      Granted, if he said one thing and then did another there would be no real basis for faith, so in that respect we can say (perhaps) that he is bound by his own word, but that assumes intrinsically (it seems to me) that he would want to do other than what he said. For God to be bound, or for anything to be, there is an underlying assumption that they would try something outside of such bounds. Preventatives are only effective if there is something to prevent.

      I see no way for faith in God to grow on the basis of holding something over God's head as if he would be tempted to do other than what he does. He's going to do what he wants regardless, but we can be thankful that he's demonstrated by word and deed that his wants are good.

    4. Maybe that is what it means when it says, "He alone is worthy of praise." It is good to have the faith you describe and get the added freebee of worthiness.

      Grace and peace.


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