God Can Do Anything
As Christians, we too oft ground our view of God in very short mottos, like “Jesus loves you” and “God can do anything” and “Let go and let God.” While most these are harmless mottos and can serve a good purpose, they sometimes can become so significantly foundational to our theology that more specific doctrines found in Scripture are marginalized. Right now I want to refute one major and extremely common misunderstanding about the nature of God.
“God can do anything.”
This is a very common belief about God. I’ve heard this statement in my classes at TCU and around my church and everywhere else. If this is true, then the age-old question comes up: “Can God create a stone that he himself cannot lift?”
What about an even more intrusive question, one that I’ve gotten plenty of times: “If God can do anything, why doesn’t he just forgive us if we follow him? Why did he send his son to die if he didn’t have to? Wouldn’t it be just as loving if he just forgave us without shedding the blood of his Son?”
There are plenty of ways to work your way around this question, but I want to focus on one of Christians’ commonly held assumptions.
Can God do anything?
My emphatically-expressed answer is, “Absolutely not!”
Can God sin? Can he lie? Can he be unjust, or unholy? Of course not! This means that there are things that God CANNOT do…
To clarify this assumption, perhaps to make it more Biblically acceptable, one could say, “God can do anything he wishes.” Why is this different? Because God never has and never will wish anything that is against his nature. Can God lie if he wished to? NO! Because he never has nor never will wish to lie! Nor is he able to wish it because it is against his nature.
“The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.” (Psalm 135:6)
You may say, however, that “God is in fact able to anything, but he just chooses not to certain things.” This may seem acceptable at first, but take a second look: We as corrupt human beings are able to be inconsistent…This should be obvious for anyone with a brain. But if God is COMPLETELY holy and COMPLETELY pure, then he is also COMPLETELY immutable and unchanging, and therefore always consistent. This is very clear in Scripture (Psalm 102:25-27, Hebrews 1:10-12, 13:8).
God cannot sin because it is against his nature. And because he is immutable, he cannot change his nature.
This helps in answering some questions that non-believers have! “Can God create a rock that he himself cannot lift?” If it was his pleasure to do so, then YES! Although, I don’t know why he would want to. “If God can do anything, why didn’t he just forgive us without sending His son?” Because God cannot do anything outside of his nature as a just and wrathful God! God is just, and therefore someone had to suffer the consequences for our sin!
Nothing is impossible with God
So what about Luke 1:37? “For nothing is impossible with God.” Or Matthew 19:26? There is no contradiction. Luke 1:37 and following tells the story of an angel speaking to Mary about the impossibility of her conceiving a child while she is yet a virgin. Matthew 19:26 and following tells the story of Jesus speaking to the disciples about the seeming impossibility of a rich man entering into heaven. BOTH are specific events in which the angel and Jesus himself are ASSURING Mary and the disciples of God’s ability to do those specific things. Even the general message of God’s ability to do amazing things in and through his people does not at all contradict the idea that there are some things which God cannot do.
Don’t misunderstand me: I DO think we can say, “God can do anything.” This statement is very appropriate for any situation that you may find yourself in that seems impossible! BUT, don’t apply this statement and its technical meaning to all theological aspects, ESPECIALLY when pondering God’s immutability.
God has a characteristic nature. He is holy, just, wrathful, merciful, and loving. He is pure, and will never change. In a world where change is seen as such a good and necessary thing, DO NOT misunderstand God as a stubborn old man who will never change, but as a loving God who will never forsake you nor leave you, for he is not able to due to his immutable nature. And in a world where one-phrase mottos and motifs seem to define our belief systems, do not marginalize or ignore other truths of Scripture!
One Comment Add yours
Excellent post, Ryan, I definitely agree. I do have a couple of tips to offer though.
You address the question “If God is all-powerful, can he create a rock so heavy he can’t lift it?” Your response to it is decent, but let me share with you something I picked up a while back. First, let’s break down the question: It sets up the premise that God is all powerful, an unstoppable force. It asks whether this unstoppable force can create a rock so heavy it can’t be moved – an immoveable object. What results is a logical paradox. If there is an object somewhere that is truly immoveable, then there is no force that can move it, no force that it can’t stop. If there is a force that is truly unstoppable, then all objects said force acts upon can be affected by it. In other words, the question is meaningless because an unstoppable force and an immoveable object can’t coexist. While failure to be able to answer it does not invalidate one’s religion, it does show limitation in one’s ability to argue and defend one’s beliefs and opinions. Personally, I think scriptural expertise isn’t the only thing a Christian should have in defending his beliefs; he should also have some skill in logic and critical thinking.
Second, you also address the nature and behavior of God. I think you’d be interested in the testimony of Howard Storm. Storm is a former atheist who had a near-death experience back in the ’80s. Among the numerous things he learned about while clinically dead was God’s behavior. You can read/hear his testimony on Youtube and other sites, or you can read his book, “My Descent into Death.” Perhaps the seminary library has a copy.