Hello readers and welcome back to Deeper Waters, a place where we seek to always dive into the ocean of truth! Right now, we’re talking about the doctrine of God and we’re going through it little by little. It’s a huge topic after all! Fortunately, we have a great guide on our journey. Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century monk, is our guide, and his Summa Theologica, which can be read for free at newadvent.org, is our text. Tonight, we’re on the topic of the power of God. We’re asking the question “Is God omnipotent?”
Many Christians have been stopped in their tracks sadly by this question: “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?” My personal favorite answer to this question was the one given by Dr. Gary Habermas when I heard him bring it up at a talk one time. The answer is as follows:
Some Christians fear that we have abandoned omnipotence at this point. In reality, we haven’t. Why? Aquinas tells us. Aquinas points out that contradictions are impossible and power is only capable of doing all that it is possible to do. To make something like a square circle is nonsense. If it is square, it is not a circle. If it is a circle, it is not a square. C.S. Lewis once said that nonsense doesn’t cease to be nonsense just because you add the words “God can” before it.
The big rock question is just such a question. For one thing, a rock like that would to be infinite, but rocks are finite by nature since an infinite quantity does not exist. If it was measurable in some way, it could not be infinite. In other words, the questioner wants a rock that is finite and infinite.
Most essentially however, the answer is no because God can handle whatever he creates and to ask if he can create something that he can’t handle is nonsense. It means that there is a weakness on the part of God and weakness is not a sign of omnipotence but a sign of impotence. In fact, it is because God is omnipotent that he cannot do what the questioner asks if he can do.
This is also why it is impossible for God to sin or to lie or do any number of things. He cannot do these things because these are signs of imperfection and God does not have imperfection. Of course, we realize there are some differences when we get to the incarnation as Christ is fully God and fully human and in his humanity, he does take on the limitations of humanity, such as being able to be subject to death. In his deity however, he never is.
Unfortunately, Christians have for too long defended a view of omnipotence that is simply nonsense. There are a number of things that God cannot do and these are things he cannot do not because he is impotent, but because he is omnipotent. While there are still questions in this area, such as how the medievals would debate if God could swim, to which I’d say it’s nonsense to ask if an immaterial being can in immateriality do a material action, let us make sure we are not spending our time defending a view of omnipotence that is not biblical or historical.
We shall continue tomorrow.