The Limit of God

As many of you know, today is Easter. At least, it is for Catholics and Protestants. Even though I don’t classify myself as either one of those, I suppose today is a good a day as any to discuss my thoughts on something which i have been accused of and which many people do not understand. As today is Easter, many people around the world are celebrating the ultimate power of God. That is to say, they celebrate the conquering of the Son of God over death. But really, what is the extent of power God has?

I suppose the best way to go about this is to set up the article with a story. A while ago, I received a complaint from a reader about the article I wrote on speaking in tongues. If i remember what he said correctly, it was along the lines of, “You are denying the power of the Holy Spirit and because of that, you are not a true Christian.” At first this deeply insulted me. I really hate it when people put words in my mouth or try to twist my words into something i never actually nor believe. But after I realized that this guy was probably just trying to get a reaction out of me, I decidedly put the “you aren’t a true christian” out of my head and instead focused on the other bit he had written.

The reader had claimed I was denying the power of the Holy Spirit. However, because he didn’t elaborate further i can only speculate what he meant and apply that speculation not only to his argument, but also to a broader scope of misunderstanding i see from Christians and non-Christians alike. The question that arose in my mind from this man’s comment was this: Is the Holy Spirit, and by extension God, a being of total unlimited power? That is to say, can God truly do anything?

Now before you jump on a knee jerk reaction and yell, “Of course he can!,” lets sit back and ask ourselves what this really means. God having unlimited power to do anything means exactly that, no ifs ands or buts about it. We often define who and what God is by this simple measure: that he can in fact do anything he pleases at any scope he pleases. Anything is a strong word. It does not limit itself to just things like “build a house” or “make an ocean” or “create the universe.” In fact it goes extremely far in its definition of things God could do. It means he could make himself not God. That is the scope of “anything.”

This classic definition that we human’s have placed on God is in fact extremely limiting. This is ironic. By saying God can do anything, we negate his Godliness. For example, the old and worn out argument used by atheists to discredit God’s existence is this: Can God create a rock so big that he himself cannot lift it? This is a dichotomy if you hadn’t already noticed. By saying, “God can do anything,” we have fallen into a relatively simple trap. Because saying yes or no to that question will negate God entirely. If we say “Yes he can make a rock so big he can’t lift it” then we are saying God couldn’t lift the rock. This would mean he couldn’t do everything. And of course, if we say no, the same principle applies.

So this begs the question, can God in fact do anything? The short answer is actually, No he cannot do anything. I realize that at this point the reader who commented before is now thinking I am a heathen, but thats fine. Let me explain my position. The fact is God is indeed a being of infinite power but not of infinite means. There are things that God cannot do. While this list of things he can’t do i short, it is never the less crucial to understand that his power does in fact have limitations.

The first thing God cannot do is negating himself. This is a simple and easy to understand proposition. God cannot undo himself. He cannot make himself not exist. Not that he would ever want to mind you, but the fact is he can’t do it if he wanted to. If he could then he would not be a God of love as the Bible clearly states numerous times. Negating himself would destroy all of existence, not just himself, but everything. There wouldn’t be any “there” anywhere.

The second limitation is much like the first. God cannot become evil. Again, he is the God of love. Becoming evil would make him a liar and would make him not God. You can make the long winded argument that “evil” is the going against God’s will, and if God himself can’t go against his own will because he is God then it wouldn’t really be evil. This is true, but its leaving out the fact he has specifically defined what is good in the pages of the Bible through Jesus. So since he has made a declaration already, he cannot go back on on his word. Granted though, he could unmake existence and start again being evil, but this is impossible from a God of love and mercy.

The third limitation on God is the fact he cannot contradict himself. Because he is the God of love, something that is defined within the Bible, to contradict himself would make him a liar. This is impossible given his nature as the benevolent God we know him as. It is true that he has smitten people before (e.g. Sodom and Gomorra), but this was in the time of the simple law. It was simply, “Do not disobey.” Of course since then the Law has matured, as has humanity, to the point where the Law is now “Strive to be like me.” However, the point is, throughout the history of the Law, it has not been contradicted by the writer while the Law has been in place. Let me be clear though, Jesus was the fulfillment of the law and therefore rewrote the law within the law’s boundaries. (This is a discussion though for another time) So there has never been a contradiction within the law.

Similarly, the entire argument of creating a rock too heavy for God to lift falls within this spectrum. It would contradict his nature as God. To create something that is beyond his measure would require there to be a being even higher than God, or at least a plane of existence beyond. God is it though, so there is no point in arguing it. His power is the limit to which power can be. It would be like asking a king in a country, because he has all the power in the country, to create rain. It is not in the scope of his being to do so. Nor would it be in the scope of God’s power to become more powerful than himself. It would be like telling a circle to become a square while still maintaining its circleness.

The final limitation on God’s power is his power cannot, by self-limitation, extend to negate the freewill of humanity. That is to say, God cannot make you or any one else, do anything against your will. This is true even if you have given your life to God in becoming a Christian. (i.e. just because you are a Christian does not give God the right to infest you and make you do anything against your will. This is the heart of the matter of the speaking in tongues thing.) This limitation is not a one like the others that would simply negate existence or his nature if he chose to have us be mindless robots. Instead, it is a limitation God put on himself before we were created. And by the previous limitation, he cannot go back on it. He did not have to create this limitation on himself, but he did anyway because he wanted to create being who would love him of their own freewill and not because they were programed. To wit, even the slightest messing with freewill in any human would inevitably cast doubt on whether we had freewill or not, so he cannot subvert his own limitation.

Now, before i go any further there are examples in the Bible itself that seem to not match the previous paragraph. The first would be the story of the Exodus in which God hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Ill try to be brief about explaining this and the other example as best I can. You must remember that the book of exodus was in fact written by Moses, or dictated by him, from mostly his perspective. Now does anyone really think Pharaoh was going to let his nice workforce go because of what he saw as coincidences? Remember, Pharaoh was god in Egypt, so he wasn’t going to just give in to some servant worker’s demands about his God and all the bad things that would befall him if he didn’t listen. You think Pharaoh was going to announce in his court that he in fact wasn’t the god he claimed he was? No sir.

The second example would be that of Nebacanezzar whom God purportedly put a curse on and went mad. For that, I never said that God wouldn’t allow a disease to take someone =P

In any case, the fact of the matter is clear. God cannot do anything. But the funny thing is, because he can’t do everything you can imagine, like making the big rock, he becomes the God we know. If he could do anything, he in fact would not be God at all. It’s a really hard concept to fully understand and frankly, i don’t think anyone understands God’s power fully. The fact though is that we need to understand that while God is a god, he is not a God above himself.

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  1. #1 by drdillo on April 16, 2006 - 8:28 pm

    You sound so much like your father…its scary!

  2. #2 by complich8 on April 24, 2006 - 10:44 pm

    I think you should read George Berkeley’s “Principles of Knowledge”, and/or read up on Leibniz’s “striving possibles” theory. They’re neat, and relevant. And Leibniz and Berkeley both present interesting representations of God, in which he’s an absolute entity. Being such, intercessory prayer is stupid and pointless, because God can’t be changed. If he intercedes, then for whatever reason it would be a flaw in his design that caused him to have to.

    Berkeley in particular is a nice read … because he’s extremely organized, and extremely terse.

    That’s really it though. If God intercedes in the world at all, in any way, then his perfect plan wasn’t perfect, because he had to intercede.

    (of course, there’s arguments against that idea too, like “but God’s plan included that” — but those introduce the problem of determinism versus free will … which is a whole other kettle of fish)

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