Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Can God Create a Rock so Big that He can't Pick it Up?

With so many theories developing in our culture explaining the attributes of God and the realities of our existence, it is entirely essential for the believer to know exactly where he or she stands in his or her understanding of God’s power or omnipotence (which means all powerful). In an effort to strengthen our knowledge of the Scriptures and in effect to know our creator in a more complete way take a look at this short treaty on God’s omnipotence.
The level of God’s omnipotence is clearly defined in the Scripture. Upon studying a variety of passages it is clear that God is entirely omnipotent and that there is no other being or force that is more powerful than God. God’s omnipotence is defined best in Isaiah 40:12-16 and Deuteronomy 3:34 which state:
Isaiah 40:12-16
“12Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, And marked off the heavens by the span, And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, And weighed the mountains in a balance And the hills in a pair of scales? 13Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord, Or as His counselor has informed Him? 14With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge? And informed Him of the way of understanding? 15Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, And are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. 16Even Lebanon is not enough to burn, Nor its beasts enough for a burnt offering. 17All the nations are as nothing before Him, They are regarded by Him as less than nothing and meaningless.”
Deuteronomy 3:24

“24‘O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as Yours?”

Power is a relative thing. You see the power that an individual has can only be measured when it is applied to some sort of object. A person’s score on a standardized test would dictate how powerful that person’s mind is or the amount of weight a person could pick up would dictate how powerful that person’s muscles are. Power, however, does not exist unless it is compared to something. The fact that Bill scored a 1600 on his SAT test would not mean anything unless others took the test and received certain scores as well. So when something is described as powerful, it is always powerful when being compared to something.
The passage from Isaiah compares God’s power to several powerful natural occurrences on earth to illustrate that God is indeed omnipotent. Verse 12 compares God to the waters of the earth. God is so powerful and vast that He could hold the waters of the earth in His hand. He is so powerful that He knows the ends of the universe and there is no rock that He cannot pick up. His power extends beyond the physical world into the spiritual world where He directs the Holy Spirit. These passages go on in verse 14 to indicate that God is omniscient as well, which also supports the claim that God must be the greatest of all attributes. He could not be all knowing without being all powerful. Each of his greatest attributes is wrapped up in every other greatest attribute. That is how everything He is and does is always in perfect harmony within Him, because it is always thought or done by all of His greatest attributes at once. No one attribute can be used without the others.
As previously stated, one source of power is measured relatively with another source. Verse 24 in Deuteronomy and the passage in Isaiah compare God with the largest and most powerful objects on earth and they appear to be powerless. So if one were to place God’s power and the power of the most powerful element in the universe on a scale, God’s infinite power would be so large that the other power would be invisible. This type of comparison placed into a mathematical equation would result in an infinite number, so God is omnipotent. There is no other power anywhere that even closely compares with His.
There is only one way in which God is limited in His power. There is only one thing that God will not do. God will not force his creation to make certain choices. This would violate a creature’s free will. Free will is the essence of each person who is created in the image of God. This is clearly displayed in Matthew 23:37 and Jonah 1:2 which state:

Matthew 23:37:
“37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

Jonah 1:2
“2Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and cry against it, for their wickedness has come up before Me.”

This limit is actually not a limit in the traditional sense of the word. For a limit to be real, it must be an actual boundary or place of absence with regard to some aspect. Take my ability to jump for example. I am rather limited in my ability to jump. This limitation is placed on me by gravity and my lack of proper muscle development in certain key areas. Let’s say that I can jump 24”. Now let’s say that I place weights around my ankles so I can only jump 12”. With the ankle weights on, I am limited to jumping only 12” but you would not say that I can only jump 12”. You would say that because I have ankle weights on, I can only jump 12”. So you see, I have chosen to limit myself. If I chose to take off the ankle weights, I could jump 24” again. The ability to jump 24” was always part of me whether I had the ankle weights on or not.
This simple illustration can be applied to God and His omnipotence. Previous verses have shown that God is indeed omnipotent. The current verses, however, seem to indicate that God lacks the power to force His creation to make the choice to love and obey Him. At first glance these verses may seem to contradict each other but in reality they do not. God has within his being omnipotence. He is all-powerful and there is nothing that He cannot do. He has chosen, for this limited time to limit His power by strapping on the ankle weights, if you will, and creating a being who can choose to disobey His commands. Thus even though God has decided to limit His power to control the will of man, he is still omnipotent.

God can create an infinitely large rock of an infinite weight and his infinite power will enable Him to pick it up!

What are your thoughts on this issue?


David Tarkington said...

As a student pastor, kids would always ask me this. I answered "Yes, and then He'd make Himself strong enough to pick it up." They just looked at me with an "Oh, OK" stare.

My answer was shorter than yours.

Traci said...

Since I am a firm believer that all things are possible with God, then no, he could not create a rock that was too large for him to pick up. He is able to do anything. And for that I am so very grateful!!
The fact that he has given us free-will does not take away from his power. It just puts the choice in our hands. And if you are aware of the power of God, it should make it an easier choice to follow him, of course that is not always the case for everyone.
Also, knowing what God is truly capable of should make us all the more excited and ready to share him with others!

Amanda said...

hahaha, I like that answer, David Tarkington! My mom is a lawyer and she used to ask me this question all the time... now I know what to say!!