I’m a Christian and like to think myself an enthusiastic amateur theologan 🙂 Firstly I have to point out your website and all of your articles are amazing, they’ve certainly done a lot for me in advancing my knowledge and having fun with my studies. With that said I ran into a minor philosophical dilema today and couldn’t come up with an answer to a friend’s question (me and my friends are always having interesting discussions at college). I was asked “You say God’s all powerful, then can God make a weight that he can’t lift?. If No, then he’s not all powerful, likewise if Yes”
I think the analogy is a fairly naff one but it certainly did blag my head at the time. It may be I was too quick to jump in with my confusion of answers, changing my mind – explaining how they’re are things God doesn’t do because he sits on his hands for our free will etc. and that the question was thinking in earthly ‘scientific law’ terms to explain a divine being and his actions. I couldn’t think of a better way of rephrasing the question or breaking it down to answer it at the time. I did confuse myself and I still can’t understand it, could you help me on this?
blag. To convince by rhetoric; to gain acceptance or approval through persuasive banter or conversation; trickery; keenly persuasive; to scrounge by means of …
naff. British slang, today meaning uncool, tacky, unfashionable, worthless…
I am afraid I had to look up the meaning of naff and blag, as they are UK colloquialisms, but now I am prepared to blag your rather naff friend on this issue!
It is common to describe the Creator of the universe–the one we call God–as omnipotent. The word omnipotent, obviously, is not a biblical word, as the Bible is in Greek and Hebrew, but it certainly does seem to be an apt description of the God we find in the Bible. However, if we are going to use this word to describe God, then the word omnipotent must be defined carefully. God is all-powerful. He can do anything that he wills. However there are certain things he definitely does will to do. These things, by definition he “cannot do.” For example, the God of the Bible cannot lie. He cannot commit an unloving act. He cannot act unjustly. He cannot forget. He cannot do evil. There are a lot of things that God, by his very nature, cannot do. If he were to do these things, then he would not be who he is. This does not mean that God is not omnipotent, but it does mean that the word needs to be defined carefully. Remember, my definition of omnipotence is that God is able to do anything that he wills.
The example of making a rock he cannot lift is really a rather silly one. It is kind of like saying that God is not able to tell a lie which is true. This is true by definition. If God were to create a rock that he could not lift, he would be less powerful, not more powerful, than he actually is. God cannot do what he does not want to do. Neither can he make a rock that he cannot lift. He cannot deceive us. None of these things limit his power at all, but it defines his nature. This example is used simply as a way to win an argument, not as a real, rational argument. I believe your response to this should not be to debunk the rather silly example, but to come back and tell your antagonist/friend that there are lots of thing God cannot do, but none of these mean he is any less powerful.
The free will example you came up with yourself is a much more interesting one than the “rock which he cannot lift” argument. The Bible describes God as sovereign. His will is always done. How, then, can we explain the existence of evil? This is a much better question. The answer is that it is God’s will that we have free will. The fact that God has given us free will–meaning that we can choose to do things which oppose God’s will for our lives–is evidence both that God is very loving and that he is very powerful. I really like the way Thomas Aquinas, the 13th century theologian put it. He said about God’s sovereign will: “God therefore, is the first cause, who moves causes both natural and voluntary. And just as by moving natural causes He does not prevent their actions from being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary; but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them, for He operates in each thing according to his own nature.” In other words, God is not “able” to force us to do his will because it is his will that we have free will. This could be used to “prove” that God is not omnipotent, or it could, more reasonable, be used to show how loving and powerful he is.
I hope this helps.