Are There “Limits” to God’s Power?

Christians claim God is “all-powerful”. Does this mean He can accomplish anything? Skeptics often test this notion by offering the following challenge: “Can the all-powerful Christian God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it?” The question highlights an apparent dilemma: If God cannot create such a stone (or cannot lift what He has created), He is not all-powerful. Does this apparent paradox prove an all-powerful Being cannot exist in the first place?

It’s true the Bible describes God as an all-powerful Being and often uses language that suggests that “nothing” is impossible for Him (as in Luke 1:37). At the same time, there are many places in Scripture where certain behaviors or conditions are described as “impossible” for God to accomplish. This apparent contradiction is inexplicable until we examine the nature of the activities (or behaviors) described as “impossible” for God:

Moral “Impossibilities”
The Bible clearly indicates there are many things that God cannot do. Most of these are “moral” in nature. For example, it is impossible for God to sin (James 1:13). According to the Bible, God always acts and behaves with certain moral considerations in mind and it is impossible for Him to do otherwise. Our moral laws are not simply the decrees of God (as if He could have chosen otherwise) but are, instead, a reflection of his unchanging moral nature. God cannot violate His nature. For this reason, it is impossible for God to sin.

Logical “Impossibilities”
The Bible also clearly indicates that there are a number of things that God cannot accomplish based on logical necessity. For example, it is impossible for God to change (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) or to deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13). According to the Bible, God always acts and behaves with certain logical considerations in mind and it is impossible for Him to do otherwise. The laws of logic are, once again, a reflection of God’s unchanging nature.

These “Divine Impossibilities” provide us with insight into God’s character and power. Objective moral truths and transcendent laws of logic are simply a reflection of God’s eternal being. They are not rules or laws God has created (and could therefore alter recklessly), but are instead immutable, dependable qualities of his nature reflected in our universe. They exist because God exists (not because God created them). In addition, the Bible describes God as omnipotent and capable of doing anything he sets out to do. God’s choices, however, are always consistent with His moral and logical nature; He never sets out to do something contrary to who He is as God.

When someone asks, “Can the all-powerful Christian God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it?” they are asking a logically incoherent question. It is the equivalent of asking, “Can God create a ‘square circle’?” Circles and squares are mutually exclusive by their very definition. As a result, the question nonsensically queries the creation of something similarly nonsensical. God cannot create square circles for the same reason He cannot sin; He acts dependably in a manner consistent with His moral and logical nature, and our universe is the beneficiary of God’s dependable nature. Those who ask logically incoherent questions of this kind are requiring God to violate His nature (His logical coherency) in order to demonstrate His nature (His power).

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.

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20 replies
    • Clinton says:

      If you were a king. You have a land with people in it. If a group of those people got together, and rebelled against you. They ravaged the land. They murdered their fellow citizens. They were pillaging.
      Would you, for the kingdom, and for your people, stamp out that rebellion?

      Reply
        • Anthony says:

          An instituted regime that removes people’s desire to rebel requires people WITHOUT free will. Your so called “instituted regime where people had no need to rebel” is for drones – not for free willed people that have the ability to love – or not love.

          Reply
        • Clinton says:

          People always rebel no matter how good the system or king is.
          The problem is the heart of man.
          You think you would be a much better ruler than anyone else in the world?
          But that wasn’t the question. The question was, what would you do?

          Reply
  1. TGM says:

    “When someone asks, ‘Can the all-powerful Christian God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it?’ they are asking a logically incoherent question.”
    .
    Wrong. This is not logically incoherent and anyone who thinks so needs to take a seminar in logic. The stone example is a testable proposition and the affirmative can be proven true. If the question is rephrased as the proposition: “God can lift any weight” then it is falsifiable and subject to the scientific method. To compare this proposition to the exclusivity of circles and squares, which possess their properties by definition, is the nonsensical part of this essay.

    Reply
    • Roland says:

      It’s a paradox.
      Just like the question, what happens if Pinocchio says,” my nose will now grow”
      If God is all powerful, then He can create very large stones. But, He can also place that stone where He wills. So how is this logical?

      Reply
      • TGM says:

        Clever, but not a true paradox since I don’t think Pinocchio can ever know if his statement is a lie. It requires Pinocchio to be aware of his liability (so to speak). And it’s not a lie if he genuinely believes that his nose will grow. He would simply be mistaken.
        .
        To your question… I don’t see anything illogical. What fundamental logical relationship do you think is being violated? We have not really examined the process by which god creates stones. Maybe it matters. Maybe not.

        Reply
        • Roland says:

          The problem with this paradox.
          Pinocchio says my nose will now grow, and if it does, then he’s telling the truth. But his nose only grows when he lies.
          If it doesn’t grow,then he’s lying. But his nose grows when he’s lying.
          The question of how God created stones is not the question.
          Thanks question is, how’s it logical to believe God could make a rock so heavy he couldn’t lift it?
          If He’s all powerful, he can make a rock as big as he wants. But, if he’s all powerful, he can them place that rock wherever he decides to.

          Reply
    • Kalmaro says:

      But if God can lift any weight, wouldn’t that mean that it would be illogical to ask if he could make something so heavy that he can’t lift it?

      Reply
      • TGM says:

        No, because “God can lift any weight” is not an affirmation of truth, just a hypothetical proposition.
        H0 (null hypothesis): “God can lift any weight”
        H1 (alternate hypothesis): “God cannot lift any weight”
        In this formulation, the null hypothesis cannot be proven true as it would require an indeterminate (“any weight”) and potentially infinite amount of tests. I suppose that if one were able to cap weight at some maximum value we might be able to prove the positive, but we might also have to start reconsidering what we mean by “all powerful.” What do you think? Can weight achieve a maximum value? Maybe. Except that God presumably could just create more of it.

        Reply
        • Kalmaro says:

          But the God that most theists refer too is basically infinite to begin with when it comes to power, so unless there’s an infinite mass out there he presumably should be able to lift it. Unless we’re asking if God can make something with infinite mass, which sounds like a different question all together.

          Reply
          • Andy Ryan says:

            “he presumably should be able to lift it”
            .
            So the simple answer to the question is: “No, God cannot create an object of mass such that he cannot lift it”.

    • Brian says:

      I have taken courses in logic and it is indeed a logically incoherent proposition. In essence, the question is pitting an aspect of God’s character (omnipotence) against that same aspect of God’s character. So, given the question, no matter the answer, God must be both the winner and loser of this contest of strength at the same time. It is an incoherent question. It is akin to asking if God can defeat himself in a wrestling match. It’s an attempt to be cleaver, but reduced to absurdity.

      Reply
      • TGM says:

        “In essence, the question is pitting an aspect of God’s character (omnipotence) against that same aspect of God’s character.”
        .
        Not necessarily. I could claim that the question pits his creative character against his kinetic character, and that omnipotence is not a character trait in itself, but rather a potency measure of these separate abilities. That god is both winner and loser is irrelevant. If I play solo chess and white wins, am I not both winner and loser? The fact that our “condition of contest” remains testable and falsifiable implies that the proposition is not incoherent.
        .
        It’s no different than running the test on yourself. Can you create a set of bricks so big that you could not lift it? I daresay you can. Is a god incapable of running the same experiment?

        Reply
        • Kalmaro says:

          In regards to that last point, you are a finite being to one who’s nature is infinite, so questions like this quickly become complicated. One could argue that God has limits but then you are likely not talking about the same God most theists are referring to.

          Reply
          • TGM says:

            I agree. And I run the risk of straw-manning because technically I don’t get to tell you what god is. But for the sake of brevity I have to make some assumptions and guesses about the nature of god. As to god’s limits, I feel like I’m on solid ground in saying the god favored by all contributors to this site believe that this god has limits (eg. he can’t make square circles or married bachelors). Frank says that all the time.
            .
            But I’m not sure what you’re getting at with your point. Do you mean a practically limitless god cannot run the same experiment that I can?

  2. Kalmaro says:

    @TGM Well there’s a difference between have unlimited power and being able to to an unlimited amount of things. Like, one could say that God is powerful enough to lift anything but he can’t make a married bachelor. They are two different things, one is dealing with the material and another is trying to test God’s ability to go against logic/reality.

    I think the question of him making something he can’t lift falls into the latter category.

    Reply
    • Roland says:

      “I think the question of him making something he can’t lift falls into the latter category.”
      Exactly. The problem wasn’t whether God is all powerful. It assumes that He is.
      So if He is all powerful then this is a logically inconsistent.

      Reply

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