“Can God do anything?” I asked an audience of Christians at a recent apologetics conference. I gave my answer and offered an explanation. Apparently, my answer was not well received by everyone, as one man in the audience was so incensed that he stood up shaking his head in disgust. He turned for the exit and walked out of the auditorium, but not without glaring back at me one last time, continuing to shake his head in anger. So what did I say? No, God can’t do anything.
Clearly the Bible affirms God’s power. Job 9:4 says, “His power is vast.” Psalm 24:8 refers to the Lord as “strong and mighty.” Isaiah 40:26 says that out of His “great power and mighty strength” God brought forth the universe. Don’t these passages indicate there is no limit to God’s power?
Many Christians mistakenly think God’s omnipotence means there is nothing He cannot do. However, a few questions demonstrate the problem with this view. Can God sin? Of course not. Sin is contrary to God’s moral nature. Scripture affirms this when it tells us that God cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18) and cannot be tempted by evil (James 1:13). God is holy and therefore, He cannot sin because that would be a violation of His own nature.
Moreover, can God create a square circle or a married bachelor? Of course not. Square circles and married bachelors are logical contradictions and, therefore, are contrary to God’s rational nature. Can God create a rock so big that He cannot pick it up? Again, the answer is no. God cannot carry out two mutually exclusive alternatives. The question poses a logically impossible scenario, which just means the question is incoherent. God’s own rational nature, in which the very laws of logic are grounded, sets the boundaries of what is possible and impossible.
But if God is limited in these ways, does this undermine His omnipotence? No. We just to need to correctly define this attribute of God. When it is properly understood, the difficulties fade away. So simply put, God’s omnipotence means He can do all that is consistent with His nature. This definition affirms God’s vast power while preventing us from affirming logical absurdities. The great evangelical theologian Carl F. Henry summarizes it this way:
That God will not alter his own nature, that he cannot deny himself, that he cannot lie and cannot sin, that he cannot be deceived, and that, moreover, he cannot die, are affirmations which historic Christian theology has always properly associated with divine omnipotence and not with divine limitation or divine impotency, because the ’possibility’ as stated is a logical impossibility. Any conception of omnipotence that requires God to contradict himself reflects a conjectural and ridiculous notion of absolute power (God, Revelation, Authority, V:319).
Now, what did God’s omnipotence have to do with my talk at this apologetics conference? I was answering a serious challenge to Christianity: “If God is all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?” There’s a hidden assumption in the question, and here it is: If God is all-powerful, He has the power to create a world free of evil. “God can do anything, right?” comes the challenge from the skeptic. Answering this objection demonstrates the importance of properly defining God’s omnipotence.
Our answer, known as the free will defense, affirms that God cannot do the logically impossible. God cannot create genuinely free creatures and at the same time cause them to do only what is right. If He causes them to do what is right, they have not done so freely. Human freedom just means that moral evil is possible. However, this does not undermine God’s nature. As philosopher Alvin Plantinga states, “The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.” And that’s one reason why it’s vital that we think carefully and correctly about the nature of God.