God Can’t Do Everything

Author Greg Koukl Published on 02/28/2013

Are non-Christians claiming that a half-full glass has more in it than a full glass? It would appear so.

Let me just go over that argument very quickly. I hope you don’t get lost in the details. It’s important.

There were actually two different arguments going on there. The first argument, as I summed up when I started my response, was an argument to show that Christianity was contradictory in the things that it believed about God. This is the attack on the existence of God based on the existence of evil, at least the deductive attack. The deductive argument based on the existence of evil is of this form. It’s a very aggressive kind of argument because, if it can be demonstrated that there is something Christians believe that is inherently and internally contradictory, then Christianity cannot be true, at least at that point.

John’s argument was this:

You say that God is omnipotent and He is also perfectly good. Those are in contradiction. Why? Because omnipotent means He is able to do anything, which would include being able to do immoral things. But a perfectly good creature would not be able to do so, and so you Christians are essentially saying that God is able to do immoral things and He is not able to do immoral things at the same time. This is a violation of the Law of Non-contradiction, therefore it falsifies the Christian’s point of view at this particular point.

That is his argument.

The solution is quite simple. He had misconstrued or misunderstood what Christians mean by the term “omnipotent.” We do not mean that God can do everything. One thing that is specifically denied in the Christian revelation, the Bible, is that God can do evil. That is denied. He cannot do evil. So Christians hold that God is omnipotent, but what that entails is not the belief that He can do everything, because some things He can’t. He can’t commit evil, for example. So there’s no contradiction in the Christian’s view that God is omnipotent and He is good.

The second argument is a variation of the first.

Well, then it seems that it’s possible to imagine a being that is greater than your being. If your being is the greatest of all possible beings, [this would be kind of an ontological argument in the spirit of Anselm], if your being is the greatest of all possible beings and I can imagine one even greater than that, then your being must not be the greatest of all possible beings. I can imagine one greater. I can imagine one that can do all kinds of good things and more; he can do bad things, too. Therefore, your God who is not capable of doing bad things is an inferior God.

See the way that argument is? Now, I did my best to show that this was a misconstruing of evil. It sees evil as a positive additional attribute rather than a lack or a privation of good, as Augustine argued, and Aquinas after him, and others have argued in this fashion. Many do nowadays as well. I mentioned Doug Geivett’s book as an excellent example of that.

But let me give you one other illustration, because I think this is hard for people to see. It’s as if you were arguing regarding two glasses of water. Picture two glasses of water. One is full and one is half full. Which one has more? Well, the full glass, of course. Oh no, you misunderstand, I respond. The glass which is half full has more because it has something the first glass doesn’t have. What’s that? It has emptiness. Well, you say, it doesn’t have emptiness. Emptiness is a description of something that is not there, not something that is there. And that’s my point.

You can’t argue the half-full glass, morally speaking, that a god who can do evil is greater than the God who can do only good, because all you’ve said is that this god is only half full, not all the way full. He is half full of morality and the other half is missing morality, making him capable of immoral acts, compared to the Christian God, which is all full up with morality. He is not capable of doing bad because He is not missing anything good.

Therefore, the God of the Bible is the superior God, not this imaginary god who can do evil who is, in fact, less. You would have to argue then that Satan would be a greater god than God because Satan is, at least theoretically, capable of good things (or he did good things at one time in his existence) and he is also capable of being desperately evil. So we would have to say that Satan is better than God and is greater than God because he can do more than God can do. As you can see from the illustration of the glasses, this is just a misunderstanding of the problem. It’s identifying a lack, or something missing, as something more than.

It’s kind of like saying that a donut with a hole in it is more than a donut without a hole in it. Why? Because it has something the other donut doesn’t have. A hole. Do you see how silly that is? It’s just a misconstruel of the facts.

I took a few moments to go over the details because this is a question that has come up before and I think that, unless you see it—unless you kind of “get it”—at first it may be a bit confusing. But as we talk about it a little bit, I think you might see the truth that a God who is totally good is more than a god who is capable of doing evil, even though the one who is capable of doing evil, in a sense, can do things that the totally moral God can’t do.