When I was about 12 years old I was going somewhere with a friend. I don’t remember where we were going or what we were doing, but I remember the car ride. We were cracking jokes with each other that were not funny and didn’t make sense, but we were shamelessly jolly. We passed by a field with a few dozen scattered bails of hay. He said, “Did you know that the government is making round bails of hay illegal?” I stared at him, gullible as I could be. He responded, “Because the cows aren’t getting their three square meals a day!” And we erupted with laughter. (Side note: twelve year old boys are annoyingly corny). The drive went on and he asked a question that we both thought was another hilarious joke: “Can God create a rock so large that He can’t lift it?” We stared at each other for a second, and started laughing again. (Unfortunately my cheesiness hasn’t changed much, I just finally have a category for it: #dadjokes).
It was probably another twelve years before I heard this question again. This time it wasn’t funny. This is an age old question asked by skeptics and atheist philosophy professors to stump people, and unfortunately it often works. How many people have abandoned their faith because of confusing hypotheticals like this? These questions are intimidating. But I want to share three questions with you that I think help address this question.
1. Is God Omnipotent?
At its core, this intimidating question is a direct attack against the Omnipotence of God. “Omnipotence” is comprised of two words: “Omni-“ and “-Potent” (I’ll only be nerdy for a second). Omni means ‘all,’ and Potent or Potency refers to ‘strength’ or ‘power.’ In other words, God is All-Powerful. The problem is that the question actually redefines omnipotence to mean “God can do anything,” rather than “God is All-Powerful”, and then tries to disprove God’s omnipotence by attacking that incorrect definition. These two definitions may seem similar, but there are subtle and important distinctions. The Bible itself says that God can’t do some things. For example, “It is impossible for God to lie…” (Hebrews 6:18). So the idea that “God can do anything,” is a false premise and lays a weak foundation for this question from the start.
2. Can God become less than Omnipotent?
I apologize for being pedantic here but the question, “Can God create a rock so large that He cannot lift it,” needs some clarity. Does the question require God to become weaker than He is so that He can’t lift the rock, or for the rock to be heavier than God’s strength capacity? If the question requires God to become less than He is—that is, less than omnipotent—then I wager that it is possible. If God is entirely powerful, then surely He can make Himself less powerful (in a certain sense) than He is. In fact, according to the Bible, He has already done that. “Jesus, who was in the form of God… emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:6-7). However, if the All-Powerful Being limits Himself then even that action is an exercise of strength and power. So it is not so much self-limitation as self-control. That’s why Jesus did not cease to be God when He became Man.
3. Can something become stronger than God?
But what this question really demands is not for God to become less powerful, but for something else to be beyond His power. Omnipotence, by definition, means that God is more powerful than anything and anyone else. God would not be omnipotent if He could create something beyond the reach of His power. So, can God create a rock so heavy that He can’t lift it? Of course not. He is All-Powerful. Nothing can compare to His strength and majesty, so even He cannot create something beyond His power.
I would love for you to leave a comment telling me what difficult questions or ideas you have encountered by skeptics that you weren’t sure how to answer?