Saturday, 14 June 2008

The limits of God

God is unable to do any conceivable thing. There are things he is unable to do for a variety of reasons and I wish to categorise these.

One method of dividing up the actions that God is unable to perform results in 2 options: Actions that men (also) cannot do and actions men can do

Attributes of God are similarly categorised. Attributes of God that man can have to a degree are called communicable. Examples would be love or mercy. Attributes that God has and we do not are called non-communicable. An example would be omnipotence.

Actions that neither men nor God are able to perform belong to the category of logical impossibilities. These actions require breaking the law of non-contradiction. Asking God to both do and not do something in the same way at the same time is logically impossible. Asking God to both have an attribute and an attribute that contradicts it is logically impossible. God cannot make a rock too big to lift. God cannot be both unchangeable and changeable in the same manner.

There are also actions that humans are able to perform that God is not able to perform. This seems to solely relate to the realm of sin therefore they are actions that abuse a good; they create an evil. Evil is a distortion of an underlying good. Therefore God is unable to perform them because he would be doing evil. An example would be lying. Lying is a distortion of truth, truthfulness is an attribute of God. For God to lie would be a denial of his nature.

There is a subcategory of actions that men can do and God cannot that deserves mention. There are some actions that are limited to men because its definition excludes the possibility of applying to the divine. An example would be murder. This requires some explaining.

God and men can both kill humans. Killing is defined as removing a life. Now this can be allowed as in the case of war or capital punishment, disallowed as in the case of murder, or accidental (because we live in a fallen world) as in the case of manslaughter.

Murder is disallowed because it is the unwarranted removal of life. God created us and owns us. We must obey him and he has told us that we are not to murder, not to destroy the imago dei. This prohibition clearly is one that can only apply to men (and possibly angels). God cannot destroy life without his own permission. If God does destroy life it means he has permitted himself to. Therefore God is unable to murder because the definition of murder does not apply to deity. One could argue that it was at least theoretically possible for Jesus to murder during the incarnation if he took a life without the implied or express permission of the Father, though that takes us into another debate, perhaps for another time.

The limits of God
  • God cannot perform logical impossibilities.
  • God cannot sin.
  • God cannot do things defined in terms of men.
The limits of men
  • Man cannot perform logical impossibilities.
  • Men can sin.
The debate on the limits of God goes even deeper than this. When we say that God cannot sin the question arises whether God cannot do evil or will not do evil? Or even, can anything that God does be considered evil as he is the definition of good?

Further, even if God cannot sin as deity, it is possible that Jesus could as man even though he choose not to.


  1. God has no limits, but man does. It is the limits of man that cause us to think God has limits. We are to God as is the worlds simplest creature is to us. A single celled organism cannot comprehend what a human is. Doesn't even have the tools to begin to do it.
    It is the same with God and Man. Man can NEVER comprehend God. Our understanding of the world we live in is vast.We put limits on God based on our own understanding. God is everything and nothing, beginning and end, etc. These too are limits imposed by Man. Stop trying to explain the creator and just know that a creator exists.

    What makes you think changing the physical laws of the universe or committing a sin is something God can't do?
    God has no limitations.

  2. Anon What makes you think changing the physical laws of the universe or committing a sin is something God can't do?

    God has no limitations.

    I did not state than God cannot change physical laws. He can both override them and change them.

    The Bible states that God cannot sin.

    Do you really think that God can make 2 + 3 = 9? Do you think God can change the past. Do you think that God can make a rock he cannot move, and also move it?

    1. First of all I agree with you that God has limitations. One is he cannot sin. This is the result of being Holy. Another is our free will. Although I do not fully understand God's plan for us, I am grateful that he has included us in his plans. Lastly God cannot remember forgiven sin.
      Isaiah 43:25 " I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins."
      Clearly you can see that it is his choice to not remember, and it is for "mine own sake".
      God always does what is best even if it means limiting himself.

      Q: Do you really think that God can make 2+3=9?
      A: Yes.
      Matthew 14:16-21
      "16 But Jesus said unto them, They need not depart; give ye them to eat.17 And they say unto him, We have here but five loaves, and two fishes.18 He said, Bring them hither to me. 19 And he commanded the multitude to sit down on the grass, and took the five loaves, and the two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he blessed, and brake, and gave the loaves to his disciples, and the disciples to the multitude. 20 And they did all eat, and were filled: and they took up of the fragments that remained twelve baskets full. 21 And they that had eaten were about five thousand men, beside women and children."

      Q: Do you think God can change the past?
      A: You are implying His will is not been done. God has a plan. It has been happening. It is happening. And it will be happening. There is no need of any change. Furthermore God does not change his mind.
      Numbers 23:19
      "God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?"

      Q:Do you think that God can make a rock he cannot move, and also move it?
      A: Yes.
      God has made man, and given him free will. You are the rock. God cannot force you to do anything without taking your free will. Since we know that God does not change his mind. We know he will never force you, he cannot force you, he has limited himself in granting you free will. But he can convict you to know the truth, he can convince you that he is real. He can cause you to want to change yourself, without denying you free will.
      Much in the same way he could create a rock that he could not himself move.
      (God can choose to limit himself. If he could not, he would not be God.)
      He could also command that rock come alive and move its self.
      (Rocks have no promise of free will.)

      I think the problem is some people think of limitation as taking away, and making lesser. God cannot sin. It sounds like a restriction, because it is something that God cannot do. Think of it like this. It is better to be Holy, than it is to be sinful. So God is Holy, because it is what's best, even if it means not doing something. I think anyone could agree that God is far greater in being Holy, and sinless, than if he were not.
      Know that God is sovereign. i.e. He can do what ever he wants.
      God chooses to be Holy. God chooses to grant you free will. God chooses to forget your sins. Not because he has to, but because he wants to.
      Praise God for his choices. He chose to send his son, to live a perfect life, and die, so that we might be saved. God forsake himself for us. Matthew 27:46 “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”

      I'll tell you why. God wanted to save us from sin, so he has provided a way for us to be forgiven of sin. The only problem with this plan is the free will of man. You have to let him save you.

  3. Anon, my thoughts on your comments. God not remembering our sins refers to him not holding us to account for them, not that he is not aware that they occurred.

    God can multiply bread and do miracles, but this does not mean that 2 loaves of bread and 3 loaves of bread is mathematically identical to 9 loaves of bread. It is identical to 5 loaves of bread which Jesus can add to supernaturally.

    The question about God changing the past is not whether is will, it is whether he is capable of it. God could recreate a past situation and send it on a different trajectory, but that does not mean things that have happened can subsequently not have happened.

    You are changing the rock question to a metaphor, and are equivocating on "move." God cannot make a physical rock so large he can not shift it, and at the same time shift it. This is not a limitation on God, it is a philosophically unreasonable request. See my post on rocks here.

  4. I think I would like to take one step back from your limiting God point of the article and look at the limiting aspect of defining God and who He is. To define anything is to give it logical limitations. If we say God is light, then we have limited God to being light and not dark... or darkness. If we say God is love, then we have limited God to love and not hate. Just by defining God we move Him from purely infinite to finite, with the presumption that defining anything makes it "a" and therefore not "not a". There is a Kabalistic concept called tzimtzum which states that God had to limit Himself in order to create a space for creation. This would then be a corollary to this idea applied to The Word or Logos. If God is the Word and the Word is words and specific concepts and precepts than God has self-limited. He is the Words that make up the Word and not other than those words. So if God is Good and given boundaries to Good or differentiated Good, then He has defined evil or not good at the same moment. So when God defines Himself in the Word, He also creates that which is not the Word... at least the concept of it... the anti-word. The Bible does not describe the creation of the Devil or Satan. He just suddenly appears in the Garden with Adam and Eve. There is a problem here however, in that if the Logos is eternal and is God, than that which is not God is also eternal... If God differentiates Himself as Good, Truth and Love within the Logos, than Evil, Lie and Hate are also conceptually eternal. Bottom line, is that once something is defined, it is by nature differentiated from that which it is not and therefore must presume the existence of that which it is not. In other words, one can not create Light without creating Darkness at the same time. One can not have a defined and differentiated Good without differentiating from an evil.



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