“With God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26
I was binging a TV series that included a scene from a high school philosophy or religion class in which one of the students asked the teacher the perennial question intended to end any discussion on the omnipotence of God: Can God make a rock that He Himself can’t lift? The reasoning being, if God can’t make such a rock, then He isn’t omnipotent (because He can’t make the rock). But, if He can make such a rock, then He isn’t omnipotent (because He can’t lift the rock). Either way, God can’t be omnipotent, so He can’t be God! Pretty smart, huh? I’m sure the writers of the series are not Thomistic philosophers, since the teacher’s response was “no more trick questions.”
But, it’s really not a trick question. It’s a legitimate question. It ought not simply be dismissed out of hand. It sounds pretty conclusive. The reason it sounds conclusive, however, is because it relies on a non-biblical understanding of God’s omnipotence that is also inconsistent with Catholic philosophy.
In point of fact, there are plenty of things the Scriptures say God cannot do. God cannot lie (Num 23:19; Heb 6:18). God cannot change (Ps 102:25-27; Mal 3:6; Heb 13:8; Jas 1:17). God cannot nullify His Word (Ps 119:89; Mt 24:35; Lk 21:33; Jn 10:35). God cannot sin (1 Jn 4:5). God cannot stop loving you (Jer 31:3).
But, isn’t that just the opposite of what the Gospel According to Matthew says in the quote opening this post? “With God all things are possible.”
This is where Scripture and Catholic philosophy can help. God is truth. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). In His prayer to the Father, Jesus said that the Father’s word is truth (Jn 17:17). He told His apostles that the Spirit is truth (Jn 16:13). God’s nature is truth. Since God’s will is in perfect conformity with God’s nature, God’s will is always aligned with the truth. Therefore, God cannot speak or act in untruth. This is what it means to be omnipotent. Omnipotence is not the colloquially accepted, though rather childish, idea that whoever is omnipotent can do anything he or she wants. Omnipotence is aligned with the truth of one’s nature. To be omnipotent, then, is to be so powerful that one’s will is utterly conformed to one’s nature. It is to be who you are in such a way that no one and no thing can draw you or force you out of the truth of who you are.
A rock that God can’t lift is a contradiction, and a contradiction is contrary to truth. It’s similar to claiming that God isn’t omnipotent because He can’t make a square circle, or a two-sided triangle, or even that He can’t make another God. A square circle or a two-sided triangle are contradictions, contrary to what is true about squares and triangles. God’s nature is that He is eternal. If God created another God, then the created God would not be eternal and, therefore, contrary to the nature of God and, therefore, not God at all. Since God is truth itself, He cannot speak or act in a way that is contrary to the truth. We, on the other hand, speak and act in ways contrary to the truth all the time. None of us can claim omnipotence. The struggle of the godly life is to conform our wills according to God’s will, with the help of His grace.
So, that God can’t make a rock that He Himself can’t lift is not a proof of his not being omnipotent, but a proof of His being omnipotent. Only a being who is not omnipotent is subject to the possibility of acting or speaking in a way contrary to truth. God’s nature is truth. He is so true to Himself that His will can’t be drawn or forced out of conformity with His nature. This is what it means to be truly omnipotent.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.