In Sunday School today we discussed J.I. Packer’s awesome book Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. In particular we looked at the second chapter that dealt with the relationship of evangelism and God’s sovereignty and how to reconcile the two. For Packer, the answer lies in the nature of antinomy.
Over the course of the discussion the age old question “Can God create a rock so big that He cannot lift it?” came up. It’s an interesting question that has baffled many a Christian, and though it was briefly answered, I want to address the question with a little more depth.
First of all, it is good for Christians to be able to understand and address questions like this. Primarily because it gets them thinking about questions pertaining to God, and that is always a good thing. As well, questions like these are often posed to Christians by non-believers who think they have disproven God. Having an answer for them is helpful because it shows the futility of non-believing thought when it comes to the question of God’s existence. I say futility because this question is really a non-question and displays the ends that non-believers will go to to escape from God.
The problem goes as such:
Can God create a rock so big that He cannot lift it? If He can, than He is not all powerful because He can’t lift the rock. If He can’t, He is not all powerful because there is something that He cannot do — that is create such a rock.
This seems like quite the conundrum because the Christian apparently seems to be faced with a dilemma. How do we provide an answer to this question?
I would begin by arguing that this isn’t really a question at all. Rather, it is a non-question. By it’s very nature, it contradicts itself. It’s like asking the question, “Can God make a square circle?” It doesn’t make sense by definition.
To demonstrate this, we need to look at the nature of created objects (such as the rock in question). What is a rock? We know that it is material, it comes from the ground, it contains ore and minerals, and fundamental to the question at hand, it is by definition finite. A rock is not a rock if it is infinite. And herein lies the problem for the skeptic: for God to make a rock so big that He can’t lift it, He would have to make a rock that is bigger than He is. Yet God is infinite. So the answer is, by definition, no He cannot make a rock such as this, because a rock like that is logically impossible to conceive of.
Upon hearing this, the hard-nosed skeptic my cry, “Aha! See, your God’s not omnipotent!!” And I would suggest that the Christian ask the skeptic for a definition of omnipotent. For many, including many Christians, omnipotent means that God can do anything. But that is not a true definition. The Bible says that God cannot lie, that He cannot sin and so forth. Does this make Him less powerful? Of course not, because the definition of omnipotent is not what it is often thought.
Omnipotence means that God is able to anything that is in accord with His nature and will. That means that God cannot lie, because it is not in His truthful nature to lie. God cannot sin, because it is not in His holy nature to sin.
Because God is infinite, nothing else can exist that is infinite. That means a rock that is finite can never be too big for Him to lift. For the skeptic to demand that a rock be infinite is ludicrous and illogical, because it is logically inconceivable for such a rock to exist.
For more helpful thoughts and other reasons to believe that this argument is a “pseudo-question,” see Greg Koukl’s article here, the answer here at CARM, as well Rich Deem’s here.