Awhile back I wrote a post or two about how I think certain superlatives, such as “infinite,” are ill-suited for describing God. Along those lines, I suggested that we run into genuine problems when we say that God can do anything. I prefer to think that God can do all that is logically possible, particularly given an essentially loving nature. This means that there are certain things – namely behaving in an unloving way – that God simply cannot do, and so we shouldn’t ascribe such things to God.
I’ve had a number of conversations with people recently who don’t find this idea very compelling. They argue that saying “God can’t” means that God is limited, and therefore not omnipotent. On the one hand, I think Tom Oord makes a good point in his recent book, The Uncontrolling Love of God, when he writes,
Many philosophically oriented theologians use omnipotent to portray God’s power although the word is not found in the Bible. It also carries connotations some believe at odds with creaturely freewill, resistance and randomness.
I follow the word choice of most biblical translators and use almighty when describing divine power.1
On the other hand, even the Bible says there are things God cannot do (cf. 2 Tim 2:13; Titus 1:2; Jas 1:13). So… there’s that.
But more to the point, I think that if we really want to talk God up, if we really want to say that God is great, then we really should say that God cannot do the illogical/irrational/self-contradictory.
Allow me to offer an analogy:
Suppose I presented you with two email softwares. The first is well coded. Every time you send an email, it lands in the intended recipient’s inbox quickly and without fail. The second software, however, is not so trustworthy. Sometimes it sends your emails to the intended recipient, but sometimes it sends it to the wrong person, or it sends only half the email, or it just doesn’t send it at all.
You wouldn’t say that the first software was “limited” simply because it behaved consistently, logically, and reliably. And you wouldn’t say that the second software was better or more powerful simply because it was capable of being capricious and irrational. In fact, it is precisely the immutably logical nature of the first software that makes it far and away superior to the second.
And when it comes to things that God can or cannot do, this is why saying God cannot do certain things actually makes God greater. Hopefully that helps. Anyhow, thanks for reading!
1: Thomas Jay Oord, The Uncontrolling Love of God: An Open and Relational Account of Providence, (IVP Academic, 2015), 189, emphasis in original; Oord goes on to explain that he believes God is almighty in at least three senses: 1) God is mightier than all others, 2) God exerts might upon all, and 3) God is the ultimate force of might for all others.