What God Cannot Do

Long-time church goers and Sunday School students have heard and learned that there is nothing God cannot do.  In the context of that declaration, Matthew 26:26 is quoted which says, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’.”

Yet, truly, there are some things God cannot do and I will suggest a few of them in a moment, but first, let’s consider what it means to say that God can do anything. J.I. Packer in Concise Theology (1993) aptly explains the idea. He writes…

“Omnipotence (all-powerful) means in practice the power to do everything that in his rational and moral perfection (i.e. his wisdom and goodness) God wills to do.”

In truth, this limits what God can do because he cannot act outside or beyond his nature. Said another way, his severity can never override his generosity in an extreme expression of wrath, or even whimsy or caprice for that matter. All of God’s traits are all balanced (perfectly) all the time.

So, you started reading this to find out what God cannot do. You’ve waited long enough. Here it comes. Quoting again from Packer, we read,

“…God can [not] do literally anything: he cannot sin, lie, change his nature, or deny the demands of his holy character (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; 2 Tim. 2:13; Heb. 6:18; James 1:13, 17); nor can he [for example] make a square circle, for the notion of a square circle is self-contradictory; nor can he cease to be God.”

I’ll add here what I once heard another theologian say, “God cannot replicate himself or make other Gods.” Here’s my meager contribution to the list: He cannot make 1+1 equal anything but 2.

It might be argued that God could act to change his created universe if he chose. For example, he could make alligators fly and increase the Earth’s gravity a smidge or eliminate carbohydrates from all foods (please!). However, those acts would violate another aspect of his character, consistency, which we know he cannot do.

Malachi 3:6 says, “I the Lord do not change.” This is the subject of another article, but for now let it be understood that this revelation speaks to his nature and character, not exclusively to his ability to chose to act differently than he did initially in a matter so long as it doesn’t violate that nature and character.

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