Can God Create a Rock So Big He Cannot Move It?

In the comic book series ‘Runaways’ there is a cyborg-like character who is the son of the ever fun loving Dr Doom (or maybe Ultron, I can’t remember exactly). Anyway, as a cyborg he is obviously a pretty powerful guy and in one issue he is turned against his friends with some creative re-programming. Luckily one of the team knows that he has a secret failsafe device built into him that allows him to be shut down by asking him a logic problem with no apparent answer.

The question his friend asks is ‘Can God create a sandwich so big he couldn’t eat it?’ The cyborg attempts to reason through the problem but is paralysed by the apparent impossibility of the question.

The sandwich question is really just a fun variant on the old problem of ‘Can God create a rock so big he couldn’t move it?’ Christians may not be cyborgs (well most of them) but they too have been paralysed by this question over the years and today I want take a look at it.

Lets start with some scripture.

Revelation 19:6

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,

“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.

Matthew 19:26

But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Jeremiah 32:17, 27

‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you.

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?

Luke 1:37

For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Genesis 17:1

Abraham and the Covenant of Circumcision

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,

Job 42:2

I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

The common theme here is obviously that God can do anything. Often times though, in our desire to understand God or how he works, we seem to forget this.

Paradoxes

Christianity is full of paradoxes. One example is election vs free will. Scripture is clear that God has chosen us for salvation yet it is equally clear that we choose him. We receive the gift of faith from God yet we are held culpable if we do not choose him and it is just for God to do so. To our minds this isn’t logically possible yet God’s word is clear that it is so.

Other Christian paradoxes include, faith as works, God’s love vs God’s justice, Jesus’ humanity vs Jesus’ divinity, the trinity (three persons in one God), losing your life to gain it and so on.

In all of these examples people through history have made the mistake of trying to take one side or the other and the result has been division amongst believers or outright heresy. From Arius to Eutyches, Sabellius to Monothelitism, people have gone astray trying to deny that God can do things that we perceive as impossible.

I love to study the scriptures and try to understand how each of these topics work and what scripture teaches about them. I believe that we can have some understanding of how these things work. At some point however we have to admit that our understanding will only ever be partial because we are struggling to understand an eternal and infinite God with a temporal and finite mind.

Can God Create a Rock So Big He Can’t Move It?

The old question of can God create a rock so big he can’t move it however is not one of these problems.

The argument goes as follows. If God can create a rock so big he can’t move it then his physical strength is limited. If he can’t create a rock so big he can’t move it then his creative strength is limited. Either way he isn’t omnipotent.

The problem however is in the starting premises of the argument. The argument assumes that one of the inherent characteristics of God is that he is omnipotent. As shown above this is supported by scripture.

The hidden premise in the riddle though is that even an all powerful God must be subject to logic. Therefore if we can show that omnipotence isn’t logical then we can contradict any claim to omnipotence because it is a logical impossibility.

So the starting premises already assume that omnipotence is limited. It is therefore not surprising that the conclusion of the argument is that God isn’t omnipotent.

The definition of true omnipotence is unlimited power. That includes being unlimited by logic. As I said above, Christianity is full of paradoxes. These only make sense if we accept that God can do what appears to be illogical to us or is indeed illogical. Why, because He’s omnipotent.

If we accept that God can do anything as a starting premise of the big rock argument and then ask if there is there anything He can’t do then the answer is obvious. Of  course there is nothing God cannot do.

Just because we can depict an apparent contradiction between the attributes of God’s power does not mean that there is one. It simply means that we can’t understand how an all powerful being could do it.

To me it is one of the most compelling evidences for the truth of the scriptures and God himself. If I could understand everything about a supposedly infinite and eternal being and how He works then it would seem to be a creation of man. If however there are elements of Him and His works that I cannot comprehend then that matches well with His claim to be omnipotent.

So the next time someone asks you if God can move a rock so big he can’t move it don’t go into electrical cyborg paralysis. Just ask them the definition of omnipotent 🙂

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9 responses to “Can God Create a Rock So Big He Cannot Move It?

  1. Soli deo gloria

    James,
    Of course there are things that God cannot do:
    He cannot lie.
    He cannot deny Himself.
    He cannot forget His own people.
    When the Lord Jesus was tempted by Satan, He could have jumped from the high place, or turned stones into bread … but that would have broken God’s Law, and He refused, demonstrating that He cannot sin.
    He cannot look upon sin.
    SDG

    • I always find it fascinating how although God is devoid of sin and can not sin, yet He sovereignly uses our sin, and indeed the work of Satan, for His greater purpose. This is no better depicted as with the greatest irony in all of history – the barbaric torture and execution of Jesus Christ leading to the salvation of God’s children – and this was part of God’s ‘good’ plan from the beginning of time.

  2. Of course, “limited omnipotence” is an oxymoron.

    James, I like your statement, “Just because we can depict an apparent contradiction between the attributes of God’s power does not mean that there is one. It simply means that we can’t understand how an all powerful being could do it.”

    I think the real issue with all these kinds of mind games is that it simply reflects our comparative powerlessness. To attempt to fathom how God can do this or that, or whether he can do this or that is a futile exercise and about as sensible as a flea attempting to construct a nuclear reactor.

    In so many ways God is beyond knowing – but praise be to Him for revealing what He has about Himself in Scripture – that is all we need to know and perhaps all we can know whilst still bound by this mortal coil.

  3. James, I came across this visually impressive chart [PDF]. According to Justin Holcomb of Resurgence, “professional skeptic, Sam Harris, commissioned this infographic chart titled “Contradictions in the Bible” through his foundation, Project Reason.  It is an impressive form of presentation, but filled with misinformed content.”

    I don’t mean to highjack your post, but our readers might want to read Justine’s blog to see just how seductive but entirely futile these kinds of arguments are. And, I think it also shows how intellectually dishonest and misleading some are who engage in this kinds of intentional trickery.

    • Soli deo gloria

      ….. and therefore doesn’t 1 Tim 4 v 7 apply here?

      • For sure, SDG – “irreverent, silly myths” – we face these all the time.

        So, I think it is wise of James to alert us to these kinds of spurious comments and arguments. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment and feel we have to defend our position.

        However, as the text you reference states, we are to have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Our time and emotional energy would much better be invested in “training ourselves for godliness”.

  4. Thanks for this post James. I like how you highlight the different paradoxes that appear to be taught in scripture. It’s so easy to limit God’s truth to our own finite understanding. Doing so limits our appreciation and marveling of who God is.

    What we need to strive to do is to seek God’s truth as taught in scripture no matter how illogical it may be. As Don pointed out there are some very intellectual in this world that can seduce us with their fine sounding theories, even so called Christian professors and teachers, however we must always test it against God’s Word.

    I love it how God says He will humble the proud and raise up the humble. We must never think we are not capable of understanding and appreciating God and His word more as we earnestly seek Him.

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