Can an Omnipotent God Make a Stone So Big that He Cannot Pick It Up?
by Dave Hintz
This is one of those pesky questions that atheists like pose to try to justify their unbelief. The argument goes like this: If God is omnipotent, as Christians claim, then this means He can do anything. But if He creates a stone so big that He cannot lift it, then there is something He can’t do and He is not really omnipotent. Similarly, if He cannot create an unliftable stone, then He is not omnipotent. Since these are the only two possible answers, it is therefore logically impossible to have an omnipotent God.
Now there are a few problems with this little proof. First of all, the question itself is illogical and absurd. It presumes His omnipotence would enable God to live in two separate and simultaneous realities. For instance, a cynic may say that if God could do anything then He could cease to exist. But a God who does not exist is not a God at all. Once He moves into the non-existent category He is no longer God, nor anything else. No one can exist in two contradictory realities; it’s as absurd as a square circle or married bachelor.
Secondly, this “omnipotence paradox” rests upon a definition of omnipotence that is simply wrong. God’s omnipotence as He defines it does not mean that God can do absolutely anything. A brief survey of the Bible demonstrates that there are certain things which God cannot do:
Titus 1:2 “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago”
2 Timothy 2:13 “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”
James 1:13 “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”
God cannot lie, sin, deny Himself, or be tempted to evil. God cannot cease to exist, stop being God, or act in any way contrary to His attributes or will. To say, as in the cynic’s original assertion, that God’s omnipotence means that He can do anything is biblically ill-informed (and since He invented the term, we’ll let Him define it). Rather, God’s omnipotence means that He has unlimited power to do all things which a being of God’s perfection could possibly do. In the words of John Feinberg, “He cannot do everything whatsoever, nor is he required to do everything he can do, but anything we would want or expect a being of God’s character to do, he has power to do.”
Going back to the rock question, God always does what He wills. Yes, He can make an immovable stone. He can also move any stone. But He will not try to move the immovable stone that He made, as that would contradict His purpose for that rock. His will is singular and never shifts. A correct understanding of this attribute is crucial for us—it gives us confidence that God will never condemn the elect, nor will He break His promises to the Saints. A perfect and holy God must keep His promises—He has bound Himself to do so. And, being omnipotent, we know that He has the power to fulfill them. In the words of Job, "I know that Thou canst do all things, And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.” (42:2).