During my walking routine these days as I work on Wally v.3.0, I enjoy an occasional podcast from reasonablefaith.org which often discusses apologetics issues of the day. I may not always agree with everything Dr. Craig says, but it is still an interesting resource and has provoked some interesting discussion with my wife on long trips.
One I listened to a while back reminded me of a post I made discussing the question “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?” which is often used to trip up those who believe in God. In fact, when some atheists first stumble on it, they often think they’ve found the “silver bullet” that will kill the idea of an omnipotent God. As I addressed there in that post, the thought is a foolhardy one. The question has an answer: “No.” If elaboration is needed, it is, “No, because no such rock can exist.” As James Taranto summarized in the comment I quoted in that post, a rock so big an omnipotent being can’t lift it “is a logically incoherent construct, not a limitation on God’s power.”
It really is simple, though it used to stump me when I was much younger. The fact is that there are many things that simply cannot exist, and the fact that we can create such nonsensical descriptions does not limit God’s power in anyway at all. For instance, God cannot create a married bachelor or a square circle. He cannot create an odd integer that is evenly divisible by two. The very definitions of these things make the statements that mention them meaningless, and “There’s a rock that cannot be lifted by a being who can lift anything” is a similarly meaningless statement.
God is not somehow “reduced” by not being able to satisfy a nonsensical statement any more than He is reduced by not being able to quickly flibbydahip a traditional Barsoomian Mac-A-Noony-Flahooby-Do. My ability to speak gibberish has no impact at all on God’s omnipotence. (“Good thing, or else all of your blog posts would trouble Him!” you quip. “That’s hilarious!” I sarcastically but warmly reply…)
(In a second unnecessary parenthetical insert which I will italicize to set it apart in someway, I will mention that being omniscient doesn’t mean that God knows the flavor of grilled unicorn or the average height of a leprechaun, either, but that is another “O” for another time!)
I mention this because in a discussion I had recently, I think during my recent visit to our headquarters in Charlotte, I was reminded on one of the questions I had when I was studying the purpose of man, back when I was first learning the truth.
It concerned God’s purpose in reproducing himself in man. As we state in our Statement of Fundamental Beliefs within the section titled MANKIND’S ORIGIN, INCREDIBLE POTENTIAL AND ULTIMATE DESTINY, “The true saints will become full sons of God—’sons of the resurrection’ (Luke 20:36). God’s purpose is that He is reproducing Himself and that those converted, ultimately, become full members of the Family of God, under the authority of the Father and the Son (1 John 3:1-3).They will share divine glory in the resurrection.”
(Yes, the comment that God “is reproducing Himself” offends some. But it is the truth, and the truth sometimes offends. That’s just sort of the way it is…)
Related to that, we teach that God cannot create godly character by fiat–it is something that is created over time through our free will choices, in concert with God’s assistance in our lives through the Holy Spirit, enabling Christ to live in us. That free will choices are necessary helps to explain why God gave Adam and Eve two trees instead of one and, thus, why we aren’t all still running around naked in a paradise.
But back then, the idea that God could not do something bothered me. Why can’t He just create godly character? If He’s God, can’t He do anything?
Well, no, He can’t, such as those things mentioned above. In a very real sense, again, it isn’t a limit on God so much as it is a limit on reality.
Which brings me to my point: It may be that “instant character” is verbal nonsense–a logically incoherent construct just like “married bachelor” or “square circle” or “odd and even integer” or, for that matter, “a rock so heavy it cannot be lifted by one who can lift anything.” While bachelors, circles, rocks, and even integers (numbers with no fractional components, like 5 and -3) are part of the real, everyday world for us, character is something deep and, ultimately, spiritual. To think that godly character, in terms of all it is supposed to entail in the workings and purpose of God, could ever be instantly “planted” in a created being from the moment of their creation, or in any simple “instant” thereafter, might be a truly nonsensical concept, not instantly rejected by our minds only because we are ignorant of the true depth and eternal nature of what is, indeed, entailed. In fact, as we think upon it further, it may become more obvious that the greater miracle is that such godly character may be built within us at all, let alone that it may require time to do so.
If free will and character go hand-in-hand (as surely they do, right?) then it makes sense that godly character is not something that can be created by fiat–that there is no such thing as “instant character.”
I know for most of you reading this, the matter was never a question! But the math-and-logic guy in me wondered, and the resolution was very helpful. Every time I hear the suggestion that, if God is God, He should have been able to create instant godly character in us, I just think, “Like married bachelors, there ain’t no such beasts…”