Married Bachelors and Instant Character

You really do have to pick one...
You really do have to pick one…

During my walking routine these days as I work on Wally v.3.0, I enjoy an occasional podcast from 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…”

41 thoughts on “Married Bachelors and Instant Character

  1. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Wait a minute. Maybe it’s another matter of definitions: that of determinism versus that of free will. Given that there is such a thing as a right choice and a wrong choice, the only way you could have someone make the right choice all the time instantly from his creation is deterministically: as it were by pre-programming. Otherwise, it is a matter of free will, something that must be developed over time: as it were by self-programming.

    Something far too weighty to discuss on the run, especially since wiser heads have addressed the issue many times, but I’m sure you’ll have something to say about it…

  2. Howdy, Mr. Wheeler. I wasn’t sure I agreed with you until I read your comment again. Yes, free will entails being able to choose,and the Creator has given us much freedom in that regard, including what one of my local sermonette men called in a great turn of phrase “the miracle of human refusal.” Among a free chooser’s options is, indeed, a path that includes unsinful choices from beginning to end–a path that Jesus Christ freely chose. Robbing the individual of the opportunity to choose would ensure that they go that path, but it wouldn’t be a choice-based walk, nor would it be what we tend to think of as “character,” just as my WordPress content manager–“faithfully” executing its instructions as I type this comment–does not display character, nor what we would normally call faithfulness. Is it faithfulness if the program cannot choose otherwise? Nope. It’s not character, either.

    Some of this may be begging the question to a certain extent, but not too much methinks.

  3. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    If even C.S. Lewis (via THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS and what only diehard Lewis fans could cite off the top of their heads) called what we’re talking about the secret behind God’s brand of love for His creation, and the greatest mystery of all (and also something that he believed, probably correctly, confounds the demons no end), then barring some revelation vouchsafed to one of us in the relatively near future, 😉 I don’t think we’re going to un-beg any questions worth un-begging. (If that makes the slightest bit of sense…)

    I think you’re asking the right question above. It may simply be that the answer requires a perspective outside the universe, not within it, to fully resolve, a la Godel’s Theorem if I understand its ultimate implications correctly. (Or maybe the answer really is 42. 😉 )

  4. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    OK, something that may make more sense…

    …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.”

    While the models are allegedly primitive (yet astoundingly good at prediction within their bounds), consider what the “integrated models” of personality put forward by Dr. Linda Berens et al. suggest. It appears that even in Scripture, and also in the models, our human spirit (where the “ego” resides, the center of consciousness) is more than a mere “tape recorder”. It is the focus of our freedom to choose in the character-building sense. And that truly is neutral when it begins. It’s our brain-based cognitive or thought processes, and also what lies underneath them, which from the beginning are split down the middle into positive and negative poles, and normally partially or wholly immersed in “the individual and collective unconscious” – in the Bible, the world, the flesh and the Devil, “the law of sin”, etc. – on top of that. Character building is a matter of our pulling our cognitive processes toward positive applications, against the pull of the “Shadow”, until they become habitual in such use.

    How can that process be instantaneous? It can’t be. It would be like trying to jump clear to the moon on one’s own muscle strength. One always lands on the ground again. But in the process, the muscles become stronger. So maybe it’s not just a matter of real definitions, but of real limitations being used despite themselves to reach a transcendent goal: to make us fit to become lunar astronauts. 🙂

    I once asked what would happen if one tried to pull all one’s eight cognitive processes out of the Shadow into the light of conscious awareness, and keep them there, on one’s own strength of will. The best answer anyone has is that he who tried it would go permanently insane and drop permanently into the “Shadow”. No wonder Job all but buckled. He was trying to do that on his own strength, and even he couldn’t do it. Without God’s help, we simply can’t overcome that downward pull – not in any way that builds the kind of character He wants, to be sure.

    Sorry to take up your time, hopefully not too much of it! 🙂

  5. Fantastic points. I have never heard this counter-argument on the ‘Rock So Big’ idea … it was something I just thought was non-sensical, but didn’t have a fully formed answer. Yours was perfect. Thanks for sharing – and if you don’t mind, I think I may develop another followup article or speech out of this! Thanks Mr. S.

  6. Steven

    Great post Mr. Smith, however, the thing that drives me crazy is when people like yourself say things like “He cannot create an odd integer that is evenly divisible by two”. Who told you this? Since God is ALL POWERFUL and ALL KNOWING, has it not occurred to you that He is able to create a mathematical system that can make anything possible? You are limiting God’s ability because your assumption is that He must adhere to “human mathematics” and “human understanding”. Since when does God limit Himself by primitive human laws and rules? My point quite simply is, God’s power is so far beyond what we could ever comprehend, it is limitless, so please do not limit Him with our “human limitations”. Last time I checked, it is defies the “human law of physics” to be able to walk on water, but Jesus clearly proved that He was easily able to do that. Therefore, human laws (i.e. physics and/or mathematics etc.) do not apply to Him. I rest my case.

  7. Greetings, Steven, and while I’m sorry you are currently being driven crazy, the truth is still the truth. No one is limiting God to human laws and rules. Man didn’t invent the truths mathematics explores, nor did man invent odd and even numbers. “Odd” and “even” are simply descriptions of numbers man didn’t invent in any way. No, you can’t divide a number by two and get no remainder (an even number) and then later divide the same number by two and get a remainder of one (an odd number). We didn’t invent that property–we discovered it. Could God base the universe on a different kind of mathematics? Without going into needless detail, I will simply point out that it’s not even a relevant question, because if you “change the mathematics” such that talking about odd and even numbers is no longer sensible, then this hasn’t made making a number simultaneously odd and even any more possible than before. The definition of an odd integer is an integer that cannot be evenly divisible by two; therefore if you make an integer divisible by two, it is not an odd integer. No problem, and not a limit on God. That God can’t create a married bachelor or a square circle is not a limit on God in any way at all, and you seem to have missed the whole point of the post. Perhaps you could provide a different answer to the question, “Can God create a rock so big He cannot lift it?” Can He do so?

    Frankly, Steven, it is the Bible, itself, that says there are things God cannot do and some things that are impossible for Him (e.g., Heb. 6:18, 2 Tim. 2:13, Titus 1:2). If you have a problem with that, you need to take it up with the God who inspired your Bible, not with me. Or you can believe in a different “God” if you like–say, one that fits your own ideas of him better and which won’t drive you crazy. But I will stick with the one in the Bible, thanks. And if you would take some time to think about the matter instead of just react to it, you might learn something worthwhile.

    So, rest your case if you like, but I would remind you that 50% of all lawyers who do so lose those cases… 🙂

  8. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    A thought, in hopes I don’t expose my own ignorance somewhere in the process:

    Mathematics is, quite literally, the highest language there is, unless the Metalanguage proposed in a mathematical-linguistic proof put forward a number of years ago in the Creation Research Society Quarterly – the language of God Himself – is higher still. It reflects Reality As It Is, and As It Can and Cannot Be. And in that reality, some things simply aren’t possible.

    Mathematically, it is completely possible to have a metaphysical entity transcending this physical reality and so be able to, say, walk on water. By the same token, there is a Metalanguage that can express thoughts completely beyond human comprehension and yet can also reveal thoughts comprehensible to humans; this is completely possible mathematically (Q.E.D.). It is completely impossible to have an odd integer divisible by two, to have an irresistible force (God) and an immovable object (that infamous rock), or anything else that defies the logic of God’s Metalanguage.

    It is impossible for God to be illogical. That doesn’t limit Him – that empowers Him.

  9. Howdy, Mr. Wheeler! I think I skimmed that CRSQ paper and didn’t find it as proofy as it claimed to be, but it has been a while. However, I think the solution is more mundane than that. There can be no “odd & even” integer just as there can be no married bachelor, no birdhouse painted completely red and not-red, no round square, etc. Focusing on the “math” aspect of one of the examples can risk creating an unintended red herring in the matter. The issue is that these things are simply incoherent nonsense, whether they are statements about mathematical objects, bachelors, or birdhouses. That’s the issue Steven would need to come to grips with if he wants to understand what he’s talking about.

  10. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    Yes. 1) I always wondered what you thought of that paper. 2) Very true, the rest, but hasn’t the mathematical red herring been raised already, needing to be thrown back in the water? 🙂

    Only proving, perhaps, that I don’t even understand my own thinking, let alone anyone else’s. 😀

  11. There can be limitations on what God can do if He Himself makes those limitations according to His perfect character for righteous reasons.

    For example, God cannot lie.

    God can make promises, and He will never break His promises, because His character is perfect.

    God could make a rock, then promise not to lift it, and He would never break His promise.

    A question sometimes comes up about Satan. Satan cannot die. Yet, could God, who is all powerful and all merciful, put an end to Satan’s existence after the white throne judgment so he doesn’t suffer for eternity?

    But if God, millions of years ago, told Lucifer and the angels they would never die no matter what happens, if he promised them they would exist forever, for better or for worse, God will not and cannot lie, and will not break His word. And such a promise, that they would live forever, may have been necessary to create the right conditions to test their character and let them make choices by free moral agency without the fear that God would end their existence if they chose to go against God.

    When it comes to character, God has made the choice that the character He makes in us will be the kind of character that comes from the gift of His nature and His Spirit, but also the character that comes from our track record of right choices over time. That is the kind of character he wants in us, and by definition that character requires time to create. He does this because He wants our agreement to have that character built in us, and since we humans live in time, our agreement must take place in time.

  12. Without going into the devil’s punishment which would take us unnecessarily into the woods, I’ll just highlight that it is true that there are things God cannot do and not simply because he chooses not do do them. The key two words mentioned in your answer, ptgauthor, are “by definition.” God cannot create a married bachelor because, by the defintion of bachelor, there can be no such thing. God cannot create a round square because, by the definition of square, there can be no such thing. And God cannot create an odd number divisible by 2 because, by the defintion of odd number, there can be no such thing. The reason that He cannot create a rock so large He cannot lift it has nothing to do with what he promises; rather, no such rock can exist. Saying “a rock so big One who can lift anything cannot lift it” is an incoherent statement. It’s something that exists only as a collection of words that have no coherent meaning–again, like “married bachelor.”

    As my wife sometimes says with a smile when I am on a “roll”: “Are you really saying anything or are words just falling out of your mouth?” In the case of such incoherent concepts as round circles, married bachelors, rocks God can’t lift, even & odd numbers, and, I suspect, instant character, the latter case in her cute little scenario would apply.

  13. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    I think we should sneak a little into the woods, Mr. Smith, and for some good reasons well related to your topic. I hope you don’t mind overmuch. (I guess you’re right: “apologies in advance” DO have their social uses after all. 😀 )

    It can’t simultaneously be true that “they [Gk. feminine plural, meaning evil spirits, i.e., the Devil and by implication his demons, not the masculine trio of the Devil, the Beast and the False Prophet] shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” and that God will one day destroy the Devil and his demons. Again, it’s a matter of definitions. “To the ages of the ages” always is idiomatic for “eternity”. Almost always it has to do with the nature of God or of His reward of the saints. Only one or two verses containing the idiom ever cause people to stumble, because they refer to some aspect of God’s eternal punishment, and yet those problems can be resolved in a straightforward manner provided we avoid false assumptions about how God operates.

    Where do we get the idea that mercy is involved at all in the punishment of either angels or men? Everywhere I look in the Bible on both subjects, I see statements not about mercy but about justice: of punishment befitting the crime. We may also infer that the demons are presently being used despite themselves to help build (guess what?) righteous character in both angels and men. And we may also infer that they will stand as an eternal, living example to the rest of the angels about what will happen if they too rebel against God’s way.

    “Justice is without mercy to him who has shown no mercy”, says James, and accordingly justice is deservedly stricter with the Devil and his demons than it is with us. Otherwise, God wouldn’t employ a different penalty with the demons. In other words, as long as we want to avoid begging questions, how about not begging the question of whether the fate of either rebellious man or rebellious angels has anything to do with mercy at all?

    (…sorry, if I sound crabby despite myself it has nothing to do with this thread, although it may have to do with certain needs for mercy and/or caffeine… 😛 )

  14. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    (…unless you can point out how the other half of James’ verses, “yet mercy triumphs over justice” applies… 🙂 )

  15. Thanks, John. And obeirne: I really appreciate your comment. Actually, it reminds me of a speculation I had once that, in the end, things like lying, utter selfishness, etc. (that is, sinful stuff) might actually be inherently “logically incoherent” in some real and “foundation of reality” sort of way, as well, just as round circles and married bachelors. Being so far removed from the character of God, and God being the source of the grounding of reality, itself, maybe there is a connection between these verses and a sort of “unreality” inherent in these things. Just speculating! 🙂 Thanks, again!

  16. John Wheeler (Johanan Rakkav)

    I believe your speculation is right, Mr. Smith. Here’s why. Our very concepts of justice as a principle on the one hand and of things like law codes (in outline form, such as the Ten Commandments are) on the other are connected to our capacity for logical systems thinking on the one hand and logical ordering on the other. (One of the more fascinating insights of cutting-edge modeling of personality!) I’d accept as an axiom, for myself, that sinful things are both “logically incoherent” and in a sense “unreal”, precisely because they’re so far removed from the character of God on the one hand and how our personality is designed to be shaped into Godly character on the other.

  17. Steve

    Being whom He is, I think that God could indeed create perfect character through divine fiat. But you might as well create computerized robots. Perhaps God intended something much greater, far beyond what anyone could conceive, something that reflects His true majesty and power. And I suspect that God has things in store for His future children that the Bible itself doesn’t tell, because our minds wouldn’t be able to grasp it.

  18. That’s just it, Steve. If it’s preprogrammed, it isn’t choice and it isn’t character. A program may accomplish its designed purpose “faithfully” every time you run it, but no one would truly attribute character to the program. If instilling those characteristics within us would make us “computerized robots” then what has been instilled is not, in any real way, character. So we’re back at where we started (which is what the church teaches, which works out nicely!): God cannot create character by divine fiat.

  19. Steve

    I agree with you, Mr Smith. Absolutely. A free moral agent created with perfect character is another contradiction in terms. Just like “married bachelor.” God cannot create perfect character in a free moral agent. It requires the submission/cooperation of the free moral agent – who has choices to make.

    I’ve always been amazed about the concept of free moral agency. When you think about it – forgive the vernacular – free moral agency is a real mind blower. For me, it points to the incredible work that God is doing..

  20. Steve

    I suspect that we’re using the word “character” in a slightly different context. I was using the word in the sense of “the ability to not-sin.” Perhaps you were using the word in terms of choice and free moral agency. Somebody pull out the dictionaries!

  21. Thanks, Steve. True, a machine could be programmed to behave in ways we approve of, but in a sense it could not be programmed to sin or not to sin, because it has no moral standing. It’s just a machine. Generally, it’s why we say that only men can murder while animals can only kill. We are endowed with moral potential and possess moral standing, related intimately with free will but not identical to it. And you’re right, we seem to be using different definitions. I can’t use “character” (or, to specify a direction, “godly character”) to mean “not sinning” else I would have to say that zebras, rocking chairs, and staplers have such character, as none will ever sin. Character, in the way I am using it, is a quality only possessed by beings with moral potential and moral standing.

    Thanks for explaining further!


    Mr. Smith, isn’t it interesting that whenever I post a comment on a topic (of interest) that your blog suddenly explodes with a firestorm of additional comments? I think I am the best thing that happened to it (nudge nudge). Another interesting thing, why is it that whenever I correspond with you I feel like “Captain Picard” speaking to “Commander Data” from Star Trek TNG? The similarities are astonishing!

    Back to the topic Mr. Data, I mean, Mr. Smith. Let me “break it down for you” as they say. ONCE AGAIN, you have stereotypically changed my point from something clear and irrefutable into some sort of bizarre psychobabble about “supposed theoretical impossibilities etc. etc. -> so that you can be right.” What you are speaking about has nothing to do with my clear and easy to understand point(s). Let me clarify for you (and those that still do not understand):

    1) I, in no way disagree with you at all about what you said SPECIFICALLY and ONLY about the quote “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift”. Obviously, God can lift any size rock that He creates because He is limitless in power.

    2) “PTGAUTHER” seems to “get it” with respect to what I was saying. The quotes from the Bible you use are so “futile” (to use a Star Trek term) because as “PTGAUTHER” stated both OBVIOUSLY and CLEARLY that “There can be limitations on what God can do IF He Himself MAKES THOSE LIMITATIONS according to His perfect character for righteous reasons.” God cannot lie (for example), because He chooses NOT TO because of His perfect nature i.e. Being Holy! It does not mean He couldn’t do it if He wanted to!!! God CHOSE to create Lucifer (for example) whom HE ALREADY KNEW was going to become Satan BEFORE He created him. Everyone knows that God HATES evil with an ULTIMATE passion, so why would He create something/someone with such power that is pure evil? The reason is beyond human understanding, however, what we CAN say (in this case) is “it was His pleasure to create this being”.

    Are you following the logic/concept? The Bible makes this quite clear.

    Now, let me throw some (to use a basketball phrase) “breaking the backboard” verses at YOU that will (once and for all) prove the point that if God wants to create “an odd integer that is evenly divisible by two” He surely can!!! Ok, let’s start our lesson shall we?

    Verse #1 -> Let’s go with my friend Isaiah for this one. Isaiah 55:8-9 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” That means your simpleton human “integer problem” is a joke for God. Again, you are thinking as a human not at all focusing on the fact that God is LIMITLESS in power.

    ONCE AGAIN, let me point out the OBVIOUS. You are trying to “limit God” because of your human weakness and limited way of thinking. NO! God does not need to conform to your way of thinking or ways of trying to solve your “integer math problem”. That is a SIN to think that way. Actually, many have said that such an approach is blasphemous. Point being, God can EASILY solve your “so-called” math problem and DOES NOT need ANY LIMITED, FRAGILE and IGNORANT human being (be it you, me or anyone else) to tell Him He cannot do ANYTHING He chooses to do!

    Verse #2 -> Psalm 115:3 “Our God is in heaven; He does whatever pleases Him.” That just underscores what was said in Isaiah 55.

    Verse #3 -> Matthew 19:26 “Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Yes, even by using your primitive human mathematics God can STILL solve your “integer problem”, and not only that, but He can solve it in an INFINITE number of ways! Stop using (as “Q” would say) your “micro-brain” and start “widening” your views on God to the INFINITE as opposed to thinking “well, if I as a mathematician can’t do it, then God most certainly can not do it because He is governed by the laws of mathematics”. Uhhhh…….WRONG AGAIN! No He is NOT!

    I could continue to give you more Bible verses, but they would continue to prove what I have been saying is true (like beating a dead horse). That is, God can do ANYTHING whether we can conceive it OR NOT, He can do ANYTHING, for God is LIMITLESS in His power!

    Do you understand that concept Mr. Data, I mean, Mr. Smith? Perhaps, you are due for a CPU upgrade? As Mr. Meredith has said so many times “How big is your God?” I agree with him 100%! Too many people limit what God can do simply because they can’t conceive of how a “supposedly unsolvable” problem is able to be solved. God can solve ANY problem in an INFINITE number of ways (IF He chooses to) in this universe or ANY universe! If you still do not understand that concept (or what I am saying), then I can’t help you any further.

    God bless!

  23. Howdy, Steven, and thanks for trying again, though I wish you had taken the time to try and understand what was being said instead of simply reacting again. A few notes:

    • Picard & Data? While I’ll take your comparison of me to Data as an unintended compliment, methinks you give yourself a bit too much credit as Picard. Maybe Reginald Barclay and Data? I don’t know, but you surely have a counterpart in there somewhere…
    • Ha! Your comment about blogs “exploding” after you comment on them is funny. Unless you actually believe it, then I would say you are committing the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. (Yes, I wrote that in the hopes you would look it up. Looking stuff up can be educational!) It is more likely that you are drawn to comment on posts that others are also drawn to comment on — something, by the way, which I have found is hard to predict. My most popular posts aren’t even necessarily the ones that have the most comments. (Nor are they the ones that you have commented on. [smile]) Regardless, thanks for commenting, and I hope you can learn something in all of this. Life spent only in reaction without contemplation and learning is a real bummer.
    • Thanks for your concession in your Point 1: God cannot create a rock so big that He can’t lift it. Therefore He cannot do “things” that make no logical sense whatsoever — that is, He cannot do “things” that aren’t actually “things” but are just nonsense that has the illusion of sounding sensible. I’m glad that you agree. If only you understood that you agree…
    • Sorry, you can’t so easily dismiss what the Bible says so clearly. God cannot deny Himself. I didn’t inspire the “cannot.” God did. The Scripture is clear. Unlike our current natures, God’s nature is eternal, and His character includes so much more than we often give it credit for. As for additional verses, read on…
    • Your verses don’t prove your point at all, because your interpretation of them contradicts the other verses. You have to put all the verses together to understand the point (Isaiah 28:9-10), not just pick your favorites, Steven. “With God, all things are possible.” How wonderfully true, and we should praise Him for it! Yet, not all “things” are really “things” — some “statements” are simply incoherent nonsense. God cannot create a rock too big for him to lift. You agree with this. Great! You just don’t seem to understand what you understand. Strange that, but not too strange, because it is a bigger idea to understand than some give it credit for — though once understood it becomes simple. What’s truly strange is how passionate you are about dogmatically defending, maintaining, and cultivating that ignorance. If God cannot create a rock bigger than He can lift AND that is not a limit on God but a limit on what kinds of rocks can exist and on the English language to always express coherent ideas (indeed, “a rock so big an omnipotent being can’t lift it” is a collection of words that make no sense), how hard is it to understand that other strings of words make no sense? A married bachelor? Nonsense. Not a “thing” at all. A number that is both odd and even? Nonsense. Not a “thing” at all. Actually, it brings up a thought that deserves a different bullet…
    • Maybe it is the math thing that is confusing. After all, you say inaccurately that I am saying “God… is governed by the laws of mathematics,” when I’m not saying that at all. (Numbers aren’t “even” or “odd” by some “law of mathematics.” Those are simply descriptions of opposites that God created, like married men and bachelors are descriptions of something God created.) So if you’d like to write again, maybe you can focus on the other example I keep using: Can God create a married bachelor? The answer is that He cannot, but it isn’t a limit on God’s power: rather it is just that “married bachelor” is a nonsense combination of words. Focus on that, perhaps: Can God create a married bachelor? If you say “no”, then you demonstrate you agree with me about the even/odd thing, you just don’t realize it. If you say “yes” then you demonstrate that you don’t understand what you are saying. (Cop outs like “Well, He can create a married guy whose name is ‘Bachelor'” don’t work. We’re using real words with real meanings: “married” meaning someone who is currently married, and “bachelor” as a man who is currently not married. Answer that one, Steven: Can God create a married bachelor? Your answer to that one will help clarify a lot. The entire post I’ve written would still be true even if I took the example of the odd/even thing out, and left all the other examples in, and it would be expressing the very same points as it does now. So, Steven: Can God create a married bachelor?
    • As for “widening” my views on God, believe me, my friend, they are wide, indeed. It is because they are wide and in the context of the infinite wideness they strive for that I say these things.
    • And I don’t mind beating dead horses. I do it all the time. (This comment is case in point.) I just object to beating a dead cow and calling it a dead horse. If you will let me, I will help you find the horse.
    • I agree: God is unlimited! Not being able to create a married bachelor is no limit on God whatsoever God. Rather, it displays the limits of the English language’s dependability to be able to express only sensible thoughts. Creating a “married bachelor” isn’t an unsolvable problem to be solved. It isn’t a problem any more than “9r8j1h eorij348 p348ur2” is a problem. They, like numbers simultaneously odd & even, colors simultaneously red and opposite-of-red, and round squares are simply nonsense. The only difference between such non-things and “9r8j1h eorij348 p348ur2” is that the latter does us the favor of revealing its gibberish more blatantly.

    So, thanks again for writing. And if you have an answer for whether or not God can create a married bachelor, then feel free to comment again. I think it really will clear up a lot of confusion, whether on your part or mine. If not, then you are likely right and we can’t help each other any further. (Or “help” each other, as the case may be.) And if you do write back on the “married bachelor” thing, then please forgive me for any delay in approving the comment. I am spending the rest of the day with my kiddos as I won’t be seeing them for almost three weeks beginning next Tuesday, so I plan on avoiding the computer as much as possible.

    (BTW: I’ve used too many contractions in this comment to be Data.)


    Mr. Smith, it seems to me (as well as friends of mine that given me their feedback regarding your blog) that your are (once again) “creating your own reality” in order to try and prove your point. A “married bachelor” can EASILY be created by God. After all, as Jesus said “ALL things are possible with God”. He did NOT say “all things except for what Wallace G. Smith considers a thing”. For Heaven’s sake! “All” MEANS ALL! “All things” even includes your “married/bachelor” that we cannot understand as being possible (as humans), but AGAIN, you limit your idea to what a “thing” is or what God can do! A “thing” is ANY idea or item/person in existence or that does not exist without limit. STOP changing things to fit your argument! ANYTHING is a “thing” – be it possible or impossible (for humans). Therefore, OF COURSE God can create a “married/bachelor” or whatever else that you would consider impossible to exist (IF He wanted to). Otherwise, He wouldn’t be called God, now would He? How can an ALL POWERFUL God be limited by what Wallace G. Smith calls a “thing”?

    The bottom line comes down to this. The phrase “ALL POWERFUL”. God is indeed “All Powerful”, meaning that He can do absolutely ANYTHING! The ONLY way your argument would “hold any water” would be if God was not “All Powerful”. If that were true, then I would gladly agree that a married/bachelor could not exist because the only One that could create such a “thing” (i.e. God) would not be able to do it due to the limitations of His power, buuuuuuut that’s NOT what the Bible says, now does it? Unless, you are calling Jesus a liar when He said “All things are possible with God”? Either you believe Jesus is ALL POWERFUL or you don’t. It’s just that simple. I MOST CERTAINLY BELIEVE that God IS All Powerful! No question about it.

    The only other way I can see you having any merit in this issue is if you were to concede that God is able to create or do ANYTHING due to the fact that He IS All Powerful (including a “married/bachelor”) but CHOOSES NOT TO create one based on His infinite wisdom with respect to if it is in His will to do so. AGAIN, just because something might not be in His will to do DOES NOT MEAN he cannot do it, and that is my point. I don’t know that I can make it any more clear than that.

    P.s. In “your world” we will have to call it a “coincidence” that the comments are far more numerous when I present a credible/entertaining/electrifying and dynamic challenge to what you post. Of course, I only choose to comment on topics I find of interest.

  25. Steve

    Allow me one more comment, and then I’ll leave you alone: You can consider my previous comments a poor choice of words on my part. I simply meant that God could’ve made us incapable of sin, in the same way that a kitchen appliance or puppet is incapable of sin. But of course He has something far greater planned. My faulty use of the word “character” probably gave you a false impression of what I was trying to say. For the record, then, let me simply state… I agree with you… God cannot create perfect character through divine fiat. And I know it must be tough fielding different conversations with several people simultaneously. My sympathies!

  26. Steve

    God cannot create perfect character through divine fiat, because He can’t determine what choices the individual will make. Doing so would remove free moral agency, which is a contradiction in terms. (Ah! commented again. Sorry).

  27. I have to admit that I’ve always preferred the phrase that God cannot create godly character by fiat over the question of whether or not He can create it “instantaneously”. After all, the first is a matter of effort, and it took effort to create the world, to become human and die for the world, not to mention our individual efforts. “Instant” or “instantaneous”, however, are subjective time descriptions. And, just what is an “instant” to a being Who not only lived from forever to forever but created time itself?

  28. Steven Schembri: Thanks for mentioning that you shared all this with your friends. I always find that cute when you say that. What a surprise that some of your friends agree with you and some of my friends agree with me! Shocking! And truly impressive arguing on your part. It really is cute when you do that, and I hope you keep doing it in future posts.

    And you’re right: It’s clear we aren’t going to get through to each other. If you want to live in a world where you can interpret the Bible however you like, feel free. You can live in that world, and I’ll live in a world where the Bible is beautifully and internally consistent. You believe that “all powerful” means what you imagine it to mean, and I’ll stick to what the Bible says it means. Sounds like a good deal.

    And if it helps you somehow to live in that same, special world where somehow your comments are both “credible” and “electrifyingly and dynamically challenging” (I will grant you “entertaining” though probably not for reasons you would agree with) and make those posts more popular — hey, more power to you. Glad I could help. (Though, I must say that on bearing witness to how “awesome” your own comments are, you might want to read John 5:31.)

    steve: Thanks for being so kind, but I really should have realized what you meant. In things like this when folks won’t take the time to think clearly about what they are actually saying (re: the previous individual), I tend to get picky about the definitions to prevent misunderstanding. However, it’s clear what you meant, and I agree! No apology necessary. 🙂

    iammarchhare: I think that’s a great point, and I say that to selfishly pat myself on the back because I have had similar thoughts. 🙂 In the context of our future eternal existence, the “time” we will have spent developing character in God’s plan will be, in a very real way, “zero” — it will be, in effect, instantaneous! We may be, in a sense, living out “instantaneous” from a eternal being’s perspective. Yet, I still think that it is a sensible question to try to understand why character cannot be created instantly. And “by fiat” only hides the issue behind a less famliiar word, since, if we can play with “instantaneous” we can also say character is being created “by fiat” if we go strictly by the definition of “fiat.” We are, after all, undergoing a character-building process that exists by God’s “authoritative decree” — and we could even invoke Romans 4:17b.

    Actually, I think the truth of the matter touches on all of these things, which is why I point (however vaguely and poorly!) to the depth of the matter: when we are speaking of developing godly character (really, the character of God, Himself), I suspect that we are speaking of something of eternal weight and significance — something of a greater realm than we usually give it credit for and which may be more of a mystery than we think.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  29. P.S. I did spend the day with my kids, by the way. Legos were purchased, frisbees were tossed, 80s A-Team episodes were watched, and there was much rejoicing. 🙂 Still some of the day left, but it’s been a good one so far!

  30. I agree that some things cannot exist because they are self contradictory. The problem is, we do not yet have a pure language to talk about things, and our minds are limited because we know only in part. We should have the humility to know that we can make mistakes about what is self-contradictory and what is not. I can understand, for example, that “married bachelor” is a contradiction, but how about “eternal being who dies” – is that a contradiction? That idea may be a stumbling block for more people than God creating a rock so large he can’t lift it.

    But God creating a rock so large He can’t lift it is not a contradiction in language the same way “married bachelor” is. “Bachelor” is by definition the opposite of “married man”. But to know that there is no such thing as a rock so big God cannot lift it, you must know something about God, which is where the debate comes in. The language itself doesn’t contradict by itself, unless you first define God as He who is able to do anything. For example, is it a contradiction of terms to say, “Wally Smith cannot make a rock so big he can’t lift it”? No, if you can make a rock at all (let’s say, a block of cement is equivelent), you can certainly make one too big to lift.

    People who use the rock puzzle to challenge the existence of God can come back with something else if you tell them there is no such thing, but the real answer is that God does not say He can do anything. Christ said all things are possible for God, but we have to put all scriptures together on that subject, and God Himself makes exceptions, such as, it is impossible for God to lie. It is also impossible for God to deny Himself, and it is impossible for God to sin.

    In one account, when Christ prayed to God in the garden, He said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will” (Mark 14:36). But He also said, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matthew 26:39). In one statement, He says it is possible, and in another, He says IF it is possible. Christ, in His emotional stress, desired a way out, even though he knew for this purpose He was born. At that point, He may not have been sure if there was a way out, what was possible and what was not possible. Yet the real answer for Him was, it doesn’t matter, just submit to God’s will. God knows what is possible, we only need to trust and submit to Him.

    I always have a ready answer, at least for myself, if someone challenges me about some aspect of God nature, and I do not know the answer. I simply say, even to myself, “I do not know.” There are many things I do not know about God.

    By the way, we shouldn’t gamble, but lest anyone be tempted, don’t ever bet anyone that there is no such thing as a “square circle”. You could lose, because there is such a thing. (I am being playful here.)

  31. Howdy, ptgauthor, and thanks for your comments. I don’t think we disagree as much as it might seem at first glance.

    You’re right: much of these supposed problems are the result of language issues and the ability of our language to allow meaningful-sounding collections of words that are simply gibberish. For instance, “married bachelor” when, by definition, a bachelor is not married. I would differ on the rock thing, though, because it is just as much a self-contradictory description as “married bachelor.” It’s easier to see if we use more explanatory descriptions than “God” or “Wally Smith,” which are essentially names. In the case of God, the self-contradiction is evident when it’s phrased more descriptively: “Can a being who can lift anything create a rock so big he can’t lift it?” The said rock must be “a rock so big that a being who can lift anything cannot lift it.” That’s nonsense and completely self-contradictory, just like a “married bachelor.” However, in the case of poor, wimpy Wally Smith, we ask, instead, “Can a being who can’t lift everything create a rock so big he can’t lift it?” You’re right, there is no contradiction there. But God and Wally Smith are not the same person (and aren’t we all glad!!!), and the words or names “God” and “Wally Smith” bring information to the statement that is hidden behind them but which is unavoidably and inherently involved in comprehending the “rock” question, just as the definition of bachelor, though “hidden” and not explicitly stated, is inherently involved with comprehending “married bachelor.”

    This is, in plain language, why God cannot create a simultaneously odd and even integer. It isn’t a matter of man-made rules He “must” obey. Rather, it’s just a matter of what the words mean. For integers, “odd” simply means “not even.” Saying “a simultaneously odd and even integer” is just as nonsensical and self-contradictory a set of words as “married bachelor” and “rock so big one who can lift anything can’t lift it.” As for “square circle” or “round square” unless there is some verbal slight of hand and equivocating, any bets I would have made would be perfectly safe. 🙂

    Thanks for your comment about the need to let the Bible define its own terms. That’s one of the points I tried to make many moons ago in my “God and the Three O’s” article in the Sep-Dec 2007 Living Church News: If the Bible says God is omnipotent (and it does explicitly in Rev. 19:6, as well as implicitly in other verses), we must allow the Bible to define what that term means for us as opposed to define it however we would like as Mr. Schembri has done in these comments.

    I will be lazy here and quote myself from that article:

    “The Greek word translated as ‘Omnipotent’ here is pantokrator, meaning ‘All-ruling’ or (as it is more frequently translated) ‘Almighty.’ When we say God is ‘Almighty,’ we are stating our belief in His authority and rulership over all creation, and the Bible is firm in declaring this fact. Even though Satan is now the ‘god of this age’ (2 Corinthians 4:4), it belongs to him only because Almighty God has granted it to Him: ‘And the devil said to Him, “All this authority [over all the kingdoms of this world] I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish”‘ (Luke 4:6).

    “It is God who ultimately reigns in the universe, and all legitimate authority must derive from Him. If we let Scripture tell us of God’s authority, we must agree that He has all authority to do all His pleasure (Isaiah 46:10–11), and to see to the fulfillment of His plans without fail. If we accept the Scriptural definition of ‘almighty’—and we must accept no other!—we can rightly call God omnipotent. Indeed, Christ says clearly that ‘with God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19:26).

    “However, if we were to insist that omnipotent meant God could do anything and everything at all, we would need to reject that description, because His word says He cannot! For example, God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2), and He ‘cannot deny Himself’ (2 Timothy 2:13). The Bible clearly shows that God cannot act contrary to His nature. But do these ‘cannots’ mean He is not omnipotent—not almighty? Not if we let Scripture define its own terms!”

    That last sentence is the kicker that some get and others don’t. I’m really glad you agree. And I agree, too, that all of us need to be ready to say we don’t know when we don’t know! We are truly talking “above our pay grade,” to borrow a regrettable turn of phrase, when we discuss such things and it will be amazing one day to “know as we are known” (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12).

    Thanks for your comments!

  32. Norbert

    Couldn’t such a thing like a square circle exist outside of mathematics?

    For instance way back when in social circles, the “in” crowd regarded persons like nerds as “squares”. Thus the creation of a square circle of friends. 🙂

  33. Don Wheatley

    “During my walking routine these days as I work on Wally v.3.0”

    I encourage you to keep on working out. I am working on v.6.3 myself and find all kinds of excuses not to and that really hurts since I used to own a health club before God called me through Mr. Armstrong and I used to encourage others to change their lifestyles by exercising and eating properly.

    But I look at others who would not compromise and it encourages me to try to do better:

    Jack LaLanne is sometimes called “the godfather of fitness” and the “first fitness superhero.”

    On working out:
    Jack LaLanne “…you gotta do it. Dying is easy, living is tough. I hate working out. Hate it. But I like the results.”

    LaLanne claimed he never missed a workout.

    In 1984 at age 70, LaLanne handcuffed, shackled and fighting strong winds and currents, towed 70 rowboats, one with several guests, from the Queen’s Way Bridge in the Long Beach Harbor to the Queen Mary, 1 mile.

    In 2011 at age 96, LaLanne died of respiratory failure due to pneumonia at his home. According to his family, he had been sick for a week, but refused to see a doctor. They added that he had been performing his daily workout routine the day before his death.

    On Sleep:
    LaLanne tried to get between seven to eight hours of sleep each night going to bed between 9 and 10 p.m.

    On nutrition:
    Jack LaLanne: “if man made it, don’t eat it”, and “if it tastes good, spit it out.”

    LaLanne often stressed that artificial food additives, drugs, and processed foods contributed to making people mentally and physically ill.

    LaLanne ate two meals a day and didn’t have any snacks between meals.

  34. Laura Bashus

    Hi Mr. Smith, I read through your article and comments last week. I can’t say I followed the logic behind all the comments, nor am I interested in the question on whether there can be a married bachelor. I myself think that’s quite silly – it’s like asking whether earth can be mars, or whether my chair can be a table. If their creators intended them to be mars, or a table, he would have simply made them so. If he wanted them to be both things at the same time, I personally think God is creative enough to accomplish that, but that wasn’t His intention. He created each for a specific purpose, and without confusion. But my real question, that I’ve pondered for some time, is the question of what God can or can’t do with character development. If God is incredible enough to create the very emotions that we express – and make those emotions that we feel so different for men and women – and can bring about circumstances in our lives to suit His purpose, then why can’t He do it for everyone? Please know I ask this very sincerely. We look at John the Baptist, who came about at just the right time before Christ, and served the exact purpose for which he was needed. And at the same time we have Judas Iscariot, who also served a purpose at exactly the time ordained by God. I’m not saying that I believe everything we do is controlled, but I can’t help believing that God must have the ability to control anything He wishes. He just chooses not to, so that we can make that choice ourselves. So the question for me is, not whether He knows how to create good character, but rather, for what purpose does He want us to make that choice ourselves? If John the Baptist lived a life happy enough even though God intervened and gave him a good measure of the Holy Spirit even before he was born, then why doesn’t He cause all of our genes to come together just right, and give us all more measure of the Holy Spirit, so that we all choose what is good, similar to what it will be like in the kingdom? The only thing I come up with is that God wants us to experience the suffering that comes from evil, so that when we’re 500 zillion years down the road and He sends us out to create and carry out His plans, millions of light years away from His presence, we remember all the problems the evil caused and aren’t tempted to go down that path again. Or if we don’t remember the evil (as the Bible states), we’ll at least have it infused in our very essence that we never want to stray from God and His goodness. And so I suppose we’re back to the question of character, and instant character. It’s not “instant”, and even if God knows how to create it, it’s of course obvious that He must want us to make choices ourselves since He put us in this state. I can only surmise it’s so that we never lose it. ..which is permanent, holy, righteous character. Hmmmm. I do continually come back around to what our Church always taught. Yay! But I sure do wish there was an easier way to gain that holy righteous character! Thanks for letting me talk this through.

  35. Laura Bashus

    And one correction to a statement I made above…. the Bible does state that God doesn’t want us to experience evil – He wants us to choose the good. But He let’s us make that choice and then experience the consequences. Do you think if Adam and Eve had chosen to reject the tree of good and evil, we would consider the process of character development to be considered more “instantaneous” than it is for us now? I’ll certainly be glad when Christ returns and gives us much better minds and complete understanding of all this.

  36. Norbert, you hit the nail on the head. That is exactly what I had in mind when I said that there is such a thing as a square circle and that we should never make a bet about such things. Someone might pull out a dictionary.

    When I was a teenager, I bet my dad 1 or 2 dollars I could make water stay in a plastic or paper cup when the cup was turned upside down without putting any kind of cover over the water. So I froze it, turned it upside down, and the ice stayed in the cup. But that created hard feelings because, to my dad, ice was not water, but to me, who loves science, ice and water are the same thing, just different forms. Each of us thought he had won the bet and that the other was a bad loser, or a cheat.

    Words can have different meanings depending on the context, and words can mean different things to different people. Many arguments people get into are about words, not substance. The way we use words creates misunderstandings.

  37. Laura: Thanks for your thoughts, Laura!

    ptgauthor: Thanks for your thoughts, too, ptgauthor, but if you think what Norbert said somehow means God actually can create a square circle, you would be wrong. I enjoyed Norbert’s comment, but understood it as merely a fun, tongue-in-cheek comment and not any sort of change concerning what can and cannot exist. We could also say God could create a man named “Barney Bachelor” and have him marry. Does that mean God can create a married bachelor? No. We aren’t playing word games. We’re talking about literal circles and squares and bachelors and married persons and even numbers and odd numbers. We’re accepting those things for all they imply and not playing word games. We’re trying to understand something about reality, not trying to win a bet with our dad. And in that case, it is still true: God cannot create a square circle (or a round square) and He cannot create a married bachelor. It is not because if limits on Him, rather it is because such things are complete nonsense — nonsensical combinations of words that mean nothing.

    So, if a nail has been hit on the head, it is a different one than you think. 🙂

  38. You are right Mr. Smith, a “square circle”, as the words are intended, is a nonsensical term, an impossibility. I understood Norbert’s reply as tongue-in-cheek, same as when I said that I was being playful when I said there is such a thing as a “square circle”. I don’t think we have any disagreement here.

    I guess it is a little hard for me to think about the questions, can God make a square circle, or, can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it, as anything other than tongue-in-cheek. It is hard for me to comprehend why people would seriously be troubled by anything like that. I have to accept the fact that some have been troubled because they do not know how to answer, but when I hear something like that, my mind shifts to “word-play mode”, because it is hard for take something like “square circle” as a serious problem or as anything other than a game to be played for fun. So when someone says, can God make a married bachelor, I think, “game-time, time to have fun trying to answer”.

    But I maybe I am wrong to make fun of a issue that for some people can be a real problem. Your answer, that these terms are nonsensical, is the best answer in such cases. God can make any thing, but a square circle is not a thing.

  39. Norbert

    The way I see it the twisting of words can be a good vehicle for humor (not always), but it’s also a language tool that can be used to seriously lead people in the wrong direction.

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