Are there things God simply cannot do? This is a question often posed by those attempting to understand the incomprehensible nature of God. To deal with this issue, let’s first ensure that we are getting our theology from Scripture, rather than songs we hear on Spotify. We must always check our perceptions against what God, Himself, has revealed in His word.
God can only do what is within the reality of His divine nature. By saying, “God can do anything He wants to do,” in itself, places a limit on what God can do. For example, since God is absolutely holy, He cannot possibly want to lie, cheat, steal, or in any way be tempted to do so. To want to sin would be a violation of His nature. In the same way, He could not simply ignore His justness and forgive mankind’s sin without atonement for it being made. To satisfy this, atonement was provided by God Himself in the person, Jesus Christ.
It must be affirmed that one attribute of God does not in any way negate or preclude another divine attribute. In other words, His love does not negate His justice. Nor does His omnipotence make it possible for Him violate His holiness. The question is often asked, usually by a scoffer, “Can God make a rock so heavy that He cannot lift it?” The question itself is incoherent because it places God at odds with Himself.
It is also important to understand that His attributes were not created nor established by Him. As God’s existence is self-evident, His attributes are also self-evident. His attributes make up His eternal divine nature. In other words, God did not create the concept of goodness—He is, in His nature good. He cannot simply choose to be evil, because that would violate His holiness. Evil is not an attribute unto itself. Evil is simply the absence of God’s goodness. The ten commandments, or the moral law, are not simply ten things God decided to impose upon mankind. They are a reflection of the character and nature of God Himself.
Regarding this important issue, one must look at the attributes of God that Scripture reveals. What follows is just a sampling of what Scripture teaches about the nature and character of God:
God is Wise (Romans 11:33; Isaiah 40:28)
That God possesses all wisdom, which includes logic, intelligence, coherence, etc., precludes the notion that God can do what is unwise, illogical, unintelligent, or incoherent. For example, He cannot create a square triangle, nor make 2+2=5.
Along this same line of thought, God cannot allow Himself to be deceived. To fall under deception would be a violation of His absolute wisdom.
God is Infinite (Psalm 147:5; 2 Chronicles 6:18)
This attribute may be one of the most difficult ones to comprehend. In speaking of God as being infinite, we are not simply referring to His height or breadth. By saying God is infinite we mean that He exists outside and beyond the limitations of time and space. Also, that God is infinite has bearing on all His other attributes. His wisdom is infinite. His holiness is infinite. His knowledge is infinite, etc. Contemplating God’s infinitude is both humbling and overwhelming. As Thomas Watson said in his book, A Body of Divinity, “Oh what a poor nothing is man, when we think of God’s infiniteness! As the stars disappear at the rising of the sun, oh, how does a man shrink into nothing, when infinite majesty shines forth in its glory!”
God is Eternal and Eternally God (1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Tim. 6:16)
Since God is eternal and eternally God, He cannot choose to cease being God, nor in any way diminish His own existence.
God is All-knowing
Since God knows all things and created all things, He has no capacity to learn. He cannot experience surprise or wonder. This does not mean that He cannot create something new, like a fourth primary color, or a new created being. Such a being, however, could not possibly share in the divine nature of the Godhead for this would violate God’s immutability (that He is unchanging, Hebrews 13:8; Malachi 3:6).
God is Loving
While God’s love is often regarded as universal, this actually goes against what Scripture reveals. God, in His holiness cannot love what is evil, (Proverbs 6:16-19; Malachi 2:3; Romans 9:13).
God is Holy
In His holiness, God cannot allow sin to go unpunished. He cannot simply decide to forgive sin without it being atoned for, (Exodus 34:6-7). This is why Jesus had to die, (Romans 6:23). Christ’s death satisfied God’s wrath, which is a manifestation of His divine justice. Additionally, since God cannot sin it is impossible for God to repent, (Numbers 23:19).
God is Omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-12)
God’s omnipresence precludes that possibility the He can discover anything new. As was stated before, this does not mean that He cannot create something new.
God is Omnipotent (Ephesians 1:19; Daniel 4:35)
I’ve touched on this attribute already. It means that God has absolute power. On this attribute, people often struggle with the existence of evil if God is simultaneously good, omniscient, and omnipotent. This is commonly referred to as theodicy. There are multiple problems with this view, but for the sake of space, I will quote the theologian Carl Henry, “Any conception of omnipotence that requires God to contradict Himself reflects a conjectural and ridiculous notion of absolute power.”
Much more could be written on this subject, and indeed it has. Still, people struggle with these questions. As we study, it is vitally important to ensure that our view of God is worthy of Him. He has revealed much about Himself in both creation and His Word. But of course, this revelation is in no way exhaustive. God is infinite, and as His people, we will spend eternity learning about Him.