Also See Can God Create a Stone so Heavy That He Cannot Move It? (below)
One of the most common expressions one hears in Christian circles, especially for reassurance when things aren't going well, is that "God is in control, He's still on the throne." Christians comfort themselves with these words but what do they mean? Was God not "in control" when Satan rebelled and when Adam and Eve disobeyed, but now He is? Does God's being in control mean that all the rape, murder, war and multiplied evil is exactly what He planned and desires?
Christ asks us to pray, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Mt. 6:10). Why that prayer if we are already in God's kingdom with Satan bound, as John Calvin taught and Reconstructionists claim today? Could a world of rampant evil really be what God wills? Surely not!
"Wait a minute!" someone counters. "Are you suggesting that our omnipotent God is unable to effect His will upon earth? What heresy is this! Paul clearly says that God `worketh all things after the counsel of his own will' (Ephesians 1:11)."
Yes. But the Bible itself contains many examples of men defying God's will and disobeying Him. God laments, "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me" (Isaiah 1:2). The sacrifices they offer Him and their evil lives are obviously not according to His will. We are told that "the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected for themselves the counsel of God" (Luke 7:30). Christ's statement in Matthew 7:21 shows clearly that everyone doesn't always do God's will. That is implied also in Isaiah 65:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:17-19, Hebrews 10:36, 1 Peter 2:15, 1 John 2:17 and many other scriptures. In fact, Ephesians 1:11 doesn't say that everything that happens is according to God's will, but according to "the counsel" of His will. Clearly the counsel of God's will has given man freedom to disobey Him. There is no other explanation for sin.
Yet in his zeal to protect God's sovereignty from any challenge, A.W. Pink argues earnestly, "God fore-ordains everything which comes to pass....God initiates all things, regulates all things...."  Edwin H. Palmer agrees: "God is in back of everything. He decides and causes all things to happen that do happen....He has foreordained everything `after the counsel of his will' (Ephesians 1:11): the moving of a finger...the mistake of a typist even sin." 
InPlainsite.org Note Calvinism (on THIS Page) is one more illustration of the futility of systematic theology. God's truths are too lofty to be put into concise formulae. The Five Points of Calvinism oversimplify the profound truths of God. They derive their force from proof-texts rather than the general tenor of Scripture.
Right here we confront a vital distinction. It is one thing for God, in His sovereignty and without diminishing that sovereignty, to give man the power to rebel against Him. This would open the door for sin as solely man's responsibility by a free choice. It is something entirely different for God to control everything to such an extent that He must effectively cause man to sin.
It is a fallacy to imagine that for God to be in control of His universe He must therefore foreordain and initiate everything. Thus He causes sin, then punishes the sinner. To justify this view, it is argued that "God is under no obligation to extend His grace to those whom He predestines to eternal judgment." In fact, however, obligation has no relationship to grace.
It actually diminishes God's sovereignty to suggest that He cannot use to His own purposes what He doesn't foreordain and originate. There is neither logical nor biblical reason why a sovereign God by His own sovereign design could not allow creatures made in His image the freedom of genuine moral choice. And there are compelling reasons why He would do so.
Many an atheist (or sincere seeker who is troubled by evil and suffering) throws in our faces, "You claim your God is all-powerful. Then why doesn't He stop evil and suffering? If He could and doesn't, He's a monster; if He can't, then He isn't all-powerful!" The atheist thinks he has us cornered.
The answer involves certain things which God cannot do.
But God is infinite in power, so there must be nothing He can't do! Really? The very fact that He is infinite in power means He cannot fail. There is much else which finite beings do all the time but which the infinite, absolutely sovereign God cannot do because He is God: lie, cheat, steal, sin, be mistaken, etc. In fact, much else that God cannot do is vital for us to understand in meeting challenges from skeptics.
Tragically, there are many sincere questions which most Christians can't answer. Few parents have taken the time to think through the many intellectual and theological challenges their children increasingly face, challenges for which today's youth find no answers from so many pulpits and Sunday-school lessons. As a result, growing numbers of those raised in evangelical homes and churches are abandoning the "faith" they never adequately understood.
Is sovereignty and power the cure-all? Many Christians superficially think so. Yet there is much for which sovereignty and power are irrelevant. God acts not only sovereignly, but in love, grace, mercy, kindness, justice and truth. His sovereignty is exercised only in perfect harmony with all of His other attributes.
There is much that God cannot do, not in spite of who He is, but because of who He is. Even Augustine, described as the first of the early so-called Church Fathers who "taught the absolute sovereignty of God,"  declared, "Wherefore, He cannot do some things for the very reason that He is omnipotent." 
Because of His absolute holiness, it is impossible for God to do evil, to cause others to do evil or even to entice anyone into evil: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted, neither tempteth he any man..." (Jas 1:13-14). But what about the many places in Scripture where it says God tempted someone or was tempted? For example, "God did tempt Abraham" (Gn 22:1). The Hebrew word there and throughout the Old Testament is nacah, which means to test or prove, as in assaying the purity of a metal. It has nothing to do with tempting to sin. God was testing Abraham's faith and obedience.
If God cannot be tempted, why is Israel warned, "Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 6:16)? We are even told that at Massah, in demanding water, "they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not?" (Ex 17:7). Later they "tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust... they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Yea...they provoked the most high" (Ps 78:18, 56, 41).
God was not being tempted to do evil, He was being provoked, thus His patience was being tested. Instead of waiting upon Him obediently to meet their needs, His people were demanding that He use His power to give them what they wanted to satisfy their lusts. Their "temptation" of God was a blasphemous challenge forcing Him either to give in to their desire or to punish them for rebellion.
When Jesus was "tempted of the devil" to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple to prove the promise that angels would bear Him up in their hands, He quoted, "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God" (Mt 4:1-11). In other words, to put ourselves deliberately in a place where God must act to protect us is tempting Him.
James goes on to say, "but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed." Temptation to evil does not come from without but from within. The man who could not possibly be "tempted" to be dishonest in business may succumb to the temptation to commit adultery and thus be dishonest with his wife. It is said that "every man has his price."
God was not tempting Adam and Eve to sin when He told them not to eat of a particular tree. Eve was tempted by her own lust and selfish desire. Even in innocence man could be selfish and disobedient. We see this in young infants who as yet presumably don't know the difference between right and wrong.
Additionally, there are a number of other things which God cannot do. God cannot deny Himself or contradict Himself. He cannot change. He cannot go back on His Word. Specifically in relationship to mankind, there are some things God cannot do which are very important to understand and to explain to others. One of the most fundamental concepts (and least understood by "religious" people) is this: He cannot forgive sin without the penalty being paid and accepted by man.
Are we saying that in spite of His sovereignty and infinite power God cannot forgive whomever He wills, He cannot simply wipe their slate clean in the heavenly record? Exactly: He cannot, because He is also perfectly just. "So are you suggesting," some complain, "that God wants to save all mankind but lacks the power to do so? It is a denial of God's omnipotence and sovereignty if there is anything He desires but can't accomplish." In fact, omnipotence and sovereignty are irrelevant with regard to forgiveness.
Christ in the Garden the night before the cross cried out, "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me..." (Mt 26:39). Surely if it had been possible to provide salvation any other way, the Father would have allowed Christ to escape the excruciating physical sufferings of the cross and the infinite spiritual agony of enduring the penalty His perfect justice had pronounced upon sin. But even for the omnipotent God there was no other way. It is important that we clearly explain this biblical and logical truth when we present the gospel.
Suppose a judge has before him a son, a daughter or other loved one found guilty of multiple murders by the jury. In spite of his love, the judge must uphold the penalty demanded by the law. Love cannot nullify justice. The only way God could forgive sinners and remain just would be for Christ to pay the penalty for sin (Romans 3:21-28) [See Salvation]
There are two other matters of vital importance in relation to man's salvation which God cannot do: He cannot force anyone to love Him; and He cannot force anyone to accept a gift. By the very nature of love and giving, man must have the power to choose. The reception of God's love and of the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ can only be by an act of man's free will.
Some argue that if it were God's will for all men to be saved, the fact that all are not saved would mean that God's will would be frustrated and His sovereignty overturned by men. It is also argued that if man can say yes or no to Christ, he has the final say in his salvation and his will is stronger than God's will: "The heresy of free will dethrones God and enthrones man." .
There is nothing in either the Bible or logic to suggest that God's sovereignty requires man to be powerless to make a real choice, moral or otherwise. [See Section on Predestination]
Giving man the power to make a genuine, independent choice does not diminish God's control over His universe. Being omnipotent and omniscient, God certainly could so arrange circumstances as to keep man's rebellion from frustrating His purposes. In fact, God could even use man's free will to help fulfill His own plans and thereby be even more glorified.
God's grand design from the foundation of the world to bestow upon man the Gift of His love precludes any ability to force that Gift upon any of His creatures. Both love and gifts of any kind must be received. Force perverts the transaction.
The fact that God cannot fail, lie, sin, change or deny Himself does not in the least diminish His sovereignty. Nor is He any the less sovereign because He cannot force anyone to love Him or to receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. And from man's side, the reverse limitation prevails: there is nothing anyone can do to merit or earn either love or a gift. They must be given freely from God's heart without any reason other than love, mercy and grace.
Wonderfully, in His sovereign grace, God has so constituted man and has so designed a gift that man may receive it voluntarily by an act of his will and respond in love to God's love. Someone has said, "The free-will of man is the most marvelous of the Creator's works."  The power of choice opens the door to something wonderful beyond comprehension: genuine fellowship between God and man for eternity. Without a free will man could not receive the gift of eternal life, thus God could not give it to him.
Pusey points out that "Without free-will, man would be inferior to the lower animals, which have a sort of limited freedom of choice....It would be self-contradictory, that Almighty God should create a free agent capable of loving Him, without also being capable of rejecting His love...without free-will we could not freely love God. Freedom is a condition of love." 
It is the power of genuine choice from man's own heart and will which God has sovereignly given him that enables God to love man and for man to receive that love and to love God in return "because he first loved us" (1 Johm 4:19). It is impossible that the power of choice could challenge God's sovereignty since it is God's sovereignty which has bestowed this gift upon man and set the conditions for both loving and giving.
Suggesting that God would be lacking in "power" (thus denying His sovereignty) if He offered salvation and some rejected it is missing the point. Power and love do not belong in the same discussion. In fact, of the many things which we have seen that God cannot do, a lack of "power" is not the reason for any of them, nor is His sovereignty mitigated in the least by any of these.
Thus for mankind to have been given by God the power to choose to love Him or not and to receive or to reject the free gift of salvation, far from denying God's sovereignty, is to admit what God's sovereignty itself has lovingly and wonderfully provided.
May we willingly respond from the heart to His love with our love, and in gratitude for His great gift proclaim the good news to others.
1] Pink, Sovereignty, 240.
2] Edwin H. Palmer, the five points of Calvinism (Baker Books, 1999), 25.
3] C. Norman Sellers, Election and Perseverance (Schoettle Publishing Co., 1987), 3.
4] Augustine, The City of God, V. 10.
5] W.E. Best, Free Grace Versus Free Will (Best Book Missionary Trust, 1977), 35.
6] Junius B. Reimensnyder, Doom Eternal (N.S. Quiney, 1880), 257; cited in Fisk, Calvinistic, 223.
7] Edward B. Pusey, What Is Of Faith As To Everlasting Punishment? (James Parker & Co., 1881), 22-23; cited in Samuel Fisk, Calvinistic Paths Retraced (Biblical Evangelism Press, 1985), 222.
Can God Create a Stone So Heavy That He Cannot Move it?
©Copyright 1994 by John Baskette.
That old objection to the doctrine of the omnipotence of God was raised recently on USENET in the newsgroup soc.religion.christian. USENET is an enormous collection of electronic discussion groups distributed as "network news" through a world wide computer network known as the internet. Many of you may not be familiar with computer networks and bulletin boards, and I won't be explaining about them here, but I will say, the on-line debates in these newsgroups between atheists and believers of all types are quite lively and often informative. [See Section on Atheism]
The Christians in that newsgroup answered the objection very well. To speak of an almighty God creating an object that He cannot lift is to posit a logically contradictory state of affairs. It is a variation on the old question, "What happens when an immovable object (the stone) meets an irresistible force (God)?" The answer is that both an irresistible force and an immovable object cannot exist together in the same universe without creating a logical contradiction. If reason is valid then to speak of the two in the same sentence is to speak nonsense. Similarly, it is nonsense to speak of God creating a stone that he cannot lift.
Another equally valid answer offered in the newsgroup is that God cannot do anything whatsoever. God can only do what is logically possible.
These answers did not satisfy the objectors. Their retort was to accuse the Christians of equivocating.
"You admit that there are things that God cannot do, therefore you are admitting that God is not really omnipotent! You have only proved the case against the self-contradictory and self-stultifying Christian conception of God."
At this point I entered the fray to point out that the definition of omnipotence has never meant what the objectors say it meant. The historical understanding of omnipotence never meant that God can do anything whatsoever. The objection is at best a misunderstanding, and at worst, merely an intellectually dishonest straw man argument.
My response did not go unchallenged. Here is what one poster (David) asked:
However, I gather from the discussions that, in spite of the logical contradictions involved, many people are arguing that god is omnipotent in the all-inclusive sense you wish to avoid. Also, just how would you properly define this 'historical sense' of omnipotent? The paragraph above just says that it is not really omnipotence as defined in all the dictionaries. How, precisely, should it be defined?
Here was my response:
My earlier post pointed out that the historical sense of terms such as omnipotence were never construed to be an all-inclusive anything at all which, if true, renders mute the various objections to Christian teaching based on various logical paradoxes.
To demonstrate my point further and to answer David's question, I will give various definitions of omnipotence as found in various theologians. First, however, I would like to point out that the Oxford English Dictionary (if not some of the less authoritative available dictionaries) does recognize a specifically Christian and theological use of the term.
Here are three definitions given in _The Compact Edition Of The Oxford English Dictionary, Complete Text Reproduced Micrographically, Volume I A-O_, Oxford University Press:
Strictly said of God (or of a deity) or His attributes: Almighty or infinite in power.
gen. All-powerful; having full or absolute power or authority; having unlimited or very great power, force, or influence; exceedingly strong or mighty. b. humourously. Capable of anything; unparalleled; utter, arrant; huge, 'mighty'.
absol. or as sb. An omnipotent being; spec. (with the) the Almighty God.
The first definition is the one used in Christian theology. It is not the same as "Capable of anything".
Infinite should be thought of in terms of the primary dictionary definition of "subject to no limitation or external determination". I'll give an explanation of the Infinity of God from Berkhoff shortly, but in order to illuminate the concept of "Power", I would like to first quote from A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, Volume One by James Oliver Buswell, Jr., Ph. D.; a professor of Systematic Theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. On pages 63-64 he explains omnipotence this way:
"There are indeed certain problems with reference to the meaning of Omnipotence which need to be considered. In the first place, omnipotence does not mean that God can do anything, but it means that He can do with power anything that power can do. He has all the power that is or could be."
"Can God make two plus two equal six? This is a question which is frequently asked by skeptics and by children. We reply by asking how much power it would take to bring about this result. The absurdity of the question is not too difficult to see. Would the power of a ton of dynamite make two plus two equal six? Or the power of an atom bomb? Or of a hydrogen bomb? When these questions are asked it is readily seen that the truth of the multiplication tables is not in the realm of power. Power has nothing to do with it. When we assert that God is omnipotent, we are talking about power. In the discussion of the infinite, eternal, and unchangeable truth of God we shall show that truth is of the very essence of His character but not in the realm of power; and we shall consider those Scriptures which plainly declare that 'it is impossible for God to lie' (Hebrews 6:18)"
Most of the "paradoxes" commit this same basic error. Even those that seem to deal with "power" such as "Can God create an immovable stone" are actually asking if God can bring about a logically contradictory state of affairs. The answer is no, but it does not show that God does not have infinite power or that God cannot do with power anything that power can do. Power cannot bring into being a contradictory state of affairs.
Some understanding of the Infinity of God would be helpful at this point. From Systematic Theology by L. Berkhoff, (revised version 1941, reprinted 1979 by Wm. B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids), pp. 59-60"
"C. The Infinity of God. The infinity of God is that perfection of God by which He is free from all limitations. In ascribing it to God we deny that there are or can be any limitations to the divine Being or attributes. It implies that He is in no way limited by the universe, by this space-time world, or confined to the universe. It does not involve His identity with the sum-total of existing things, nor does it exclude the co-existence of derived and finite things, to which He bears relation. The infinity of God must be conceived as intensive rather than extensive, and should not be confused with boundless extension, as if God were spread out through the entire universe, one part here, and another there, for God has not body and therefore no extension. Neither should it be regarded as a merely negative concept, though it is perfectly true that we cannot form a positive idea of it. It is a reality in God fully comprehended only by Him. We distinguish various aspects of God's Infinity. 1. His Absolute Perfection. This is the infinity of the Divine Being considered in itself. It should not be understood in a quantitative, but in a qualitative sense: it qualifies all the communicable attributes of God. Infinite power is not an absolute quantum, but an exhaustless potency of power;..."
With a definition like that, you may think that Berkhoff by saying that God is "free from all limitations" means that God can do anything at all. Yet even Berkhoff says on p. 80:
"In that sense we can speak of the potentia absoluta, or absolute power, of God. This position must be maintained over against those who, like Schleiermacher and Strauss, hold that God's power is limited to that which He actually accomplishes. But in our assertion of the absolute power of God it is necessary to guard against misconceptions. The Bible teaches us on the one hand that the power of God extends beyond that which is actually realized, Gen. 18:14; Jer. 32:27; Zech. 8:6; Matt. 3:9; 26:53. We cannot say, therefore, that what God does not bring to realization, is not possible for Him. But on the other hand it also indicates that there are many things which God cannot do. He can neither lie, sin, change, nor deny Himself, Num. 23:19; I Sam. 15:29; II Tim. 2:13; Heb. 6:18; Jas. 1:13,17. There is no absolute power in Him that is divorced from His perfections, and in virtue of which He can do all kinds of things which are inherently contradictory."
When we speak of "no limitations" we are talking about rational categories or limitations within a rational category. Within the realm of power, we mean that God can do anything that it is logically possible for power to do. i.e., There is no limit on which powers in the category of "powers" that God can exercise. The category of powers, however, is itself restricted to the realm of things that are logically possible. This is why we are justified in using the "omni" prefix while maintaining that God cannot do anything whatsoever.
That is why even Berkhoff, while maintaining a "no limits" definition of infinite says,
"There is no absolute power in Him that is divorced from His perfections". I.e., he supports the idea that there are rational restrictions on the category of "powers" when he says that there is no power of a certain kind.
Here is a definition for omnipotence as given in The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, edited by Alan Richardson and John Bowden, 1983, Westminster Press, Philadelphia, in an article by Brian Hebblethwaite who is in turn quoting from "A. Kenny, The God of the Philosophers, 1979:
"A more satisfactory definition has been provided by A. Kenny: omnipotence is 'the possession of all logically possible powers which it is logically possible for a being with the attributes of God to possess."
Here is a definition given in Christian Theology, Systematic and Biblical, arranged and compiled by Emery H. Bancroft, D.D., Late professor of Bible Doctrine and Systematic Theology at the Baptist Bible Seminary, Johnson City, New York, revised edition, 1925, on p. 68:
"C. Omnipotence. By this we mean the power of God to do all things which are objects of power, whether with or without the use of means, Gen. 17:1.
NOTE He performs natural wonders, Genesis 1:1-3; Isaiah 44:24; Hebrews 1:3; Spiritual wonders, II Corinthians 4:6; Eph. 1:19; Ephesians 3:20. He has power to create new things, Matthew 3:9; Romans 4:17; after his own pleasure; Psalm 115:3; Ephesians 1:11. There is nothing impossible to Him: Genesis 18:14; Matthew 19:26.
Omnipotence does not imply power to do that which is not an object of power; as, for example, that which is self-contradictory or contradictory to the nature of God.
NOTE Self-contradictory things are not included in the exercise of God's omnipotence.- such as the making of a past event to have not occurred (hence the uselessness of praying: "May it be that much good was done"); drawing a shorter than straight line between two given points; putting two separate mountains together without a valley between them. Things contradictory to the nature of God; for God to lie, to sin. to die. To do such things would not imply power, but impotence. God has all the power that is consistent with infinite perfection - all power to do what is worthy of Himself."
So far I have quoted only Protestants. Here is a Roman Catholic author. From _The Voice from the Whirlwind, The problem of Evil and the Modern World_ by Stephen j. Vicchio, professor of philosophy at the College of Notre Dame in Baltimore, Maryland, Christian Classics, Inc., Westminster, Maryland.
(BTW - this is a terrific book on the "problem of evil", it is essentially his Phd dissertation put out in book form.)
On p. 47, after quoting from Frederick Ferre's Basic Modern Philosophy of Religion, Vicchio writes:
"Ferre rightly suggests that when we say that God is omnipotent, philosophers, as well as the common man, may mean by the term one of two things. Either (a) an omnipotent being is one who can do absolutely anything, or (b) an omnipotent being is one who can do anything that is logically possible. For reasons that will become apparent later, we must also offer a third formulation of God's omnipotence: (c) an omnipotent being is one who can do anything that is logically possible and is consistent with his other attributes."
Vicchio goes on to examine each of these definitions in turn. Definition (a) which is what has been used in postings to raise objections to the existence of the Christian God, Vicchio finds used in the writings of Descartes, but not in the writings of Christian theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas.
This leads to one of the main points of my earlier brief posting. The historical definition or understanding of omnipotence has always recognized the problems inherent in definition (a) which is why it is not the definition used by the church historically. It maybe that some Christians have held and tried to defend such a definition (such as Descartes), but for the most part, this definition is imposed on Christianity by those who wish to refute Christian conceptions by raising various objections. The objections (whether by intention or ignorance) are straw man arguments.
The definition of omnipotence like that of (b) or (c) which limits omnipotence to the category of things logically possible is the definition used by the church historically. My earlier quote from Augustine indicated as much. Here it is again, from my abridged version of _The City of God_, an abridged Version from the Translation by Gerald G. Walsh, S.J.; Demetrius B. Zema, S.J.; Grace Monahan, O.S.U.; and Daniel J. Honan on p. 109 which quotes from Augustine's book 5, chapter 10:
"We do not put the life of God and the foreknowledge of God under any necessity when we say that God must live an eternal life and must know all things. Neither do we lessen his power when we say He cannot die or be deceived. This is the kind of inability which, if removed, would make God less powerful than He is. God is rightly called omnipotent, even though He is unable to die and be deceived. We call Him omnipotent [here is the definition you did not acknowledge from the earlier post David!] because He does whatever He wills to do and suffers nothing that He does not will to suffer. He would not, of course be omnipotent, if He had to suffer anything against His will. It is precisely because He is omnipotent that for Him some things are impossible."
Aquinas has a similar conception of omnipotence. On p. 163-164 of _Summa Theologica, Volume I, ques. 15 ans. 3, (Mcgraw Hill, New York, 1963, Aquinas says:
"Whatever implies being and nonbeing simultaneously is incompatible with the absolute possibility which falls under divine omnipotence. Such a contradiction is not subject to it, not from any impotence in God, but because it simply does not have the nature of being feasible or possible. Whatever, then, does not involve a contradiction is in the realm of the possible with respect to which God is omnipotent. Whatever involves a contradiction is not within the scope of omnipotence because it cannot qualify for possibility. Better, however, to say that it cannot be done, rather than God cannot do it."
An excellent old Puritan work is _The Existence and Attributes of God_ by Stephen Charnock (1628-1680). I read a small portion of a 1979 reprint of this work published by Klock & Klock Christian Publishers of Minneapolis. He defines omnipotence in terms of God having infinite power, yet he too gives a lengthy consideration to things that are impossible for God to do.
My point is that when Christians respond to various objections to the various "omni-xxx"s of God in a way that appears to lessen the particular "omni" in question, they are not equivocating, conceding or redefining terms at all. They are only explaining what is the historic Christian teaching as found in all branches of the faith.