Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it? Can God make a hole so small that he can’t go through it? Can God microwave a burrito so hot he can’t eat it? When I was a smart-alecky kid in Sunday school, I loved to ask these questions. I, of course, did not invent them. They were handed down to me from the previous generation of smart-alecks who had inherited them out of the endless cycle of youngsters who think themselves the authors of sarcasm and mockery. This article, loaded with logical fallacy, is dedicated to those smart-aleck kids. After all, today’s punk is tomorrow’s poet, painter, or theologian.
The questions listed above do have answers, but they are not the kind that anyone who asks them really wants to hear. Typically, the kid who blurts out “Can God make another God even more powerful than himself?” already knows the answer. He just wants to see his old teacher fret and blush and reluctantly admit, “No he can’t.” This sets him up to throw out the second swing of his one-two punch, “But I thought you said that God can do anything.” Now he’s got that old Sunday school teacher cornered! There is no way she can respond to that, and the class has been thoroughly disrupted which is what he’d really wanted all along. If she is daring, she might admit that there are, in fact, things that God can’t do. If she is a coward, she might tell that smart-aleck to keep his mouth shut and stay in his seat. If she is a former smart-aleck herself, she might say, “Sure there are things God can’t do… but that doesn’t mean he won’t.”
“What do you mean?” the smart-aleck wonders. Now the old Sunday school teacher has the smart-aleck right where she wants him. These questions, like many we ask about God are from human perspective, which is temporal and limited. Human beings typically rule out the paradoxes that a supreme, infinite being can create. Light, God’s first creation in the book of Genesis, is a perfect example. Like light, which acts as both a wave and a particle, travels away from its source at the same amazing speed no matter how fast the source is traveling, and whose components possess the mysterious ability to exist at more than one place in the universe simultaneously, God can do many seemingly irreconcilable things at once. Consider how God addressed these other, more important, questions: “Can God die?” “Can God physically weep for the poverty and death in the world?” “Can God allow human beings to look at his face?” “Can God be tempted?” “Can God be hungry?” “Can God suffer for sin?” “Can God ever not know something?” Perhaps when one focuses on God the supreme being, who no man can see and live, the answer is “no.” And yet, we all know that through the incarnation of Jesus, the answer is “yes.”
With Christ, God revealed some paradoxes that had always existed, but only the prophet and daydreamer could have understood prior to. Like light, which seemed so common, simple, and easy to control before Planck and Einstein, God proved to be something more than provincial logic could contain. Much of what seemed impossible before was now, paradoxically, impossible and possible at the same time. “Can God die?” No. But Jesus could, so yes. “Could God allow human beings to look at his face?” No. But Jesus could, so yes. “Could God be tempted?” No. But Jesus could, so yes.
So… Could God write a book so long that he can’t read it? No, but yes. Could God make a taco salad so gigantic he couldn’t eat it? No, but yes. Could God make a video game so difficult he couldn’t beat it? No, but yes. It’s just that those things never came up in the life of Christ. He spent his thirty-some years reconciling mankind to its creator and satisfying the most profound of human needs, instead of responding to our wry questions. If you look at all of the moments in the gospel stories in which people tried to trick or trap Jesus in a question, the wise young man always answered the question in a way that confounded the inquisitor (Matt 22:17-21, Luke 4:1-8). Then with the inquisitor thoroughly stupefied, Jesus went on to give his time to those who had real needs and genuine questions.
I expect, by now, the reader may feel that something is amiss. Although, these answers seem adequate on a smart-aleck’s terms, they can’t be all there is to this discussion. That is true, for even our most brilliant questions (sincere or otherwise) about God and other unfathomable topics, are an attempt to capture the uncontainable, to comprehend the incomprehensible. The question is made of human reason and it expects a certain kind of answer. Since the source of the question is limited, the question itself has limitations that render it inadequate to receive the infinitude of the response. It’s like walking up to Niagara Falls with a paper cup and saying, “Can you get in this for me?” It is only by the grace of God that any human receives an answer to anything. With this in mind, the answers provided by the life of Jesus seem to be the apex of grace.
So, I hope in some small way this article has satisfied the smart-aleck. I know that, as a kid, I would have appreciated such a straight-forward discussion, although it wouldn’t have stopped me from looking for ways to annoy my teachers. That said, I wonder if God could make a Sunday school class so interesting that even he wouldn’t get bored? I really don’t know.