Can God make a Rock so Big that He cannot Lift it?
Before I move on to answering the title question, please allow me to explain why I am answering this question when the answer is by no means original to me. When I was in middle school, this sort of question did not wreck my faith in God but it did shake me a bit. In working with middle school students today, I find that this type of question still holds resonance for junior high students (and others, no doubt!) and that while a simple answer exists, it is not particularly easy to come across unless you know where to look. By tossing this answer into the “inter-webs” I hope to make it that much easier to find. So, with that said…
Can God make a rock so big that He cannot lift it?
Whoops, I guess you caught me in a trap. Now you will say, “If God cannot make such a big rock that He cannot lift it, then there is something that God cannot do, which means that God cannot be all-powerful.” Of course, if I has said yes, you would argue, “If God can make a rock He cannot lift, then He cannot lift it which shows that there is something God cannot do.” It would seem as if you had just proven that there cannot be an all-powerful God.
It would seem that way, but unfortunately, this question poses an illogical question that cannot have an answer.
When we say that God is all-powerful, we mean that God can do anything that can be done. Very often people express this by saying that “God can do the impossible.” What we mean by that statement, though, is that God can do those things that are impossible for anyone else but God. For example, it is impossible for a human to spontaneously sprout wings and fly, but it is not impossible for God to make a human sprout wings and fly.
The problem of the rock is a different sort of impossibility though. For example, you could just as easily ask whether God could make a three-sided rectangle, understanding that the definition of a rectangle is a four-sided object. So, the question is basically: can God make a three-sided four-sided object? The answer is once again, no, but it is helpful because the reason for the “no” is clearer than in the example of a rock. The English language allows us to pose questions that are actually complete nonsense: there can be, by definition, no three-sided rectangles, no objects that simultaneously exist and do not exist, and no possibility of both an immovable object and an unstoppable force co-existing. In the same way, there cannot possibly exist both a rock too large to be lifted by anything and a God who is all-powerful.
You might still object that God seems to have limitations, and you would be right, except that you must note that God is only limited by Himself. For example, God is eternal, which means that God has existed forever and will always exist. This puts a certain type of “limitation” on God, because God must be who He is. So, God cannot stop existing, because He is eternal and if He stopped existing He wouldn’t be the eternal God. God also cannot make a creature that existed before God, because God has, by definition, always existed and so nothing could have existed before Him. Likewise, God is perfectly holy and righteous, so it is impossible for God to do something evil, because a perfectly holy and righteous being cannot do evil.
Although this can all be pretty confusing, the key thing to remember is that our language allows us to say some things that actually make no sense, and that it does not rob God of any glory to recognize that He cannot do meaningless or logically contradictory things.