Identifying God’s Limitations: Why It Can’t Be Done

Surely God must have limitations.  Surely there are some things that even God cannot do.  This is an assumption which is widely accepted among humans.  Throughout the centuries, countless theologians and philosophers have strained their brains to the point of exhaustion trying to construct irrefutable arguments for what some of God’s limitations must be.  It’s all been such a ridiculous waste of time.  It will never be possible for humans to identify any limitation in God.  But why can’t we do this?  It comes down to one simple word: logic.

When humans are trying to understand something, they set out to gather information, then they mentally organize that information into a bunch of if-then conclusions which sound logical.  For example, suppose you’re handed a hard lump of material that you’ve never seen before and told to figure out how strong it is.  What do you do?  You start running tests on the thing to gather information about it.  First you try to snap it in half with your hands and the thing crumbles the moment you put pressure on it. So you bring it back to your friend and say, “This isn’t very strong at all.  I could break it with my bare hands.”  Both you and your friend feel that your logic is sound, so you both accept the conclusion that the material is weak.  But what neither of you are appreciating is how biased your logic is.  Why are we accepting your personal strength as being an acceptable scale for measuring things by?  Why should we accept that the material is weak just because you could easily crush it?  Who made you the golden standard?  You did, and you never questioned the validity of doing this.

In your mind, you are always using your own experience as a human to interpret the world around you.  If you can break something, you label it as fragile or weak.  If something can injure you, you label it as dangerous.  If you can’t understand something, you call it complicated.  If something doesn’t make sense to you, you call it mysterious.  The logic that you use to draw conclusions and define possibilities is extremely biased because you end up comparing everything to yourself.  A cheetah only seems super fast because he can run so much faster than you can.  A snail only seems slow because he moves so much slower than you.  You are the golden standard by which you are measuring and comparing all that exists.  There’s nothing wrong with doing this as long as you recognize how totally blind and biased you’re being.  You see, as a human, you are an extremely limited being.  There are so many capabilities which you simply don’t have access to.  Since you’re comparing everything to yourself, your lack of abilities ends up greatly skewing your logic.  You simply can’t contemplate possibilities which are beyond the scope of your personal imagination, and since your imagination is so very limited, your whole logic system is severely hampered, and this makes it impossible for you to accurately assess anything which is too dissimilar to you.

Does a leaf have thoughts?  Does grass have a verbal language?  How do you even begin to find the answers to these questions?  You start with yourself.  You ask, “What components are necessary for a human to think and speak?”  And once you conclude that humans need brains and vocal cords to think and speak, you start looking for evidence of these components in leaves and grass blades.  And yet already you’re going about this research in a ridiculously narrow way.  You’re trying to find human elements in what isn’t human.  You’re projecting human limitations on something which shouldn’t be compared to you at all.  Just because you don’t recognize anything a leaf does as a form of thinking, how can you rule out the possibility that the leaf is thinking?  Just because you can’t hear grass talking, how do you know that it isn’t?  Your entire system of logic is based on the human experience, so once we step beyond the human world, you’re no longer able to really understand what it is you’re dealing with.

If you can’t personally identify, then you remain mystified: this is the classic human dilemma.  Since everything around us is nonhuman, we remain perpetually stumped by the world we live in.  We can observe things like electrons, bacteria, and amoebas, but we don’t really understand them because they are not human.  Our science books are filled with attempts to explain the world around us in human terms.  We describe flowers as having “male” and “female” parts because that’s how we label our own reproductive organs.  We describe mother bears as feeling “protective” over their young, because that’s how we imagine we would feel if we acted as the bears do when their cubs are in danger.  And yet do we really know what we’re talking about?  Have we ever stepped inside the mind of a bear or a fish or a flower?  Do flowers even have minds?  We have no idea.  We’re incapable of imagining what it’s like to exist as a flower or a tree or a cell phone or anything other than a human. So while we go through life talking about our cars being “thirsty” for gasoline, our laptops getting “confused,” and our dogs feeling “embarrassed” by the outfits we’ve stuffed them into, all we’re really doing is projecting our own human experiences onto nonhuman entities.  Such a mentality makes us feel more comfortable in our environments, but it’s hardly an intelligent way to view the world.  When we then decide that we are capable of defining the limits of our own Creator, well then we’re really getting absurd.

Whenever humans try to argue why God can’t do something or why He can’t have certain attributes, they are always using the same biased, stunted reasoning system that they’re stuck using when trying to understand any other aspect of their reality.  Whether God does or doesn’t have limitations is a subject that we simply can’t address because we do not have the intellectual resources we need to assess God properly.  God is simply too foreign to us.  When we look around at everything He is sustaining, it blows our minds.  We can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to be an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent being like God.  We don’t understand how He can handle knowing everything that He knows.  We can’t begin to relate to His decision making process.  In every area God is outperforming us to such mind-boggling degrees.  If we can’t even keep up with Him, how can we ever identify His limitations?

Trying to accurately assess the abilities of God is like trying to assess the value of a huge art collection when the owner of that collection is intentionally keeping most of his treasures hidden away in a secret vault.  You can’t possibly come up with anything close to an accurate estimation of what the collection is worth until you can get into the vault and see all that there is.  As long as the owner refuses to open that vault for you and give you time to study all that is inside of it, any value you try to place on the entire collection is guaranteed to be wrong.

When it comes to God’s abilities, we never get access to the vault.  He only shows us a few select pieces.  He says He is the Creator of all that is.  He says that He knows everything about everything.  He says that He controls the future.  He says that there is nowhere we can go to escape His Presence and nothing we can do to reduce our dependency on Him.  These facts are like the few pieces that God chooses to pull out of the vault and show us—but even then, He only gives us a brief glimpse.  When He says “I’m all-knowing,” it’s like He flashes some complex sculpture at us, then whisks it away again before we can really take in the details.  We don’t know what it means to be “all-knowing.”  Our brains can’t get around the concept, and God isn’t offering to explain it to us.  This is how it is with all of God’s attributes.  He says “I am love,” but He doesn’t flesh out this idea in a way that we can understand.  It’s the same when He says, “I am jealous,” or “I am merciful.”  The words themselves give us some vague idea of what He’s talking about, but we’re always left with more questions than answers. Since God is keeping us out of the vault and blocking us from getting anywhere close to a clear understanding of His abilities, we are left incapable of pinpointing any of His limitations. We simply don’t have all of the information we would need to draw any accurate conclusions about what God can’t do.  This forces us to leave everything up for grabs.  As much as we might want God to have certain limits, there’s no way we can prove that He does.  As distressed as we might be to think that God could have certain attributes, we simply can’t rule anything out—not when all He’s ever giving us are fleeting glimpses of what He’s capable of.

So what should we conclude from all of this?  If trying to pinpoint God’s limitations is a waste of time, what is the best way for us to pursue a deeper understanding of Him?  We need to let Him lead the dance and practice being good followers by aligning with the cues He gives us.  When He tells us that He wants us to submit to His Authority, we need to hold nothing back.  When He tells us that He’s jealous of someone or something that we’re getting way attached to, we need to ask Him to help us get our priorities back where He wants them to be.

Getting to know God better is a great privilege; it is not some right that we can claim.  When we start getting bossy with Him by trying to control the order in which He reveals Himself to us, we’re going to end up having Him take back any understanding that we already have.  Maybe you want to know more about God’s jealous side, but He wants to talk to you about His wrath.  Maybe you want to know about His love, but He wants to talk about His mercy.  If you’re wise, you’ll listen when God talks and you’ll let Him choose the subjects without interrupting with a bunch of guff.

God is such a vastly complex Being that we’ll never have any hope of knowing Him without Him giving our tiny minds the capacity to grasp the things He says to us.  It’s such a simple matter for God to leave us in perpetual darkness—either totally ignorant about who He is or so full of our own theories that we can’t see how deluded we are.  For dots like us to ever claim that we’ve got God all figured out is such a crock.  Every time He gives us some new insight into His complex Personality, it raises up a hundred more questions which we have no answer to.  And yet the more glimpses He gives us, the more we realize that He is the beginning and end of everything that matters.  Close communion with Him is the prize that makes all other treasures seem worthless by comparison.  God is so utterly captivating and so thoroughly enticing that we cannot begin to find anything which can stand in His place.  We were designed to feel incomplete without Him, and it is only the all-out pursuit of Him which will satisfy the hunger which exists deep within us.

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