Have you ever heard this one: Can God create a rock so heavy that even he could not lift it? Did you know that there is a biblical answer to that question? The answer is rather simple. Jesus collapsed under the weight of his own cross. The theological answer is that God could create such a thing when he submits himself to his own rules of creation as when he became a man, lived as a man, and died as a man for our sake.
When I first heard this question as a young Christians I was a bit perplexed. Does God have limitations? I always thought of God as being so powerful that he could do anything and that he had no limitations. But as I’ve grown in Christ I’ve learned that God does indeed have some limitations. And these limitations are remarkable in that they don’t take anything away from who he is. Rather, they encourage me that I’m involved with a God who is so utterly dependable because he is a god who does not, in fact, cannot change (Hebrews 13:8).
God is all powerful and all knowing and ever present. But he is not a God without limits. In fact, God has a few limitations. And these limitations should encourage us that we serve the real and true and living God. Let me give you five limitations of God.
- God is limited by his character
- God is limited by his power
- God is limited by his nature
- God is limited by his love
- God is limited by his words
We should not think of these attributes as parts of God. Man is a composite being. But God is a unity. All of his attributes flow into all of his other attributes equally and eternally. For instance, we cannot say that part of God is his goodness as if only part of him is goodness. Rather, all of God is goodness. We may describe his nature in parts, but God has no parts. He is wholly different from us in this regard.
Now, let me address each limitation briefly. First, God is limited by his character. His character, that his, his moral attributes are unchangeable. God cannot become bad or evil, or unfaithful, or untrustworthy. He does not have the ability to be bad in any sense. When we say he does not have the ability to do something we don’t mean that he chooses to be good and chooses not to be bad. We mean, instead, that he chooses to be good because he is good and cannot choose otherwise. He is good in the totality of his being and nature.
Second, God is limited by his power. This might seem illogical. If God is all-powerful then surely he is unlimited. But, on the contrary, God’s all-powerful nature limits him to do things that are only consistent with his power. He is not beset with weakness that renders him unable to help us in time of need. He cannot be deprived of anything apart from his power. Even Jesus’ death was an expression of his power. Who can kill the almighty God? Man did this once on the cross, but only because God’s power made it so through his becoming a man. It was through his power that Philippians 2:7 says that Jesus “emptied himself.” This does not mean that he did away with his power. Rather, it means that he used his power to forgo the exercise of his divine powers while he was human. He was still all-powerful, but he limited the exercise of his power.
Third, God is limited by his nature. It is impossible for him not to be everywhere at every time. It is impossible for him to limit his sight, or hearing, or understanding, or perceptions. You cannot surprise God or have him be unaware of your sufferings or troubles. He knows them all and it is impossible for him not to know them all.
Fourth, God is limited by his love. Remember that the scripture says that God is love (I John 4:16). His love is an all encompassing attribute. It is because of his love that he became a man and died on the cross for our benefit. Everything that God does for us is done through his motivation of love. He will, therefore, never do that which eternally harms us. We may experience trial and harm for brief periods, but not for eternity. God’s love forbids him from doing his people harm—those whom he has chosen for himself.
Fifth, God is limited by his words. The scripture tells us that it is impossible for God to lie (Numbers 23:19, Hebrews 6:18). He is unable to go back on his promises. Once he has said something in the way of a promise then you can bank on it—forever. It will not change because his words do not change. What he speaks once he speaks forever.
Now, let me throw in a sixth limitation of God. I’ll give you this one for free.
God is limited by his eternality.
This means that God does not exist in linear time as we understand it. God is eternal. The past, present, and future are the same to him. For God, all that will happen has happened and is happening and never ends. Therefore, for God to change would change his eternality, his very nature, which the scripture says is unchangeable. Thus, if such a thing were to happen God would cease to be God. Such a thing cannot happen. We should take great comfort from this. It means that his word to you and his intentions toward you are unchangeable. If he says he loves you and promises a wonderful eternity for you then he cannot go back on that word and change it. You can depend upon it in totality.
Take comfort in this wonderful irony. God is eternal and all powerful and all-knowing but he is also a God of limitations. Imagine the terror we would experience if God could change his mind on a simple whim, or because we did something bad. No, God is not like this in the slightest. And for that reason, I take comfort in the fact that I serve an all-powerful God of limitations.