A famous pseudo-problem raised by some atheists is the so-called “omnipotence paradox.” It goes something like this —
Can God create a stone so heavy that he can’t lift it?
If he can create the stone, then he is not omnipotent, since he cannot lift it.
If he can’t create the stone, then he is not omnipotent, since he can’t create it.
The paradox is demanding that God demonstrate his omnipotence by demonstrating that he lacks omnipotence. So we see that it isn’t the case that God’s inability to create the stone of all stones places a limitation on his power. Rather, it’s the case that the very idea that omnipotence can be demonstrated by an act of non-omnipotence is self-contradictory. The atheist, in essence, is declaring that God can only be believed to be all-powerful if he shows that he is not all-powerful.
This is logically impossible.
God does not do what is irrational, nor can he. Therefore, God cannot prove his omnipotence by proving his non-omnipotence.
Expanding the Paradox: The Incommunicable Attribute Paradox (or the IA Paradox)
Most Christians are quick to pick upon the fundamentally irrational nature of the omnipotence paradox. However, when it comes to similar claims made by other professing Christians, we sometimes are not as discerning. This is a problem, seeing as heretics will often reinterpret the attributes of God in order to justify their false beliefs.
For instance, false teacher Rob Bell many years ago wrote a book called “Love Wins.” In a video related to the book, I don’t remember if it was a commercial or a promotional video or one of his Nooma videos, Bell condescendingly sneered at a Christian who dared to claim that Gandhi died and went to hell. Bell’s reasoning? Since we are not God, we cannot know what is in a person’s heart. Therefore, we don’t know if Gandhi was hellbound or not. And this, in a very strictly technical sense, is correct. At the moment of his death, Gandhi could have very well repented of his sins and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and gained eternal life through the Gospel.
But did it happen? Was there anything like this reported about him? Did he die clinging to his false religious beliefs? Did he die believing that all religions find their origin in his syncretistic, non-trinitarian, probably pantheistic deity?
If he did, then he is now, as is the rich man from Luke 16:23, “in torment.”
The truth of the matter is that ultimately God alone has access to the minds of men, such that he can hear their silent repentance and faith in his Son’s sacrificial death for their sins, and his resurrection from the dead. We cannot see into men’s hearts. We can only judge on the basis of what we have access to, men’s words and actions. And Gandhi gives us no evidence, at all, that he ever repented of his false beliefs and came to know the One and Only Triune God.
So Rob Bell exploited the truth of God’s Omniscience, as well as that of our limited knowledge, in order to cast doubt on our ability to say that those who die outside of saving faith in Christ are eternally condemned. From this little foothold, Bell satanically spun a web of more and more doubts about Christian orthodoxy regarding salvation and condemnation, eventually teaching that there may be a chance for sinners in hell to repent and be saved. And today Bell’s theology is nothing more than what his early discerners thought it to be — New Age, Quasi-Pantheistic, Universalist, Inclusivist, Anti-Christian gobbledygook.
While Bell’s exploitation of the truth of God’s omniscience and our lack of omniscience is not exactly the same thing as a the atheist’s use of the omnipotence paradox, it shares a similar strategy. You see, the omnipotence paradox says that if God can do anything, then x should not be a problem for him. If it is a problem for him, then apparently he cannot do anything.
And this can be retooled by heretics like Rob Bell as follows —
If God is all loving, then surely he can’t send anyone to hell forever. If he does, he’s not all-loving.
If God is truly free, then surely he can place his Sovereignty to the side so that men can have true freedom of the will. If he can’t, doesn’t that mean he isn’t truly free?
If God is all powerful, then surely he can annihilate sinners in hell. If he can’t annihilate them, then he is not omnipotent.
If God is transcendent, then surely he cannot be fully grasped by the human intellect. If he could be grasped by the human intellect, then surely he is nothing but a finite creature.
And so on.
The atheist who proposes the omnipotence paradox hopes to raise an insoluble dilemma that will force the Christian to abandon faith in God.
The heretic who proposes the incommunicable attribute paradox, however, seeks to overthrow orthodoxy by at one and the same time affirming a foundational truth about God in order to negate other, if not all of the remaining, attributes of God, and thereby dismantle and replace the Christian faith with lies.
Addressing the IA Paradox When It Shows Up
It is easy to get caught up in the task of responding to the IA paradox as though it really were logically coherent. But we should avoid that. Instead, we should expose the foundational/presuppositional problems with the assertion being made. What is the problem? In every instance of the IA paradox, its proponent is demanding that God do what is logically impossible. Take the time to analyze the proposed problem, and demonstrate its incoherence.
For instance, consider the claim that if God is all-loving then he cannot send anyone to hell. This clearly contradicts the doctrine of God’s love itself, seeing as God loves what is good, and he is the highest good. To demand that God show love by not-loving the highest good is to demand that he show love by not loving at all. This is self-contradictory.
Similarly self-contradictory is the claim that in order for God to be omnipotent he must possess the ability to annihilate sinners in hell. In one sense, the claim is true. Man cannot annihilate himself or anyone else. And, of course, God possesses the power to annihilate the wicked. But since God has declared that sinners will die the second death, to experience torment forever day and night, and he cannot lie, it is impossible for him to annihilate the wicked. Hell is the demonstration of God’s justice against sinners. Consequently, the annihilationist who argues that God’s omnipotence is demonstrated in his annihilation of sinners is literally demanding that God show his justice (i.e. in the punishment of sinners) by being unjust (i.e. breaking his Word). This pits God’s omnipotence against his Righteousness. Not only this, but it also proposes an idea of justice that is self-contradictory.
The IA paradox is just as logically incoherent as the omnipotent paradox, and, therefore, should be exposed as such. God’s incommunicable attributes are not self-contradictory, and any argument that seeks to set them against one another is fallacious.
Soli Deo Gloria