Assuming that God is the God of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition (which is to say both omniscient and omnipotent), can He create an object so heavy that He can't lift it?
The conundrum creates a logical impossibility, as follows:
If the answer be 'yes' (because God can create anything), than God cannot be omnipotent because He cannot then move the object; and if the answer be 'no' (because God can move anything), than God cannot be omnioptent because He Cannot create such an object. It follows logically that since God is not omnipotent, He is not God.
Of course this is not a new problem.
I doubt that my response--I dare not call it an answer--will satisfy atheists, and perhaps it will satisfy believers still less. It's hardly even satisfying to me and involves theological questions within which I am still searching myself (thank God!) So if you think you will be annoyed by an unsatisfying answer, stop reading now.
I suspect that the presentation of this problem does not produce many sudden conversions to atheism. Perhaps more often it causes the discomfort of doubt or the increase of questioning. Neither of these are enemies of faith, however, but friends that are hard to recognize. I suspect an atheist reacts in a similar way when presented with something like St. Anselm's "Ontological Argument" for the existence of God. I have heard of a few conversions, but mostly the simple inability to find fault with the logic does not induce conversion.
My simple answer--and here is where it will become unsatisfying--is that God's omnipotence just doesn't work like that. Let's say that later on today I allow my own fatigue and the despair I bring upon myself with my sins to overwhelm me. I drive my car up the Saw Mill Parkway to the Tappan Zee Bridge, park in the middle, and jump off. What will happen? Surely it is God's will that I live and flourish and be happy, but all of that will be over as I hit the water and die. So, at least on the spiritual level, God has made an object (me) so heavy that he cannot, or at least will not, lift it to safety.
This is exactly why St. Paul called Christ crucified a scandal to Jews (i.e. believers) and an absurdity to Greeks (i.e. believers in human wisdom.) And it remains so. Believers are annoyed to hear about the God of Jesus Christ who, apparently, refuses to control the world or intervene in the suffering we bring upon ourselves in anything like a heavy-handed way. Atheists--and this is the logical force of the conundrum--complain that this God doesn't seem very intelligible as a deity.
What does it mean to say that the omnipotent God is revealed as a condemned and tortured criminal in the midst of his execution, not being able to move his hands and feet, much less lift infinitely heavy objects? It means, at least, that omnipotence and almighty-ness as divine attributes are not exactly what they are supposed to mean, prima facie, to us human beings.
Nevertheless, I am lifted up. When I received Holy Communion this morning, that same Christ crucified continued to unite himself to me precisely in my own brokenness and the misery, despair, and confusion I have brought upon myself with my sins. It's not that Christ has taken me, an infinitely offensive and heavy object, and lifted me up from above, but that he has pushed me up from below by descending into my powerlessness and weakness. With the strength of knowing this salvation, I will not have to struggle this afternoon with the temptation to jump off the Tappan Zee Bridge. And it is my prayer and hope that it also gives me the strength to avoid all of the other little suicides of sin.
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