What God cannot do (3)

We have discussed the fact that God cannot do that which is illogical (make a rock so big he cannot move it), and he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make us free moral agents and prevent us from choosing evil at the same time).

There is one more thing that God cannot do. God cannot do anything that morally contradicts his own nature. For those of you who have studied philosophy, I am not going to get into the Euthyphro Dilemma or argue the Divine Command Theory. Suffice it to say, that the Bible reveals that what we know of goodness, rightness, justice, morality, ethics, law, etc., flow from the very nature of God. How can I grasp goodness apart from a God who is good? How do I really understand social justice apart from a God who is just?

To digress: A question that is often debated is relevant here; can someone be good (moral) without God? Well, yes and no; how’s that for being definitive? By saying yes, I mean that a person can be a moral person without believing in God. Atheists can be good people from a human point of view. However, by saying no, I mean that if God did not exist we would not know what good or right means in an absolute sense. Every culture might have its own code of “ethics,” but this code would have little significance in another culture. Thus there would be no Geneva Conventions, International Tribunals, International Criminal Courts (Hague), or International Courts of Justice (UN) because there would be no common understanding of morality by which justice could be determined.

Back to our main point: God, therefore, cannot do anything that is contrary to his own moral nature. In Hebrews 6: 18, it says that God cannot lie; Psalm 89:34, God cannot break his promise. James 1:13 says that God cannot be tempted with evil nor can he tempt anyone to do evil. In 2 Timothy 2:13 we read that God cannot deny himself, which in the context means that God can never be faithless or untrustworthy. Habakkuk 1:13 states that God “cannot look upon evil,” which means that he cannot approve of evil. Finally, in Malachi 3:6 God declares “For I the Lord do not change…” God is eternally consistent with himself; he is not subject to mood swings and never reconfigures himself for a new generation.

“It would be appropriate to say God cannot do what is incongruous with himself. He is morally prohibited from doing what is not right because that would be disconsonant with his own (nature) of rightness. The limitation on his ability…is not logical but moral.” (JonTal Murphree, Loving God and a Suffering World, 31)

In summary, there are 3 things that God cannot do: God cannot do that which is illogical (make something that has happened never to have happened); he cannot do that which is a logical contradiction (make a square circle); God cannot do anything that is against his own moral nature (he cannot lie).

Now, what are things God can do? Find out for yourself and read the Bible!




Benedictus        Zechariah’s psalm or song in Luke 1:68-79 contains prophetic insight.  It is one of the four canticles or songs in Luke’s gospel. Each named according to the first word (Latin) in the songs: Mary’s song (Magnificat, my soul magnifies the Lord), Simeon’s song (Nunc Dimittis, now dismiss your servant), the Angels’ song (Nolite Timere, do not be afraid), and Zechariah’s song (Benedictus, Praise to the Lord).  Let’s look a little more closely at Zechariah’s song because it sets forth some characteristics of the kind of people we ought to be.

This song was sung by a mature and pious man who still had a lot to learn about God. It shows us that no matter what level of spiritual maturity we have obtained, we still need to grow. Perhaps Zechariah’s heart had grown indifferent towards God, because of the routines of ministry or being a priest and thinking he knew pretty much everything. Maybe he was preoccupied with his own life circumstances and a little angry that he had not been blessed with a child after all he had done for God.  How many of us who have been Christians for a long time have stopped learning and growing, and have become indifferent towards God?

Do you ever look back at a previous time in your life when you were more passionate about your faith than you are now?  Maybe you have some lingering issues with God and feel he has not dealt fairly with you after all your years of service. What will it take for you to have a growth spurt and to sing your own Benedictus?

Zechariah grew by keeping his mouth shut, listening to the Word of God, and then obeying it.  This seems to be a spiritual principle in times of uncertainty.  Psalm 46:10, Be still and know that I am God.  When was the last time you kept your mouth shut in God’s presence, just listened to Him speak through His Word, and then said, “yes sir.”

This song was sung by a man who was striving to understand his time-bound circumstances over against the timeless coming of the Messiah. At that time Israel was dominated by the iron hand of Rome. Zechariah catches a vision that God was going to give him a son, John the Baptist, who would prepare the way for the Messiah. This Messiah, Jesus Christ, would redeem his people and save them from their enemies and all who hated them. Zechariah had this perspective that God’s salvation was both spiritual and physical; redemption from sin and deliverance from the abusive power of Rome.

At Christmas-time, 2018, our concerns differ from those of Zechariah’s. We may not fear Rome, but we may fear the economy, the turbulent political situation and the direction of our nation, home-grown terrorism, the greatest refugee crisis since WW2, racial injustice, and gang violence on the streets of our cities. We may fear our own life-dominating issues such as disease, substance abuse, sexual addiction, or marriage and family crises.  Jesus Christ has come in order to save us from our sin, to deliver us from those things that dominate us, and to usher in a kingdom where peace, righteousness, and justice reign.

Pie in the sky? Ted Turner once said, “Almost every religion talks about a savior coming.  When you look in the mirror in the morning, you’re looking at the savior.  Nobody else is going to save you but yourself.” (Christian Century, Dec. 20-27, 2000)

However, the reality that most people in time will have the bottom drop out of their lives and will realize that they cannot save themselves.  Most will feel overwhelmed because we live in such a crazy world where there really are no safe places or super heroes who will save us. But to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, because of His tender mercies, God has sent a Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.  And when we acknowledge our trust in Christ, even though things are not yet perfect and there is a lot of pain yet to be faced, we can still sing Praise to the Lord…because He has redeemed His people and has raised up salvation for us from the house of his servant David…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear.

This song was sung by a man who believed in a God who keeps His Promise. In fact, three of the four songs of Luke’s gospel revolve around the theme of God keeping His Promise. Mary acknowledged that through the birth of Messiah, God was remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever. When Simeon saw the Christ child, he said, Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, now dismiss your servant in peace. And Zechariah praised God because, in the Messiah, He was granting salvation for the house of David as he said through his holy prophets long ago… remember(ring) his covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham. God keep His promises.  In fact Zechariah’s name means “God remembers” and Elizabeth’s name means “God’s oath.”

It had been 400 years since God last spoke to Israel through the prophets.  His last words were, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord.  He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers (Malachi 4:5, 6), and here in John the Baptist, was the fulfillment of that prophecy. Jesus called him the Elijah who was to come (Matthew 11:14).

We can also be assured that even though it has been 2,000 years since Jesus said that He was going to return, God will remember His Promise. God is not slack in keeping his promise…He is being patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

Even so, Come Lord Jesus…


I remember watching an old Alfred Hitchcock thriller many years ago about a banker, a very quiet man who lived a very private life with no family or friends with whom to share it. His work was his life; always the first one at the bank in the morning, making sure the vault clicked open for the day, and he was the last one to leave in the evening, doing inventory and making sure the vault was locked.

He worked every day, taking no time off because there was nothing else in his life but his work. The one exception was Christmas; he always took Christmas off. He would seclude himself in his tiny apartment and cook himself dinner. He would then eat, sitting by his scraggily Charlie Brown Christmas tree watching old movies on his 12-inch black and white TV, and drinking his yearly glass of beer.

Well, it was Christmas Eve and the bank closed at noon. He was looking forward to going home for his yearly ritual, but ended up staying at the bank until 4 pm doing extra work since no one would be working the next day. He was a bit distracted by this change in routine, and as he took all the cash into the vault he carelessly forgot to prop the door open. It slowly closed behind him with a loud thud and a “click.” He was locked in and the vault door was set not to open again until the day after Christmas. And there he sat all alone in the dark. He was used to being alone, but not like this. He had no food or water — he was just alone.

The day after Christmas finally came and the vault clicked open. He dragged himself to the bathroom to clean up and get water and then to his desk where he kept some stale biscuits. The other employees began to arrive and noticed he looked a bit haggard, but no one greeted him or asked how his Christmas was. He was glad no one cared because then he would have to tell them that he missed Christmas altogether.

There are some folks in the Bible who also missed Christmas, but for different reasons…

Although there is no mention of an innkeeper in the Christmas story, we do know there was an inn of some sort. So, we assume there was a man or woman who ran the place. Also, we do not want to unfairly criticize the owner because it wasn’t his fault that Caesar Augustus had declared a census which made the little town of Bethlehem swell to several times its normal size. In his defense, he was probably overwhelmed with work which only people who own their own business would understand. Someone has said that it feels like “being lost in a forest of a million trees, and each tree is a thing to be done. A million trees…a million things and finally we have eyes for nothing else, and whatever we see turns into that thing.”

Do you indentify with the innkeeper? Is your favorite Christmas carol “O little town of Bedlam?” Is your life just too frenzied and cluttered that you are tyrannized by the urgent and no longer have time for the important? No, we don’t want to criticize the owner, but we do want to point out that the Messiah was born right under his nose and to our knowledge, he didn’t even know it. He was so busy, he missed Christmas

Herod the Great was a man who could not brook any competition. History tells us that he murdered at least one wife and at least three of his sons. People said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than a member of his family. So we can understand why he was so upset when the Magi visited and said there was another king in the region- they had seen his star. Herod hatched a maniacal plan to destroy all the male infants in Bethlehem. Here is a man who was probably 70 yrs old and was threatened by a baby. So let me ask you whether your self-centeredness will make you miss Christmas this year? You may be struggling because there is room for only one king in your life and perhaps you see Christ as your competitor. Are you trying to snuff him out by a cynical or uncaring attitude towards Christianity? Are you afraid of Christ because of what he might demand? Let me ask you one more question” “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Well the innkeeper missed Christmas and Herod missed Christmas. There was another whole group of people who also missed the birth of Jesus. These were the Jewish religious leaders that Herod had called upon to tell him where the Messiah was to be born. They immediately referred to the prophecy in Micah 5:2, which said it would be in Bethlehem in the land of Judah, where a ruler would be born who would become the Shepherd of God’s people Israel. These men knew text and verse, but they did not even go and investigate. They were religious and yet they missed Christmas.

Religion has not only prevented people from finding Jesus, but has often been used to justify Crusades, Holocausts, and Jihads.  Even in our own history as a country, the Bible was used as a justification for slavery. You see, sometimes religion creates a kind of blindness or builds a certain immunity against the real thing. Maybe you are religious, but the question is do you know Jesus Christ?  Are you substituting religion for the real thing — a relationship with him? If you are, then you’ll miss Christmas this year and every year to come.

Let me challenge you not to become locked in the vault of busy-ness, self-interest, or religion. Instead, learn from Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and Wise Guys, that Christmas is about Jesus. He is the Child born and the Son given (Isaiah 9:6).

Advent…bowing low in humility and hope

Advent manifests the humility of God who was made flesh for us in Jesus Christ. He who was the very Royalty of Heaven became a poor mortal. As Athanasius said, “He became like unto us that we might become like unto Him.” There is a wonderful hymn, unfamiliar to most evangelicals, with words taken from a prayer written in the fourth century. This prayer was used by the Orthodox Church in Constantinople and still recited by Orthodox Christians to this day. The tune is based on a French carol melody called Picardy. It was translated from the Greek in 1864.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

And so Advent reminds us that we mortals must bow in humility before the One who bowed low to become our Savior. Pride, hubris, power, and self-proclaimed righteousness have no place before the One who emptied Himself for us. How can we ever think that our earthly credentials could ever impress or gain entrance to the Courts of Heaven?

A few years ago, I attended a Christmas prayer breakfast held in our county and heard the speaker refer to the fascinating burial protocol of the House of Hapsburg in Austria. The funeral cortege comes to a halt before the door of the Capuchen convent in which is located the royal crypt where Hapsburg Kings and Emperors have been buried for centuries (the last one being His Royal Highness Archduke Otto of Hapsburg-Lorraine in July 16, 2011). The Grand Chamberlain who leads the procession knocks three times on the door with a sliver cane. From inside, a monk asks, “Who is there?” The chamberlain replies with a very long first-person oration of the royalty’s name, titles– basically, the dead guy’s resume:  “I am ….., Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia, Galacia, Lodomeria, of Illyria, and King of Jerusalem, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany, etc.” The monk inside then replies, “I do not know you.”

The chamberlain knocks a second time on the door and the monk replies, “Who is there?” The chamberlain this time responds with just the name: “I am ….., his Majesty, Emperor, and King.”  The monk again replies, “I do not know you.” Finally, there is a third knock and the same reply, “Who is there?” This time the chamberlain simply says, “I am ….., a poor mortal and a sinner.” The monk opens the door and says “come in.” https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=8&ved=2ahUKEwjrs-HfoYHfAhUj9YMKHRLQDFkQwqsBMAd6BAgIEBk&url=https%3A%2F%2Fm.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DVfDW2lP-ouU&usg=AOvVaw09Ac7g9bnPeGLr4LWJ-pLo

May this Advent season find us bowing low as “poor mortals and sinners” before the One who is “the King of Kings, though born of Mary.” And may we recognize afresh and anew that the door of Heaven will not be opened unto us because of our resume, but on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf.  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteous. I dare not trust the sweetest frame (old English word means profitable), but wholly lean on Jesus name.”