Can God Do Anything?
I recently joined a friend for a meal, and our discussion coursed down the road of God’s abilities. “God can do anything” my friend commented. I think to myself, “This sentiment smacks of an blind ‘loyalty’ to God. Isn’t that a good thing? Definitely not, I answer myself: loyalty must not conquer reason. Of course this alarms some people, as they were raised to believe in this Superman view of God.” I concluded my mental note.
“God can make a rock He cannot lift”, my friend added. I thought to myself, “He is making a stretch, quoting that all-too-infamous philosophy. He is merely parroting what his parents, friends, and unfortunately, teachers taught him.”
Clearly, our Jewish community is not trained in the fundamental of all fundamentals: “thinking”. Judaism has become religion of rote activities, when in fact; it contains absolutely provable, enjoyable and illuminating truths. But the road to true Judaism is not passivity, parroting, or parading for the applause of others. Unfortunately, schools continue this mission, to make kids swallow and regurgitate with such an admirable capacity to impress others. They are thereby taught to live for accolades, instead of truth. But what good is memory, if all which one memorizes makes no sense, does not make him or her appreciate Judaism any deeper, or actually becomes a pain, as is true in many cases? I don’t blame kids who hate school. Who could enjoy piling up facts that mean nothing? And the end doesn’t even justify the means: they get straight As, impress their parents, get into fine colleges, attaining great positions, earn tons of money, work 60 hour work weeks…while Judaism takes a back seat to this blindly accepted value system. “It is a good to die rich.” This is today’s lethal ethic.
Maimonides actually coined this term I borrow, “fundamental of all fundamentals” in connection with the foremost concept: God exists. He is the “First Cause”. By definition, the First Cause teaches that all else is His creation. What then follows from this truth is that this universe, His creation, functions in a set manner. It does not deviate from reasonable laws, and these laws conform to our own, human reasoning. That being said – Judaism, another of God’s creations – also follows the same blueprint of reason. The road to Judaic truths can only be reason, because Judaism’s Designer is the creator of “reason.”
Understanding this fundamental, that Judaism is a completely rational system, and that God does not deviate from what is reasonable, true and proven, we may address my friend’s philosophy:
Maimonides’ 13 Principles teach that these are absolutes – the very definition of a “principle”. Maimonides was of the conviction that these 13 Principles, such as God’s non-physical nature, and His reward and punishment system, are absolutes. This means that God CANNOT do anything, such as in making Himself physical, or withholding reward or punishment from those deserving. My friend, who feels God can do all, would posit that God could also kill Himself: a natural absurdity, which follows his folly. One quickly realizes that God cannot do anything. But this limit on His nature is not a “negative”. We once gave the example of a judge who could not – regardless of how hard he tried – rule unjustly. In every one of his cases, he found the innocent person innocent, and the guilty person, guilty. Would we say that his inability to make an error is a negative? Would we say this limitation is a “lack” in his perfection? No. Just the opposite: his inability to cause evil and rule unjustly is precisely his perfection. Well, the same applies to God. God has the inability to do injustice, to err, to be ignorant, to kill Himself, and He cannot make a rock He cannot lift. Reason demands this, and the world operates by reason. We are trapped. However...being trapped in reason is a “good”!
Reason must dictate how we live, and what we accept as truth. For truth refers to what is real - that which God made. His works cannot deviate from reason: “The Rock, His works are perfect, for all His ways are just; a trustworthy God and no crookedness, righteous and upright is He.” (Deut. 32:4) Here, God equates that which is “perfect”, to “justice”. His “works” including the universe, are perfect, and therefore, creation is just. What does this mean? How can creation be “just”? Ibn Ezra explains, “His works are perfect for all His ways are just” means that the perfection of His works “creation” – lies in the wisdom embedded in them. Ibn Ezra says, “The works of God are in accord with wisdom.”
We conclude: creation and all we see follow God’s wisdom. God follows a wise method of creation, existence, and abiding with mankind. When we attempt to truly understand God, we too must follow a wise course of thought. And we have shown that wisdom demands certain truths, which limit God from what is not wise or just. God is limited. This is His perfection.
But even with sound arguments, my friend might still be reluctant. Why? There exists in man the fear of change, and the inability at times to overstep his own, self-inflicted boundaries. He fears even to entertain an alternate idea…perhaps, because so much of his life will be proven to be a waste by adopting a new outlook, thereby exposing his prior opinions as false. But what is preferable: to continue lying to oneself so as to remain with a pristine view of the past, or to admit many years were wasted while salvaging the remaining years? What should schools do: continue training children to memorize, instead of thinking? Reason answers these questions.
I urge you: if you do not wish your child to end up with the incoherent philosophy expressed by my friend, request that your children’s schools and yeshivas institute regular classes on Judaism’s Fundamentals. Parsha, Tanach, and Talmud are essential, but they must be guided by the more primary ideas. Memorizing a Rashi, chapters of Mishna, laining a Parsha, or passing a Jewish history test with a100 makes little difference, if a student has a false concept of God. I suggest topics be taught, such as Maimonides’ 13 Principles, areas of God’s justice, reward and punishment, and most certainly, an elaboration on Maimonides Yesodei HaTorah, “Judaism’s Fundamentals” found in the very beginning of his Mishneh Torah, for good reason. Here, Maimonides teaches the essentials regarding our knowledge of God. These all take time, and must be taught only when the student is ready for them. But even at young ages, children can be introduced slowly to what they can understand. We can distill essential ideas from these areas, and reword them even for younger children to grasp.
Over a few years, once a student has comprehended these fundamental areas, he will be more committed to his or her Judaism, as he sees a rational system. He has a clearer picture of Torah’s distinguishing characteristics. No less important, much attention must be paid to a student’s critical thinking, developed by rigorous, Talmudic study. Developing the ability to analyze matters for himself, he may answer questions independently, thereby encouraged to delve deeper, as he sees he can discover greater insights. With this approach, students will become independent thinkers, a benefit, which spills over into al areas of life. But more importantly, they will know what Judaism is.
Judaism is not the religion which thinks God can make immovable objects.