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The Limitations of God

God

by Dennis Pollock

Many people would be surprised to hear that, in God’s dealings with men and women, He has limitations. After all, does not the Scripture tell us that all things are possible with God? He who is all-knowing and all-powerful surely has no limits.

In one sense this is very much true. Not only can God do anything He pleases, He doesn't even find any task especially difficult. Healing a man in the last stages of terminal cancer requires no more effort for God than healing another man of a mild cold. In Jeremiah He declares, "Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is there anything too hard for Me?" (Jeremiah 32:27).

Our almighty Creator has no physical limitations, but He does have moral ones. Creating massive mountains or scooping out the earth to produce immense oceans – no problem. But other things He finds absolutely impossible. One example that quickly comes to mind is from a verse in Hebrews, which tells us "it is impossible for God to lie." It is not merely that He generally prefers not to lie. He cannot tell a lie; it would not even be possible for Him. This brings us to the source of God's limitations, which is His own perfection. God's perfect character and absolute holiness make all sorts of behaviors and actions utterly impossible for him.

Perfect Wisdom

Let us consider God's perfect wisdom. The apostle Paul writes, "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33). All of us know the regret of making a dumb mistake or a poor choice. If we could go back and warn our younger self of things to avoid, we surely would. But God has governed heaven and earth since its foundation, overseeing billions of people, keeping all the planets in their proper orbits, answering prayers and sometimes withholding requests as they come pouring into His throne by the millions every day. And yet He has never once made a wrong decision! He is perfect Wisdom! He always chooses rightly and has never once regretted even one of His decisions.

A fool has many options. If an irresponsible man wakes up in the morning, he may contemplate skipping work and going to the ball game. He may debate whether to go down to the bar and drink himself into a stupor. Or he may decide to go and sell the car, buy a fancy motorcycle, leave his family and go for a tour of America. But a responsible and wise man has far fewer options. As he rises in the morning, he knows what he must do. He must take a shower, have breakfast, go to work, and then come home and be a loving husband to his wife and father to his children.

Likewise, if you were planning a trip from New York to Los Angeles, there are an infinite number of routes you could take. You could take all sorts of back roads and avoid the major highways altogether. You could drive north for a while, then drive south, and then back north, seesawing your way across the continent. Of course you would spend enormous amounts of time and money, but you would eventually get to your destination. But a man determined to travel from New York to Los Angeles in the most efficient route possible would not have an infinite amount of routes; he would not have a thousand routes, he would not even have two routes to choose from. In truth there would be only one route that would be his wisest choice. A wise man always has far fewer options than a fool.

God, who is perfect wisdom, always chooses the best course. In what He allows and permits, and in what He causes and directs, we may be sure that He is operating in wisdom as He always does.

And this wisdom limits Him. We may ask, "Why doesn't God show Himself more powerfully to the world? Why doesn't He send an angel to every world leader and reveal Himself so that all of them become Christians?" Or "Why doesn't God help all the Christian athletes to perform so much better than the non-Christians that it will become obvious that His blessing is on Christians, and then everyone will want to get saved?" Or "Why doesn't God pour out His Spirit on every church, and bring such powerful revival to His people that the whole world will come to Jesus?" The answer to these and a million other questions that might be asked is this: God is doing everything He wisely can to bring the people of this world to Christ. If He could do one thing further in wisdom, you can be sure that He would do it.

God's holiness also serves as a limitation to Him. In the Garden of Gethsemane, our Lord Jesus prayed, "Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will" (Mark 14:36). Although in one sense all things are indeed possible for God, in another sense Jesus was asking the impossible. He was asking that God might save mankind apart from Him going to the cross. The fact that the cup was not taken away can only mean one thing – it was not possible for God to allow sinful men and women into heaven apart from Jesus' terrible death on the cross. The only way God could be just and the Justifier of men and women was the cross and resurrection of Jesus, His Son.

God's Will Not Always Done

Some folks seem to get most of what they want, but nobody gets everything they want. We have all had the disappointment of a desire that was never fulfilled. But of course we would expect that this would be different for God. Surely with His power, knowledge, and wisdom, He does get all that He wants. Yet such is not the case. The Scriptures tell us that God "would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3). But in truth many men don't get saved; in fact, those who come to God through faith in Christ are and have always been in the minority. Here is something God clearly wants that doesn't happen.

Jesus rides donkeyAs Jesus came near the end of His earthly ministry, He bemoaned Jerusalem's rejection of Him, saying, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (Matthew 23:37). If ever there was a case of divine frustration it is here. Jesus wanted the people of Jerusalem in His fold, but they refused. Why didn't He heal more sick people? Preach harder? Raise a lot more dead folks? Jesus and the Heavenly Father did all they wisely could to reach Jerusalem. Even God, due to His own perfection and wisdom, has a limit which He will not exceed.

Jesus tells us to pray to the Father, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." There is a tremendous implication in this. This simple prayer is telling us that God's will is not always done on the earth as it is in heaven. In heaven there is no crime, there are no lies told, no fights or quarrels, and nobody disobeys the will of God. His will is done perfectly, which is why heaven is such a place of peace and joy. But on the earth it is an entirely different story. Fights and quarrels, murders and rapes, child abuse and wife abuse, lies and deceptions, anger and cursing – we have all sorts of things going on down here that are not the will of God. Thus we pray, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." Why doesn't God just stop it all? Why not cause the man about to commit murder to suddenly fall over dead of a heart attack. Why not give the potential rapist a jolt of a thousand volts of electricity and stop him in his tracks? Why does our loving, compassionate Creator allow these things to happen? What is keeping Him from taking action? Again, the answer can only be rooted in the wisdom of God. He is surely doing all He wisely can to prevent evil, but as long as He allows sinful people to exist in this world and gives men and women free will, He will not stop it altogether.

Extending the Limits

Can God's limits be extended? Strangely the answer is yes. The first and most important limit-extender is the new birth. Until we receive Christ, God has but one option as to what He can do with us. We must experience His divine retribution for our sins in hell, that place where "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." God doesn't have twenty options or five or two. He has but one. All who die outside of Christ will "die in their sins." They will pay the price for every lie, every act of sexual immorality, every harsh word, every stolen item, and every other act of selfishness which they have committed during their years on the earth.

But when a sinner repents and receives Jesus Christ, God is given a second option which He will exercise every time. He now can forgive, He now can justify, He now can accept that one into His family as a beloved and blameless child. Because the very righteousness of Jesus Christ is applied to his life, God can now do for that man or woman what He would love to do for all – He can be "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:26).

There is a second means by which we may extend the limits of how far God will go in bringing good things into the lives of people. This is that simple act of prayer. When we pray, we invite and urge God to go beyond His normal measures. One man said it this way, "When we pray, God does things that He would not have done had we never prayed." As much as God wants to do good and bring good into this world, He waits for His people to pray. When God was upset with Israel, His justice was demanding that He judge His people. But His heart was longing for another alternative. In Ezekiel we read:

The people of the land have used oppressions, committed robbery, and mistreated the poor and needy; and they wrongfully oppress the stranger. So I sought for a man among them who would make a wall, and stand in the gap before Me on behalf of the land, that I should not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:29,30)

Here again we see something that might be called divine frustration. A faithful intercessor would have given God a second and more preferable alternative, but He could find none. The people of God have a remarkable privilege. To us belongs the prerogative to call on the Lord and watch Him pour out His Spirit, bestow blessings, reconcile families, provide for the poor, and do a thousand other things that He would not have done had we not prayed. Through our prayers offered in the name of Jesus Christ, we make it possible for God to extend His hand of mercy in amazing ways. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Jesus is the True Vine; we His people are the branches. And while the Vine is indispensable the branches play no small part in the fruit bearing process. Fruit never grows on the vine; it always develops on the tender branches that receive their nourishment from the vine. As we abide in Jesus, trust in Him, and call on God in His name, we shall bear much fruit and blessings will come to many.

When we really understand this, we see that prayer is not a matter of attempting to twist God's arm and coerce Him to grant blessings He really doesn't want to bestow. When we pray for good things for ourselves and others we are not overcoming His reluctance; we are simply laying hold of God's willingness. God's love is like a pent up river of blessings being held back by a flimsy dam which needs only the blows of our believing prayers before it gives way altogether and allows the surging, life-giving waters to flow freely to the dry, parched land below.

He waits for our call.





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