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God's Limitations

Updated on February 8, 2011

The major monotheistic religions of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity define and describe God using various superlatives. He is viewed as all knowing, all-powerful, morally perfect, completely self-sustaining, and in total control over his creation. On the surface, these superlatives make God seem utterly limitless. But when you look a little more closely, what you see is a God who faces severe limitations.

Human beings, because of our many flaws, have the capacity to grow, improve, and feel intense needs. We can learn new things, overcome obstacles and temptations, and emotionally connect to others. But if you have a being that knows everything, then he is incapable of experiencing what it is like to learn. If he is morally perfect, he does not have the capacity, or even the option, of doing something sinful. Essentially, he has a limited capacity to choose. If he can do anything, and he has complete control over his creation, he cannot face danger, overcome obstacles, or be caught by surprise. And if he is incapable of experiencing a sense of need for anything or anyone, then he has a limited capacity to connect with others on a deep level. Without the capacity for real emotional vulnerability, there will always be a certain amount of detachment.

According to one of the creation stories in the book of Genesis, humans were created in the image of God. It is impossible, however, to imagine the human experience without change, growth, deterioration, choice, unpredictability, pain, loss, and obstacles to overcome. So how could we be created in the image of a being that is so detached from all of the experiences that are so essential to being human?

Now some would say that my whole line of reasoning is fundamentally flawed. In fact, I am delving into territory where no human being has a right to go. Who am I, a measly human being, to be setting restrictions and limitations on God? To a certain degree, I accept this argument. I can handle the idea that God’s nature is more complex than my little mind can fully comprehend. But that said, I find it offensive when people argue that we should simply throw our hands up, stay away from the big questions, and accept certain concepts primarily on “faith.” This is analogous to a dictator telling us to accept the political system simply because he says so. I may never be able to comprehend God completely, but no being, no matter how powerful, can do the irrational or nonsensical. God cannot allow humans to make real choices while still controlling everything, create an unstoppable force that runs into an immovable object, or be completely self-sustaining while also feeling a need for relationships with human beings.

So in spite of defining God with superlatives, monotheistic scriptures also present God very often as being human. He is described sometimes as getting angry, feeling emotional pain, fighting opposing forces, and even changing his mind. Theologians might argue that this imagery is not meant to be taken literally. Because we are humans, God’s behavior is sometimes depicted in terms that we can understand. I suspect, however, that God behaves like us at times in these monotheistic traditions because the God of superlatives is abstract to the point of being impossible to feel a sense of connection. We cannot relate to this being who is completely foreign to our sense of what it means to be alive. So in spite of ourselves, we tend to define God in human terms, believing that he can do and experience things that are contradictory to his supposed nature.

Of course, there is always the possibility that there is a God that is not so perfect after all. Maybe the world has so many problems because God has messed up so often. Maybe ancient pagan traditions about anthropomorphic gods who often wreak havoc are closer to reality than the single God of superlatives. Or then again, maybe the only way for a creation to be interesting and alive is for the creator to not exercise complete control over it. And finally, it is also possible that gods are pure fantasy, and humans invent them as either a reflection of the world as we see it or as we want it to be.

To be honest, I have never heard of a cosmological alternative that I find particularly satisfying. For me, the ultimate mystery is why anything or anyone exists at all. The conventional monotheistic traditions do not resolve this mystery. Why would a perfect, self-sustaining God feel any need or desire to create, and where did this God come from anyway? And if atheism is true, does this mean that matter has always just existed, and something as amazing as human consciousness came into being through the random interaction of natural forces that consistently operate for some unknown reason? Whatever the case, people who are convinced that they have a completely satisfying answer to the big cosmological questions have not thought about them very much. It would be nice to have all the answers, although if we did, there wouldn’t be very much left to do. Like the God of superlatives, there would be no more opportunity for change, growth, learning, or many of the other things that make us human.


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    • Darknlovely3436 profile image

      Annie 6 years ago from NewYork

      interesting read

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      syed khawar mustafa kazmi 6 years ago

      a man asked IMAM ALI (A.S) , "is there anything God didn't create?"

      He replied , "yes."

      man asked ' "what r these?

      He replied , "injustice , lie , oppression , compulsion , atheism , denial of God and many evils like these."

      man asked , "is there anything that is not for God?"

      He said , "yes , God doesn't own parents , wives , children etc."

      man asked , "can we compare him with his creation?"

      He replied , "no."

      man asked , "what does ALLAHU AKBAR mean then?"

      He replied , "that means my God doesn't fall in the category of creation and he can not be compared and he can not be defined."

      similarly to imagine the human experience without change , growth , deterioration , choice , unpredictability , pain , loss , and obstacles to overcome is mentally challenged.but God doesn't change.there is no change of state for him.he can never be unpredictable , choice less mortal etc.

      So in spite of defining God with superlatives , monotheistic scriptures also present God very often as being human. He is described sometimes as getting angry , feeling emotional pain , fighting opposing forces , and even changing his i foretold , there is no change of state for God.changes occur to those who fall in the trap of time.God is independent of all these.he is the creator of time and space.and logically , creator must exist before creating and he must be independent of his creation because he existed before it.what does his happiness , anger means?it is a controversial shiism , it means the anger and happiness of his PROPHETS (A.S) and their heirs (a.s).God says in QURAN:


      God actually is declaring his will as will of PROPHET (PBUH) and PROPHET'S (PBUH) will as his own.moreover he describes the imitation of his PROPHET (PBUH) as submission to his will.

      IMAM BAQIR (A.S) said , "we r the faces of God , God is known to people because of us.whatever God wills , we also will.whatever we will , God also wills.our anger is God's anger and our happiness is God's happiness."

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      Andy 7 years ago

      Of the 3 major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), only Christianity worships a half-man/half-God being, who had to overcome obstacles and temptations, and emotionally connect to others. Because he was half-man, he was constantly tempted to do something sinful. He feared pain, and almost chickened out at the end, when he had to face danger (torture and death).

      He lost his temper a few times, such as when he whipped the moneychangers in the temple.

      I think that "made in his image" means that we can think, etc. And that "eating of the tree of knowledge and becoming like a god" is a euphemism for having sex, since only through sex could Adam & Eve create new life (like a god does). So Adam & Eve were kicked of paradise because Adam & Eve started making new people (Eve got pregnant).

    • proactrdv profile image

      proactrdv 7 years ago from United States of America

      I've always thought that man made God in his own image. I'm happy to see that someone can agree with me on that.

      I have never percieved God in the tradational way and have never thought it possible to see Him in that way.

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      Chris 7 years ago

      An infinite capacity to choose combined with omnipotence and omniscience is meaningless, because in theory, you would always choose the “best” possible option. E.g., if I were given a choice between getting $10 and $100, (and assuming this isn’t a trick question, no negative consequences, etc.), I would always choose the $100 because it’s “better”; the $10 isn’t a realistic choice. So the argument goes, the more “free” we are to choose, the more things we will not choose. (Oh, and to add to your list, if God is everywhere, then he cannot move.) Another argument I’ve heard is St. Augustine’s “God exists outside of space and time”, in which case, choice doesn’t make making sense as we know it.

      However, then you tie this into Genesis’ “made in God’s image”. My long experience with Christianity is that the interpretation of “made in God’s image” is subjective and open to interpretation. Few think that God has 2 arms, 2 eyes, etc.; so the literal interpretation seems wrong. Common explanations I’ve heard is that it’s with an intellect, having free will, the ability to choose, create, love, has a “soul”, etc.

      Christianity attempts to solve the problem of God relating to man via Jesus; i.e., God become human in Jesus. How an infinite God fits into a finite body is a good question. Catholics chalk it up to “mystery” (i.e., a fancy religious word meaning, we don’t know because God’s beyond us.) But, if (emphasis on ‘if’) you accept that, then you can argue that God does know what it’s like to be human, to suffer, etc. As a side note, it’s the only satisfactory response to the problem of suffering I’ve heard; although it’s a “pastoral” response, not a theological response. “He does know how I feel because he felt it himself.” Personally, I hope that God has the desire and capability to reach out and/or relate to me; but that is an act of faith tempered with experience.

      As far as being able to relate to God, IMHO, we can’t. I think we do tend to define God in human terms, because that’s all we know. And each of us defines him differently based on our own uniqueness, just as I think differently about your kids than you do.

      I think the last three paragraphs are fantastic, and I pretty much agree with it all despite being in a different faith “tradition”. When I have times of nagging doubts, the wonder of existence, and the marvel of consciousness tend to bring me back.

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 7 years ago from Florida

      Thomas Hardy often portrayed God as indifferent, almost like a cat playing with a mouse.

      An interesting hub!

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 7 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Because we have free will, as without it we can not exercise responsibility, God must have stepped back from having complete control over the universe. He has to limit Himself in order to give us freedom to learn and advance.