Allen S. Maller

Is God limited because God cannot commit suicide?

When I was ten years old I asked my teacher in religious school if God could make a rock so heavy that no one, including God, could lift it. He said yes. I then asked if God could lift that rock. He said yes. I said one can’t both do and not do something at the same time. (I did not know of Schrodinger’s cat in a box at that time)

He said, “God can do the impossible all the time because God is all powerful.”

That impressed me for a year. Then I asked my sixth grade religious school teacher if God was immortal? She said God does not have a material body that wears out so God can’t die. God is like math; no matter how many times you add 2+2=4 it will always be 4 because it never wears out.

Then I asked her if God could commit suicide? She said no.

And I said proudly, “Then God is not all powerful”. She replied that I was not correct. God has the power to limit him/herself. For example, God is good so God will not do something evil. This is not a limit to God’s power; it is just God’s nature. A triangle does not have four sides, that is its nature. God’s will is to be good, therefore God can’t be evil; but that is not a limit. It is an achievement of goodness.

That impressed me for a more than a year until I was studying for my Bar Mitzvah and I asked the Rabbi: “Is God perfect?” and he said “Yes and No.”

It depends on what you mean by perfect. Many Greek philosophers thought God was perfect and unchanging like an equilateral triangle. If God was perfect any change would have to be to less perfect because you cannot be more perfect, even if the US constitution says you can.

If God changed to become more perfect that means that God was not perfect before. Thus God cannot become more perfect so God must be changeless. But if God was changeless God could not grow or engage in personal, interactive relationships There would be no point in loving God because God could not respond with love to any person. God would have no personality, if God was as unchanging as a perfect equilateral triangle.

Now the Torah portion for your Bar Mitzvah says, “God is not a person that He should lie, nor a human that He should change His mind.” (Numbers 23:12) and the prophet Malachi says, “I am the Lord, unchanging.” (3:6)

However, in the very next verse Malachi adds, “If you will return to me, I will return to you, says God.” God is thus unchanging in always changing responsively to human actions.

Those who claim God is unchanging say that God is all knowing and thus knows in advance how people will act. Therefore God only seems to change in response to human behavior.

But in the days of Noah “When the Lord saw that humans had done much evil on earth and their thoughts and impulses were always evil, God was sorry that he made mankind.” (Genesis 6:5)

If God knew in advance that humans would be so evil God wouldn’t have felt sorry for creating humanity.

Our Rabbis went even further in understanding God’s responsiveness. When Israel made the golden calf God was so angry he wanted to destroy them (Exodus 32:10) but Moses pleaded with God “like a man who seizes his fellow by his garment and says ‘I will not let go till you forgive them’ (Rabbi Abbahu).

Rabbi Yohanan says, “in the end God conceded Moses was right as it says, ‘I have pardoned according to your word.’ (Deuteronomy. 9:14)

Rabbi Isaac adds, “This teaches God said to Moses ‘your words have vitalized me.’” (Brachot 32a)

Thus, not only did God admit that Moses’ arguments are right and change his/her mind, but God also finds the interaction stimulating.

Indeed, our Sages even taught that God learned from Moses. When God tells Moses to destroy Canaanite cities (Deuteronoomy 20:17) Moses did not do it because he refused to smite the innocent together with the sinners. Instead Moses sent negotiators as he had to Sihon, king of Heshbon. (Deuteronomy 2:26)

Only when Sihon preferred war did Moses fight. Then God says to Moses, “I told you to destroy them and you didn’t do it. By your life, because you did this, I will do this ‘When you advance on a city to attack, make it an offer of peace’.” (Deuteronomy 20:10)

Midrash Tanhumah teaches that God added to the Torah because of Moses’ moral concerns.

The Rabbis even assert that one time when a majority of the Rabbis voted to support the interpretation of Rabbi Joshua even though God had indicated 3 times that Rabbi Eliezer was correct, God then laughed and said (proudly), “My children have defeated me.” (Talmud: Baba Metzia 59b)

A good parent or teacher does not want children or students that always follow orders like robots.

God’s mind changes because change is part of life in general, and a good and faithful relationship in particular.

The idea that God is perfect and thus cannot change is an error of Greek philosophy. Perfection is static. A circle is perfect.

To live is to change; and the God of the Bible is the living, interacting, mentor of Israel and all humanity.

That’s why Spinoza said: “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end in life.”

And Elie Wiesel said:“Life is not made of years, but of moments.”

And prayer is not asking for what you want, but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine.

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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