There is no doubt that God is powerful over all things. The sentence “Verily, God is powerful over all things” is imprinted in the mind of every theist. In this state, matters come to mind that intellect does not believe God is able to create. In this case, how can we admit that He has widespread power and recognize him to be powerful and able over all things?
1. Can God create a being like Himself? If He can, then the existence of a partner for Him is not impossible. If He cannot, then based on this assumption, He is not omnipotent and powerful over all things.
2. Can God place the entire universe inside an egg in such a way that the universe does not shrink and the egg does not expand?
3. Can God create a being that He cannot destroy or a thing He cannot move? Both of these two cases, like the first one, are difficult and unavoidable, because if we say “He cannot,” then how can we recognize Him to be omnipotent? And if we say “He can,” then again we have denied omnipotence for Him. If God can create a being that He cannot destroy or move, then how is He powerful over all things when He cannot destroy or move a thing He has created?
These questions are not new and have been propounded among people from old times. Our Imams (peace be upon them) were asked these types of question, which they answered. The summarized answer to all these questions is one statement, and that is the fact that the power of anything, even if it is infinite and unlimited, is conditioned by the requirement that intellect and reason can confirm its possibility and believe such a thing feasible. But power is never relevant to those things which are not possible in essence and which are considered impossible by intellect.
In explanation, when we externally measure our thoughts, we find them to be of two types:
First type: Thoughts for whose external existence intellect does not see any obstacle. For them to come into existence, they need nothing more than a power. These include the universe with its vastness and room, all those abundant forms, all those galaxies, nebulas, stars and moons and so on, all of which were possible matters and were brought to existence by God’s endless power.
Second type: Things whose creation is considered impossible and unfeasible by intellect and reason, and according to which their existence is not possible. This is not because the creating power is deficient and unreaching, but because these matters are essentially unable to accept existence.
Stated more clearly, when intellect places them on the scale of judgment and measures them, it sees that for such matters, there is no possibility of existence, no matter how endless the power of the creator is. In common terms, the shortcoming and deficiency is from themselves, not from the creator.
For example, if it is suggested to a skilled tailor to sew a wedding dress for a bride from a handful of bricks or firewood, or to an expert painter to draw a beautiful picture of a peacock on the trembling winds of dawn or the lively waves of the sea, certainly both of them will say that such tools and materials are not suitable and capable for the matters you have considered. A dress cannot be sewn from brick and firewood, and a picture cannot be painted on trembling winds.
When it is said that it cannot be sewn or painted, it is not because the artisans are not skilled enough in their fields to unable to do so, but the one has nothing to do with the other. With its keen insight and intelligence, humanity has understood that things such as brick and firewood are not sewing materials, and it is impossible to paint on water and wind. There are plenty of these examples in life.
For instance, everyone’s intellect understands that it is impossible for a thing to both exist and not exist at the same time, a lamp to be lit and off at the same time, and a bowl to be empty and full at the same time. The impossibility of such matters is self-evident to intellect and no one, no matter how much imaginative he may be, can suppose the possibility of existence for these matters. Every person, no matter how low his knowledge is, knows that 2 x 2 = 4, and it is not possible for it to equal 3 one day or 5 another.
It becomes clear from these examples that matters which are naturally impossible are outside the area of power, and using the word “power” in such cases is incorrect and wrong. Power is always related to possible matters and those matters which merit existence.
Now let us turn back and consider the examples mentioned in the questions and see why they cannot come about:
Answer to the First Question
With a quick thought, it becomes clear that the reason why power is separate from them is that such matters are impossibilities, and impossible matters do not fall under the realm of power. For example, the existence of a like for God is impossible. Scholars have proven the oneness of God with strong proofs in the discussions pertaining to God’s attributes. We know it is impossible for there to be any partner or like for Him. In this case, supposing the creation of a like for Him is an impossible supposition. To ask the question if God can create a being like Himself is like asking if God can create an impossible matter.
In other words, the implication of God creating a being like Himself is that God creates a being that, while being a relative being, is also an absolute and self-existent being; while it is limited, it is also unlimited and infinite; while it doesn’t have existence in and of itself, it has existence in and of itself. This is joining two contradictory matters, and according to intellect, that is an impossibility. If God creates a being like Himself, that means that it is God’s creation, and therefore it must be a relative being, finite, and one whose creation is not from itself. But because it is like God, then it must be like God in every way, meaning that it must be the self-existent being and infinite. Joining these states and different qualities is to join two contradicting opposites.
Answer to the Second Question
Also, the question as to whether God place the entire universe inside an egg is a question of bringing about an impossible matter, because intellect, based on a series of clear calculations and observations, has found out that the container must be bigger than the contained. It is impossible for a big thing to fit in a small container.
Therefore, to request that the universe is placed inside an egg is requesting an impossible matter from God. It became clear from the previous explanations that impossible matters are outside the area of power, and power is always related to possible matters.
(In other words, requesting for the universe to be placed inside an egg is requesting the union of two contradictory matters, because the container, which is the egg, must inescapably be smaller than the contained, the massive world. In this case, the contained is billions of times bigger than the container, and the supposition that a thing can be small and large at the same time is contradictory. For further information, refer to the book How Should We Know God.)
Answer to the Third Question
The same explanation applies to the third question, i.e. whether God can create a being which He cannot destroy. Requesting such a thing from God is requesting an impossible matter, because such a being will be the creation of God. It is therefore a relative being, and all relative beings are essentially mortal.
Whenever we suppose that this being is not mortal, we must also suppose that it is self-existent, and the result is a being which is relative (mumkin) and absolute (wajib) at the same time. In other words, from the point that it is God’s creation, it must be a relative being, but from the point that it is immortal, then inescapably it must be absolute. This is requesting the union of two contradictory matters.
Also, the question about God creating a being which He cannot move is a question about the possibility of joining two contradictions. Because from the point that it is God’s creation, it necessarily limited and finite, and therefore naturally moveable, and from the point that God cannot move it, it must be supposed that it is unlimited and infinite. Such a request is to request a contradictory thing, and it is a meaningless and unintelligible matter.
The summary of these answers is that all of these suppositions are impossible, and asking for them is asking for existence for matters that are essentially impossible. Impossible matters are outside the area of power, and according to the calculations of intellect, they are not suitable and capable of existing. If they were suitable and capable of existing, then verily there is no deficiency in God’s power.
The author of over a hundred books and articles on religious and social topics, including a commentary on the Holy Qur’an, Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi is followed as a Religious Authority by millions of Shias around the world today. He lives and teaches in the holy city of Qom, Iran. More of his articles, books, and speeches can be found on his website.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Islamic Insights would like to thank Sayyid Baqir Imrani for translating this article from Farsi into English.