One of the attributes of God is his unlimited and boundless power and omnipotence. This question has been asked and answered in fields such as philosophy and scholastic theology. It has also been explained multiple times in the Holy Quran. Yet, this belief in the unlimited power of God has brought up, since ancient times, certain issues and questions. One of these, is this very same question which is being asked now. This question has been asked in different forms and arrangements; yet the essence of the question still remains the same and probes the mystery of absolute divine power.
In order to answer this question, we must first explore the various types of impossibilities. Impossibilities, from one angle, can be divided into two sections. These are: 1. Logical impossibilities, and 2. Regular impossibilities.
Then, logical impossibilities are themselves divided into 2 sections, which are: A- Things impossible in their essence: These are matters which are impossible in their essence, without having to even come into existence in order to show their impossibility, for example, the co-existence of two contradictions. B- Things which aren’t impossible in their essence, but their coming about necessitates something which is impossible in its essence (impossibilities in occurrence). For example, the existence of an effect without having a cause.
Ordinary impossibilities are matters, which are impossible according to natural laws, but they are not impossible logically. For example, the miraculous changing of a staff into a serpent or the curing of the sick without medicine, or various other miracles. None of these are impossible logically, but it is our ignorance about their causes which makes us count them as practical impossibilities.
The power of God, as well as the power which people possess, is related to all things which are possible, while impossibilities are essentially outside of this circle of possibility. Therefore, in answering this question of whether God can create such a rock, which he cannot lift, it must be said that however great someone’s power may be, whether it is a lot or a little, and whether it is finite or infinite, it is a matter which relates to the world of possibilities (regular impossibilities being part of them) and not to impossibilities (the logical impossibilities).
Here, it may be said that if this is the case, then the power of God has become limited or finite and cannot be considered as infinite and limitless. In answering this question, we must keep in mind that God not being able to do an impossibility (in essence or in occurence) does not count as bringing any sort of limitation on the threshold of divine power. This is because these sorts of actions are in essence impossible to enact and don’t bear the potential to come into being. To summarize, these are things which are self limiting, in and of themselves; they are beyond being able to be done or not; power to do them or not isn’t even applicable to them and this is because of the deficiency they have in their own essences.
Imam Ali (a) was asked a similar question when someone said: “Can your God put the whole world into an egg, without making the world smaller or making the egg larger?” Imam (a) answered: “Weakness or inability are not characteristics which can be attributed to God, but what you have asked is something which is not possible to come into existence (it does not have the possibility of existence).”