November 20, 2020

Sight Unseen / Brandon A. Evans

The stone which God cannot move

Brandon A. EvansThere is a very old philosophical question that goes roughly like this:

Could God create a stone which he cannot move?

Despite the motivation of the one asking, most give the same answer: no.

For the unbeliever this answer is proof that God cannot be truly omnipotent, or even be God at all.

For believers, it is the very question which is invalid. It is as silly as asking whether God can simultaneously make himself exist and not exist. The law of non-contradiction is not a human law, or even a universal one: it is a divine law, part of the very essence of God. So, no, infinite power cannot be used to overcome itself.

But for some time, I’ve had a nagging doubt about this most orthodox and faithful of answers. I am convinced that for all it’s precision, it is wrong.

I believe the answer is yes.

God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and Earth, all-knowing and all-powerful, perfect in splendor, might and majesty, can create a stone which he cannot move.

He’s done it before, and is doing it still.

The stone is not one of rock, but of flesh and soul, and the place where both meet most intimately: the human heart.

God desires—more than anything—the love of his people. His divine heart burns for it, and there is nothing he would not give to obtain it. Yet, he cannot command it. The very act of forcing anyone to love him would tear asunder their free will and make void the very meaning of the offering.

Thus, it is the free-willed heart that is the stone God cannot move and the only thing he cannot give himself. Our choice to love him is all that is beyond the reach of the active will of the Maker.

And yet the weight of that unmoved stone is not heavy at all: it is only the weight of will; the simplest turning to God breaks the spell cast over us in Eden, the spell that urges us to disbelieve our destiny.

After all, Jesus Christ has already saved the world. Our sins are forgiven by the blood of the Cross, our lives given their full meaning in his life, the gates of heaven flung open and a place made ready for us.

Even death and demons have been conquered, but they are not the last foe.

We are. For that simple turning of the will is not, for us, simple at all…or so it seems.

The greatest weapon of the devil is not in tempting us to sin, or inflicting suffering upon us; it is not in war and famine and poverty and sickness; neither is it in the gentle poison of luxury and decadence.

It is despair that the dark angel wants. It is to get us to believe all the little lies we’ve ever told ourselves: that we have fallen too many times to be worthy of Jesus, that our efforts will always come up short, our dreams never be met, our tears never wiped away. More to the point, that we have already endured too much pain to risk giving God anything more.

This is the great con, the greatest there ever can be: to steal eternity from those who were born to possess it; to make them to lay it down freely and give them nothing in return.

In the trials of life, our hearts can become like immovable stones sunk down in a river, our mournful eyes cast beyond to mountains we shall never reach.

We grow cold.

But God waits.

He looks down at his little stone, whispering to it through the rush of water and the dancing light from the waves above. He doesn’t leave it in the chill of winter, nor in the darkest night.

He is patient, gentle even.

He watches as we struggle and bind our own hands into chosen slaveries; watches as we snare our thoughts into a tightening net of despair.

We try so mightily to make things right, to fix ourselves, to earn our heaven, to think the proper thoughts and say the proper prayers.

But a stone cannot move itself. We struggle and despair, over and over.

And over and over, God speaks. He speaks always and insistently.

“Let it go. Let all of it go.”

The paradox of our immovability—our lack of being able to save ourselves and God’s in not being able to force it upon us—is shattered. God and man, strength and will, working together do the impossible.

In only our slightest submission is hidden the glory by which power is made perfect in weakness. Our inability to bear the weight of our wounds is transformed by God, who, with our consent, is able to carry us to the great heights we have only dreamt of and make whole all that we’ve lost.

It is God himself who upholds the soul that surrenders to him; it is his work that carries it through the suffering of life and gives it things which it could never earn or merit. All goodness and hope and strength lie just on of the other side of that turning.

Such is the glory—and the peril—of free will, as it has been from the beginning. God plays a dangerous game and one for all the stakes.

In the end, our heart can be made of unmovable stone if we choose it to be; it is only through our own hideous strength that we can make ourselves to sink down into the depths of eternity, set against God and left to ourselves forever.

It needn’t be as such, though. The mercy of God is that life, to the very, very last breath, is none but a series of chances to cast up our gaze, listen to our Creator and let everything else go.

(Sight Unseen is an occasional column that explores God and the world. Brandon A. Evans is the online editor and graphic designer of The Criterion and a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield.)

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