“For nothing is impossible with God.”—Luke 1:37
When the angel Gabriel told Mary she would bear a child, she asked how this could be, since she was a virgin. He answered that the child would be God’s Son, and would be conceived when God’s Holy Spirit came upon her. Then he told her about her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant despite being well past childbearing age, because God had decided it would happen, and God can do anything.
Nothing is impossible with God. Do we really believe this? Do we believe that our God created the universe, and can do whatever He wants in His creation? Do we believe that He is not limited by things like time, math, the laws of physics, and so on? Do we believe He is the ultimate authority, that He is all-knowing and all-powerful?
If we do, then it’s strange how often people explain difficult theological issues by using the phrase “God can’t.” This actually happens quite a bit. You may have heard some of these statements, or even used them yourself:
“People who reject Jesus have to go hell because God can’t be in the presence of sin.”
Hmmm. Well, God was in the presence of sin when Jesus walked the earth and spent time with tax collectors and prostitutes and prideful Pharisees. God is in the presence of sin right now, because He lives within me and you by His Holy Spirit, and there is definitely still sin in us. God is in the presence of sin all the time, and it doesn’t damage Him in any way. It’s true that He has determined that in eternity He won’t be in the presence of sin, but that’s His choice. It’s not a rule He has to follow, because He writes the rules. It’s also true that He condemns sinners, but that too is His choice. It’s an expression of His perfect justice. No one forces His hand when He judges and punishes sin, because no one ever forces His hand about anything.
“If you don’t have enough faith, God can’t do a miracle in your life.”
Hogwash. Jesus gave Peter a miraculous catch of fish when he had no faith, in order to help him grow in faith. Jesus calmed the wind and the waves when the disciples had no idea He was capable of such a thing. Jesus rose from the dead when no one believed He could. God doesn’t need our faith to do miracles, because He is God, and He doesn’t need any help to do the things He wants to do.
“If you don’t confess your sins, God can’t forgive them.”
Wrong again. When the four friends brought the paralytic to Jesus by lowering him through a hole in the ceiling, Jesus said “Son, your sins are forgiven,” when the man had asked for no such thing. When Jesus hung on the cross, He prayed for His accusers, saying “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” despite the fact that they had not repented of their sin or confessed it. While it’s true that forgiveness usuallyfollows repentance and confession, we serve a God who can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants. Nothing is impossible for Him.
What’s my point? Simply this: we want to be careful making absolute statements about the way God works, as if He always followed some formula or was restricted by a set of rules. He is God. He worked in the miraculous events of the Exodus to set Israel free from slavery in Egypt, and at the same time to foreshadow the sacrifice of His Son, and He also invented the octopus. He has worked out all the math to create solar eclipses, and He knows the hairs on your head and why you like the foods you like. He is wise, powerful, and creative beyond anything we can fathom, and it’s always a mistake to limit Him in any way.
In the above examples, you can see how people have taken something that is generally true about how God works and tried to make a rule out of it. Yes, God detests sin and doesn’t like to be in its presence. Yes, He loves to reward our faith, and Jesus made statements about how people’s faith brought about miracles. Yes, the Bible says that if we confess, God forgives. That is how things work, most of the time. But if we ever find ourselves saying “This is how things always work, because God can’t…” we had better watch ourselves. The only thing God can’t do is sin, because He is Holy, and He cannot be untrue to His own nature. Everything else is always a possibility.
This is on my mind partly because I know what I’m preaching on Sunday. On Christmas Eve, when we talk about the peace Christ can bring, I’m going to mention that Mary experienced Christ’s peace because she sat still long enough to receive it. Luke 2:19 says she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I’m going to make the point that people don’t do much pondering any more. People live such busy and distracted lives these days that they experience far less of the peace of Christ than they could, because generally speaking, peace comes into our hearts when our hearts are quiet. If you’re running around doing a dozen different things all the time, bouncing from one task to the next, with your face buried in your phone and your music blasting, constantly obsessing over the news of the world, and everything you have to do, and all the unanswered questions of your life, God’s not going to blindside you with His peace when you’ve done nothing to indicate you’re serious about seeking it.
Unless He does. Because He could. God could override all the silly things you and I do to hold Him at arm’s length, and He could surprise us with a dose of contentment and joy this season. He could interrupt us in the midst of all our distractions, and He could remind us that we can be still and know that He is God, He loves us, and all will be well. He could silence all the noise and chaos and make us deeply aware of His presence and His goodness and His desire for intimacy with us, despite all the things we are doing to actively ignore Him. It’s unlikely, but it’s not impossible. If He knows that’s what you need this season, I’m praying He does it.
What’s more likely, though, is that you and I will experience the peace of Christ if we take a moment and quiet the noise ourselves. If we turn the phone off, put down the to-do list, open up the Bible, and open up our hearts to the God who made us and loves us. If we take a moment and ponder the things He has done in our lives. I pray you find some time this week to be still before Him, and that when you do you experience His peace. That’s usually the way it works.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”
For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.—Romans 11:33-36