This is a regularly repeated question, and manifests itself in various ways. In essence it is alleged that God’s attributes are self-contradictory. Atheists often pose questions such as: Can God make a rock too heavy for Him to lift? Can God kill himself? Can He create an object He cannot destroy? They then allege that if the answer to any of these is ‘no’, then God is not All-Powerful.
The true answer to this question essentially revolves around the fact that God is not just one attribute. He is not All-Powerful exclusively without any other attributes. A true conception of God takes in all his attributes in totality.
For example, He is omnipotent yes, but He is also All-Wise. His wisdom therefore prohibits Him from killing himself, or creating objects He cannot destroy. He is also Incorporeal, and Immaterial, and therefore never lifts any rocks in the first place. Such actions as these would compromise Godhead and mean that God must shed some of his attributes to satisfy an atheist’s demands.
The Qur’an never says ‘God can do everything that you can imagine’, rather it says ‘He does what He wills,’ in accordance to His wisdom, and all His other attributes.
One of the best responses to this question comes from the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as). Addressing it, he writes:
“It might be asked that if full comprehension of a thing implies the power to create it then, as God’s knowledge of His Own Being is perfect, is He the Creator of His Own Being or has He power to create the like of Himself? The answer to the first part is that were God Almighty the Creator of His Own Being, it would involve His being in existence before His coming into existence and this is an impossibility. God Almighty possessing complete knowledge of His Own Being means that, in this instance, the Knower and His knowledge and Allah the Exalted that which is known are all the same and cannot be separated. There is here nothing which should be regarded as having been created. God’s knowledge of His Own Being cannot be compared to anything else. In this instance, the Knower is not something apart from that which is known so that one may be designated as the Creator and the other as creation. The proper way to put it is that His Being is uncreated and is eternally and everlastingly Self-Existing and that is the meaning of God.
The second part of the objection is that God’s complete knowledge of Himself means that He has the power to create His Own like. The answer to this is that God’s power directs itself towards matters which are not inconsistent with His eternal attributes. It is true that God, if He so desires, can create that of which He has perfect knowledge, but it certainly does not follow that whatever He has the power to do He should proceed to do without regard to His perfect attributes. In the exercise of all His powers, He has regard to His perfect attributes and He has it in mind whether that which He wills is not contradictory of His perfect attributes. For instance, He has the power to burn a pious and righteous person in the fire of Hell, but His mercy and justice and attribute of reward would stand in the way, and, therefore, He never does it. In the same way His power is never inclined to destroy Himself for this would be contrary to His eternal life. He does not create His Own like because His attributes of Unity and Peerlessness, which are eternal, prevent Him from thinking in that way. It should be understood that to be unable to do something is one thing, but despite the power to do a thing, not to address Himself to something contradictory of His attributes, is quite another.”
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) [Surmah Chashm Arya Ruhani Khaza’in, Vol. 2, pp. 230-233 footnote. Also found in Essence of Islam, Volume 1 P135]
For further information on this and other similar topics, visit rationalreligion.co.uk , a platform founded by a group of Ahmadi youth aiming to counter objections raised by atheists against religion.