Minutes With Messiah Logo

It's Impossible

by Tim O'Hearn

I always liked Perry Como. Mr. C had such a smooth voice, and an easy style. He did not rely on gimmicks or flashiness. I guess some people might have said his sweater was a gimmick, but it was more just a trademark. He had a string of hits over many years. One of his biggest hits in his later years started out saying “it’s impossible.” He listed such impossibilities as the sun leaving the sky or a baby not crying. (Obviously he didn’t believe “Away In a Manger” when it says Jesus did not cry as a baby.) The Bible also lists a number of things that are impossible, and a few possibilities.

If it were possible

The Bible also talks about things that might be tried, as if they were possible. The usual implication of the phrase is that the thing discussed is really not a possibility, even though someone thinks it might be. Sometimes, however, it merely suggests that there might be barriers to a normal occurrence.

For instance, Paul once hurried on a trip, bypassing Ephesus and the other churches in Asia Minor, “if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 20:16) As a Jew, even though a Christian, he was hoping the same thing that most Jews today hope. He wanted to be in Jerusalem for the holiday. He knew that a delay would prevent him from fulfilling his obligation. In fact, there was the possibility that even without a delay he might be late.

The captain of the ship that was taking Paul to Rome was also hoping that there would be no barriers to something he was normally able to do. The ship was in a tempest, and approaching landfall. “And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship.” (Acts 27:39) In this hope he was frustrated, however, when the ship stuck fast aground and broke apart. Sometimes the possibilities are realized, and sometimes not.

Sometimes we need to try our best to make the thing possible. Paul says that sometimes it just depends on us for something to be possible. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18) There is a slight admission here that some things might not always be possible. What Paul says, however, is that we are not to be the barrier to the possibility. We may not be able, in this instance, to live at peace with others, simply because they may not wish peace with us. Nevertheless, we should try. If they choose to ignore our attempts at peace, at least it is not our fault. We can’t always control others. Paul insists that we control ourselves.

In the first category, things that are not possible but hoped for, Jesus classified deceiving God’s people. “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matt 24:24; Mark 13:22) A careful look at what Jesus is saying shows that “the elect” in this passage is probably the Jewish people, or at least those who are devout in their study of the Law and the Prophets. Whoever it may be, Jesus is clearly saying that those who are familiar with the word of God will not allow themselves to be deceived by false Christs and false prophets. The Qu’ran calls the Jews and Christians “people of the Book.” Unfortunately, over the years there are many in both groups that have failed to live up to that sobriquet. We have lost contact with the Book, and the impossible has happened. Many are deceived. Some have been so deceived by false messiahs that they have lost faith in any Messiah at all. Others will accept any prophet that claims to have the Spirit, or has a new revelation. Some are deceived by signs. Even though speaking in unintelligible syllables is common to almost every world religion, almost every one thinks that it is only their religion that has a monopoly on speaking the hidden words of God. They take the incomprehensible as the inspired. Because what can be self-generated appears to be a sign, many are deceived by it. Paul warns not to allow false signs to make an impossibility a fact. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” (Gal 1:8-9)

Sometimes, though, hoping for the impossible can be a good thing. Such was the case with the Galatians. They wished they could have done the impossible, out of their love for Paul. “I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me.” (Gal 4:15) Wishing we could do the impossible sometimes may be a sign of our love. Even though we know it cannot happen, we wish it could.

The possible

Some people wish some things were possible. The Bible talks of things that truly are possible.

Faith makes the improbable possible. In Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, the Fairy Godmother sings, “Impossible things are happening every day.” Jesus agrees that such might be true. Who ever heard of thinking a mountain from one place to another? Yet Jesus says it is possible. “Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” (Matt 17:20) Although Jesus uses the word “impossible” here, he negates it, making it into a possibility. Some people think this is a case of hyperbole to make a point. They say Jesus didn’t really mean we could literally move mountains. This is a remote possibility. What is more likely, though, is that Jesus is telling the truth, and those naysayers just don’t have the faith about which he speaks. After all, the context in which he makes this statement is that of casting out demons. This was something they had just seen him do, even though it seemed impossible. It is likely, then, that he is using the possibility they had just seen to reinforce a possibility they had not. “All things are possible to him that believeth.” (Mk 9:23)

Perhaps the best known passages on possibility are those that talk about God. “With God all things are possible.” (Mk 10:27; Matt 19:26) This is the creator of the world. If it is possible to make something where there was nothing, anything else is possible. That doesn’t mean that God necessarily always does that which is possible. We know of at least one case where he chose not to follow through on a possibility, and are blessed thereby. In Gethsemane, on the night Jesus was betrayed, he prayed to God, saying, “O my Father, if it be possible, and all things are possible unto thee, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matt 26:39 combined with Mk 14:36) It was possible for God to stop his plan before Jesus was betrayed. Although it was possible, it was not the right thing to do. Had God done the possible, all of us could not be reconciled to God. Sometimes following through on a possibility creates an impossibility. As Paul put it, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient.” (1 Cor 6:12; 10:23) Even though it is possible, it may not be the best thing.

Impossible

Just as there is the seeming paradox of God choosing not to do the possible so as not to create an impossibility, so also there is the seeming paradox of everything being possible for God and yet some things being impossible for him. God can do anything except choose to violate his very nature. “Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” (Heb 16:17-18) Although everything is possible with God, he cannot lie. It is impossible for God not to love. And it is impossible for God to perform a logical contradiction such as creating a rock too big for him to lift.

Peter said there was an impossibility in relation to Jesus after his death, as well. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it.” (Acts 2:23-24) Once Jesus had died, it was impossible for him to remain in the grave. Paul says the resurrection is as much a part of the gospel as the death and burial. For there to be the good news of salvation it was impossible that death could hold Jesus.

More often, though, it is we who are faced with impossibilities. “It is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” (Heb 10:4) “6But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Heb 11:6) “It is impossible that offences will not come.” (Lk 17:1)

Perhaps the most argued passage on impossibility is Hebrews 6:4-6. What you believe it says depends a lot on whether or not you believe in the doctrines of John Calvin.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

For many who oppose Calvinist doctrines, this passage says two things. One is that it is possible to fall from grace. The other is that the impossibility of restoring someone is a conditional impossibility. The usual interpretation is that it means that it is impossible for a person who has been convinced that Jesus is Savior to renew them to repentance using the same arguments. This seems to fit the context, and the mercy of God. For that is another impossibility; for God not to be merciful.