2417) Doing the Impossible

Jezza Uepa, Nauruan powerlifter. Australia 2015


     Three salesmen walk into a motel to get a room.  (This is not a joke; it is a math problem, so grab a pencil).  The men tell the manager at the desk they would like one room.  The manager tells them the total charge will be thirty dollars (this story must have taken place many years ago).  Each man pays ten dollars, they receive the key, and they go to their room.

     A little while later, the manager realizes he charged the men too much money for the room.  The correct cost of the room should have been twenty-five dollars, so he decides to give five dollars back to the men.  So the manager calls his assistant, gives him five one-dollar bills, and tells him to take the money to the three men.

     On his way, the assistant realizes he has a problem.  How will he be able to divide five dollars between three men?  He stops, thinks about, and comes up with a solution.  He will give each man one dollar, and keep two dollars for himself.  Problem solved.  The three men receive an even better deal on the room, the assistant gets a little extra spending money, and the manager will never know the difference.

     Now, are your pencils ready?  Each man paid ten dollars for the room; and then each man got one dollar back.  Therefore, each paid nine dollars for the room.  Nine times three equals twenty-seven, so the total cost of the room was twenty-seven dollars.  The assistant kept two dollars, so:  27 + 2 = 29.  Where did the other dollar go?

     This is an insoluble problem.  I have been told that it does not work out because, mathematically, this is the wrong way to write the equation.  

     That might be true, but I still don’t get it.

     Are you ready for another puzzler?  In Matthew 19:26 Jesus says, “With God all things are possible?”  Well, if God can do anything, Can He create a weight so heavy that He can’t lift it?  Either way you answer the question, God loses–  either there is something he can’t create or something he can’t lift.  Therefore, even with God, there are some things that are not possible.

     For many years this has been a favorite ‘tongue-in-cheek’ question of amateur theologians and philosophers.  I remember hearing this question as a child and being bothered by it for a time.  “What if the Bible is wrong?” I wondered.  What if God cannot do everything?  What if there are other things God cannot do?

     I decided that just like in the first problem, the question was being asked in the wrong way.  God can, of course, create any object of any weight; and God can, of course, ALSO lift any object of any weight.  That answer was good enough for me for many years.

     Then, just last week, I read a better answer.  In Reaching Toward the Heights, Richard Wurmbrand tells his story of how this question challenged his faith, and then later affirmed his faith:

     When I was a little child I did not think about God.  I had been taught that He is an all-powerful being.  This was all I knew.  At the age of perhaps eight, another child mocked God in my presence.  “If He is all-powerful,” the child scoffed, “can He make a weight He cannot lift?  If He can, He is not all-powerful.  If He cannot, again He is not what He claims.”

     I liked the joke, and the idea of an all-powerful God never occurred to me again.

     At the age of twenty-seven, I read the New Testament and found out that God had made a weight He could not lift.  He had made of Himself a baby weighing just a few pounds.  And then, He could not lift Himself.  His mother had to lift Him to take Him from the manger to her breast to feed Him.  God had to have His ears washed.  He was too small a child to do it Himself.  His jacket which He had torn climbing some tree was patched by His mother.  He did not know how to sew.

     God had made a weight He could not lift.  He had become incarnate as the Son of man.  And this Son of man was given into the hands of men.  They mocked Him; they crucified Him.  People around jeered Him for His lack of power.  He could not descend from His cross.  Then He even became a corpse.

     Having made a weight He could not lift, God then showed His almightiness by lifting the unliftable.  Jesus was resurrected in power and ascended into heaven.  Once lifted from the earth, God attracts all people toward Him.

     I had been wrong as a child.  God is almighty.  He can make a weight He Himself cannot lift, and is still almighty.


Matthew 19:26  —  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

Job 11:7-8  —  Can you fathom the mysteries of God?  Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?  They are higher than the heavens above— what can you do?  They are deeper than the depths below— what can you know?  Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.

Psalm 46:6  —  Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; God lifts his voice, the earth melts.

Philippians 2:7  —  He (Jesus) made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.


Our Lord Jesus, you have endured the doubts and foolish questions of every generation.  Forgive us for trying to be judge over you, and grant us the confident faith to acknowledge you as Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, Augsburg Publishing House, 1978.