|God's majesty is never ending|
This topic is not a new issue. It has been written about by theologians much smarter than I on numerous occasions. The reason I am taking it up, is because there are still articles and books being printed that would like you to believe that God is not truly immutable (unchanging) because our actions can change God's will in response to our prayers. Therefore, because of this, I will write this in two parts. Let me first ask that you please read this prayerfully. Ask God for wisdom. If what I write flies in the face of everything you have been taught or, true biblical/classical/orthodox theology, then weigh the two in the balance and let God's word be the judge.
First of all, the Bible teaches that God is "immutable." This is defined as His unchangeable nature. Nelson's puts it this way: "a characteristic of God signifying that He does not change in His basic nature (Mal. 3:6). In Him, “there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:17). God does not “mutate” from being one kind of God to being another, nor is He subject to the limitations of time and space, since in Christ He upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3)."1 Theologian, Norman Geisler concurs:
The biblical basis for God’s unchangeability is found in numerous texts. Consider the following: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Num. 23:19). “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind” (1 Sam. 15:29). “They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.… But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Ps. 102:26–27; cf. Heb. 1:10–12). “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie …” (Heb. 6:18). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). “Resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time” (Titus 1:2). “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).Yet, if this is so, why do so many teach that by living "positively" (not allowing any negative thoughts to surface in our minds or actions), we can change God's direction in our lives? This is more a teaching of Eastern Mystical Religion and Hinduism (involving "karma," good or bad) than the Bible. How did this slip in to our churches? There are also those believers who by their so-called "faith statements" ignore Psalm 139:16, "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them." This passage simply tells us that God has already seen our days being the one who fashioned them. In other words, they have already been ordained by God. When Jesus spoke of faithlessness, anxiety, and worry, He told us to consider the lilies of the field "which neither toil nor spin" yet they are clothed just as God desires (Matt. 6:28-29). Toiling and spinning in a believers life, are nothing more than physical and emotional labors spent to bring events to bear that fit into what we desire—deeming it better than what an immutable (unchanging - all knowing) God knows to be good for us. God does not desire we toil and spin, He desires we trust and wait.
It is clear from these verses that not only does God not change, but it is also impossible for Him to change. There are things He cannot do, namely, He cannot act contrary to His immutable (unchangeable) nature.2
Now, we come to the topic of prayer. I recently read a devotional by Robert Morris, which either knowingly or unknowingly, promotes what is known in the theological world as "Open Theism" (see footnote3). His devotional at one point stated: "When the Bible says that God is unchangeable, however, it isn’t saying that God doesn’t change His mind. It is saying that God doesn’t change His character. God cannot and will not change His character. He is who He is. But according to Scripture, He can and will change His mind!"4 Morris goes on to list three examples where he believes God changed his mind, Genesis 18:16-33 (Abraham's conversation with God concerning destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the number of righteous in the cities), Exodus 32:9-10, 14 (God's desire to destroy the rebellious nation of Israel), and Jonah 3:4, 4:2 (God's staying of judgment against Nineveh). In each of the cases, Morris quotes a passage where it seems to state that God changed His mind or would change His mind given certain criteria. Morris reasons that in each case either prayer or repentance was the determinant moving God to change His mind.
So, how are we to approach such biblical passages as Morris quotes? They certainly seem to speak of God changing His mind. But do they really teach this? Before we go any further, take a moment to consider Millard Erickson's thoughts on a changing God's mind and our experience with Him:
This idea of divine changelessness is also supported by personal religious experience, for God is depicted as never failing those who trust in him (Deut. 31:6, 8; Josh. 1:5; Isa. 43:1–2; 49:15–16; Heb. 13:5). Such faithfulness, however, requires an unchanging and unchangeable God, for if he could change, how could we trust him and obey his commands unreservedly?5Erickson's words bring peace to the one who is seeking it because he dares not make the Lord God out to be a fickle, waffling Creator, instead we can trust Him because we know His promises are sure. In a word, "trust," is what all believers must have in their relationship to God. Also, if our Lord is not omniscient (all knowing, Psalm 139:1-12), then He would be always gadding about to see what our next move would be! This being the case, let's answer Morris' thesis that God can be influenced to change His position through prayer and or obedient actions.
Remember Morris' words. He stated, God does not change His character, but, "God will change His mind." This is based upon an open theist or free-will theist supposition that God does not know all of the future (he is not omniscient or all-knowing). He can only know some of it, because He cannot know what humanity (having a free-will) will ever do. Therefore, if we choose to pray and have faith then we (the creature), possess the power to coerce the Creator and make Him act according to our will. Listen to how Morris draws the reader into his tempting persuasion:
So we learn that God is immutable and will never, ever change His character. But He can and will change His mind when His people pray. And when we pray, we can remind Him of His unchanging character [persuasion]. He has always been and will always be compassionate. He has always been merciful, He is merciful at this very moment, and He will be that way right into eternity.6In the above, Morris tells the reader that through prayer and persuasion and by reminding God of His character, God will be moved to answer our prayer and change circumstances. Now do not get me wrong, I think it is very biblical to tell God you are aware of His character as revealed in the Bible. Where I falter is in using it as a tool of persuasion. It is kind of like, putting God between "a rock and a hard-spot." You are trying to force Him to act in a way incompatible to His nature. The key word being, "force."
The downside of this way of thinking is this: If I have the power to persuade God, by reminding Him of His character, and He does not do what I ask, then I must be a flawed, weak, faithless, unloved, and insignificant negative person in God's eyes. But is that true? No, not according to orthodox theology and the classic biblical view. On the contrary, the Bible (Jesus) teaches that you are of more worth than the smallest sparrow. "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Mat 10:29-31, emphasis mine). This simple passage teaches that God is omniscient (all knowing) and that if He is aware of when a sparrow dies (his will) how much more is He aware of us and our day-to-day activities. We are worth more than the sparrow.
So, we have a choice to make concerning our theology and our biblical worldview. (1) We can believe that our prayer coerces God to act because He never knows our future and must be coerced to act in mercy according to our request, knowing when we do, there is a risk of becoming entrapped to a depressive "God must not love me" because He does not answer my prayer attitude, launching worry and anger, or, (2) We can believe that God loves us infinitely and knows what is best for us. His will be done, not mine. That He does have each of our days numbered (He has seen them), and that His knowledge of what is best for me is better than my greatest wishes for myself. This is so because, God's will for believers is transformation into the likeness of Christ not God transfoming into the likeness of me. Remember Romans 8:29: "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren" (emphasis mine). If transformation and conforming to change into what Christ desires us to be was left up to us, it would never happen. Face it, we are more selfish than we sometimes think. Besides, we were created to serve God, not God be our servant. Believing we can coerce God into doing what we desire, presumes we also perfectly know what God's will for our future is. But do we?
Before you read and take something at face value, practice pausing a second to consider, whether what you are being told is true to Scripture. God is working in and through us and He alone knows the direction He has laid out for our lives. We need to join Him in His work, not He join us in our work.
Prayer??? God answers prayer according to His will. He asks us to wait upon Him for the answer.
To close, consider another devotional entry, this time by O. S. Hawkins, on waiting:
First, we have to wait for the sunrise. We cannot hurry it. It does not rise any sooner if I move the hour hand on my watch. Second, the sun always rises. We never wait in vain for the sun. Every sunset since time began has been followed by a sunrise — and God is just as faithful as the sun He created. Those who wait on Him are like those who “watch for the morning.” He is always right on time, and no matter how desperate we may be, we can count on god to rise and meet us according to His perfect timing.
Worry does not change what God is going to do, instead, it makes the path to getting there painful.
1 Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, and R. K. Harrison, Thomas Nelson Publishers, eds., Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995).
2 Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 74–75.
3 Open Theism or free-will theism purports the belief "that God does not know future free actions of human beings so that the future is to Him uncertain." (Steve Wellum, “God,” ed. Chad Brand et al., Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary [Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003], 660.) Interestingly, this belief is very similar to the Islamic analogue, "Al-Qadiriyyah, [which] contends that people possess complete control over their actions and that even God lacks knowledge of what humans will freely choose to do (Piamenta, Islam, 147–49)." (Kirk R. MacGregor, “Predestination,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary [Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016]. Therefore, God acts in response to our actions.
4 Robert Morris, "Why Keep Praying? God Changes His Mind," Devotionals Daily, March 28, 2017, accessed March 29, 2017, http://contentz.mkt4728.com/mson/2017/03/29/sIwcvYyMoff0/index.html.
5 Millard J. Erickson, God the Father Almighty: A Contemporary Exploration of the Divine Attributes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 70.
6 Morris, "Why Keep Praying"
7 O. S. HAwkins, "What Good Does Worry Do?" Devotionals Daily, March 30, 2017, accessed March, 31, 2017, http://www.faithgateway.com/what-good-does-worry-do/#.WN4vx2e1vZ