If God Doesn’t Change His Mind, Can Prayers Work?
It is an age old question: If God knows everything, has perfectly planned every thing from the very beginning, predestined everything, why does He want us to pray? Isn’t prayer useless if the outcome is predestined?
The Presbyterian Church has a doctrine of predestination. Everything is predestined – everything. Then comes double predestination, even triple. “He knew you would pray, so He had already planned for the cure”.
Similarly, “God cannot lie – He defines truth.” So when he tells a prophet (such as Isaiah) that something would happen (such as Hezekiah “will surely die” of his present illness) or Jonah when he is told the city will be destroyed. Hezekiah lived and the city was preserved, both as a result of prayer. (I’ll get into the details below).
I once had someone tell me this:
“To say that God genuinely changes His mind is to say that He learns something. That calls into question either His omniscience or His logic in how He approaches a situation. “
True enough. However, there is some indication in Genesis that God creates progressively and at least *appears* to learn as He goes in some situations. “And God saw that it was good.”
I also agree that God knows all things, past, present, and future. Just the same, I lean toward the opinion that God does change His mind, however rarely He does it. “Nothing is impossible to God” applies to whether He changes His mind also. After all, He is a living God, and I don’t believe that He is constrained from making changes (or to continue creating) “as we go.”
I believe that we (Christians and many others) agree that God is Sovereign and that He can do anything He wants to do. Whatever He chooses to do is good, because the Sovereign God defines good through His laws and actions.
That means to me that we have to acknowledge that He can change His mind should He want to do so, based solely on His Sovereignty. As his subjects, we cannot deny our creator what He chooses to do or not do simply because the scriptures are not clear. What I am trying to say is that we cannot box him in by scripture. He won’t stand for it.
Lots of things like that go on in various discussion groups and atheiests use similar arguments against any belief of God.
Why I am interested:
I became interested in this due to my “Clear Warning” detailed in one of my earliest posts. I prayed and immediately the pall of impending death was lifted. Did God change His mind? I dared ask that question in the light of the warning, the following truck incident, and the sudden change that was a clear answer to my prayer.
I believe all visions and all discernments about God come from God and nowhere else. If we believe the Bible is inspired (as I do) then I also believe that visions and discernments must have scriptural basis. Yes, there are discrepancies between accounts (some say errors) in the Bible, and it was written by mortals. We don’t have to believe every story or every word in order to trust the Bible when it comes to the message it brings us. It is the best we have. The message is important and it is God’s message. We can trust it as true.
Having said that, let me take you to Isaiah and Hezekiah.
1 In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, 3 “Remember, LORD, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4 Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: 5 “Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6 And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.” Isaiah 38:1-6
We can’t get much clearer than this! It is reported in three books of the bible (starting at 2 Chronicles 32:24, 2 Kings 20:1, and Isaiah 38:1). In addition, since prophets never make mistakes (and live), but God never changes His mind, Hezekiah asked for a sign. It was an unmistakable miraculous sign.
God gave him a choice of which way he would move the sun – forward or backward and Hezekiah chose to have time reversed. Also reported in 3 books of the Bible and seen all across the land.
Notice that Hezekiah did not ask for healing. He accepted that God’s word was final. He merely asked God to remember his good deeds. Even before Isaiah could get out of the courtyard, God sent him back to give Hezekiah the news. This prayer was entirely in acceptance of God’s will, as all prayers should be.
Ok, which do you think is more credible: a) God lied when he told Isaiah that Hezekiah would die? b) Isaiah made it up? c) God changed his mind? Does c) imply a)?
First of all God does not lie, as He defines truth. I believe that. If the first statement to Isaiah was that Hezekiah would die, then that was his destiny, the reality, and the truth. When God changed his mind, he made a new reality and a new truth and a new destiny that affected millions of the descendants of his people. Both were true and the only thing that happened was that God heard a prayer that was within His will and acted on it.
Next, if Isaiah had made it up (or was mistaken) then we can’t explain the sun going backward as a result of the sign from God. Without the sign, we could think that Isaiah could have been mistaken but remember – in those days prophets that made mistakes were considered false prophets and were stoned. Prophets did not become trusted prophets for the king if they made mistakes. Does c) imply a)? No. I think God changed His mind by changing the path of the world. Hezekiah later had more children. There are descendants in this world that would not have lived without this change and other destinies changed forever as a result also.
God had a plan and a predestined path for Hezekiah that included his death due to that illness. When God changed his mind, he created a new path for the world, a new reality that was just as valid and just as true as the first path.
It is clear to me that God changed his mind and thus there is good reason for prayer.
Let’s now change over to Jonah. We all remember the whale incident, but the story is not about the whale, but about God wanting Jonah to deliver a message:
1 Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” (…)
4 …”Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” Jonah 3:1-2, 4
How did the Ninevites respond?
5 The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
How did God Respond?
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:5-10
Once again a clear message from God of death and destruction was overturned by God changing His mind as a result of prayer within His will. The Ninevites believed God and simply repented and changed their ways. God listened. A truth and a path, a destiny foretold that became a new truth, a new path and a new destiny.
So pray. Pray no matter how despirate the situation seems to be. God is still at work today, believe me. When you pray, pray within God’s will. My prayer was simple:
“God, my Father in heaven, if it is your will that I die, I am ready to go. If it is your will that I live, I believe I can help bring others to you through our church. I will do good work for you.”
It wasn’t like I was giving Him a choice or barganing with God. I simply stated that I was willing to take or do anything he asked. Total submission to His will. I’m still trying to get it right.