Does God know the future? Does prayer make a difference?

California pastor TC Robinson burst on to the blogging scene a few months ago with his blog New Leaven. (I assume he is male, and not a woman using initials rather than a first name to disguise her gender, because he admits to a wife and two kids, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much these days in California!) This is one of the most prolific blogs I read with an average of more than four posts a day. It is also one of the most consistently interesting and thought-provoking, as TC consistently finds subjects which are both serious and entertaining and very often lead to long comment thread discussions. I disagree with TC on a number of issues, but it is always good to discuss them with him and others on his blog.

When I call him TC I can’t help remembering the Top Cat cartoons of my childhood, in which the hero was known as TC. But I don’t recognise Pastor Robinson as the leader of the bloggers’ gang!

Among TC’s posts recently have been several on Open Theism, which is basically the idea that God does not predetermine the future or even know it in advance. So far he has written ten posts in this category. It was partly in response to one of these posts that I wrote my post God the Blogger, to which TC responded.

Meanwhile Jeremy Pierce has reactivated his extremely long running Theories of Knowledge and Reality series, which touches on the same kinds of question. He has also posted an interesting essay on Prophecy in Harry Potter (see also the comments on this one); now I am not much interested in Harry Potter, but in this post issues also come up of whether even God can prophesy reliably about the future.

Open Theism has been rejected by many evangelical Christians, such as Wayne Grudem, because of its apparent implication that not even God knows the future. If not, they argue, how can God fulfil his purposes, and inspire accurate prophecies about what will happen? Surely, these people argue, the future is predetermined by God. This is in effect the position of Calvinists, who believe that God has predetermined who will be saved, if not necessarily every detail of the future. Yet it is difficult to see how this kind of determinism allows for any kind of human free will. But the Bible seems to affirm that humans do have free will, as for example in Psalm 32:9, and as such are responsible for their actions.

A related question is whether Christian prayer can make a real difference to the future. Some may hold that the real function of prayer is to bring us closer to God – and that people should not ask for anything specific, even for God to provide for others’ genuine needs. However, Jesus, especially in Matthew 7:7-11, seems to present prayer as a real process of making specific requests and seeing them fulfilled. But how can this be if God has already fixed the future before we pray?

Now there are very many complex arguments here, into which Jeremy goes in depth, and this is not the place to repeat them. One possible answer is provided by “compatibilism”, which is basically the idea that there are two separate but compatible descriptions of the world, one from our viewpoint in which human decisions are free, and another divine one according to which God has predetermined everything. I can also recommend here a rather heavy book which I have only skimmed but would like to read in more detail: Providence and Prayer by Terrance Tiessen.

I will simply state here where I think I stand at the moment. I’m not sure it is where I will always stand – at least that part of the future is open, or in God’s hands. But this is my present position:

I believe that God is sovereign over everything and quite capable of determining everything that will ever happen within the universe he created. He is eternal and outside this universe, and not subject to anything within it.

I believe that God has freely chosen to allow a real openness about the future of the universe. This is because he has delegated many of the decisions about its future to intelligent created beings, both spiritual ones, i.e. angels, and humans. This delegation of authority was intended to be for his own glory. But for reasons which I do not presume to understand in detail some of these created beings chose to reject God’s good purposes and use their delegated rights to make decisions against God. God could have simply taken away their right to decide, but for reasons hinted at in Psalm 32:9 he chose not to.

Nevertheless God is not bound by the universe or by time and therefore he can see into the future. He knows what will happen. He generally chooses not to intervene to overturn the consequences of human bad decisions, that is, human sin. However, he knows his own long term purposes for his creation as a whole and for particular individuals and groups in it. So he works in generally subtle ways within his creation to bring about his purposes. This may include calling particular people to particular works; but if they refuse to take up their calling, or mess it up, God finds other ways to fulfil his purposes.

Among the privileges which God has granted to those people who are committed to living according to his will is that he has promised to answer their prayers, to give to them whatever they ask for (Matthew 7:7-8, John 14:14). He will indeed do this, in ways which do not conflict with the free will of others, although not always in quite the way his people expect. But if what they ask goes against his general purposes, he will not be pleased with the person asking and may choose to work through other people in future. However, those whose prayers are closely aligned with God’s will, because they know that will and truly want to see it done, will find that God is more than pleased to answer not just the basics of their prayers but to give them abundantly more than they ask. As they live and pray according to God’s purposes they will be able to do great things with him and for his glory.

This post has already turned into quite a long essay. So I will leave it there. I await comments!

0 thoughts on “Does God know the future? Does prayer make a difference?

  1. Peter, thanks for this post. I’m looking forward to the responses on what appears to be an interesting subject. I’ve been exploring this matter, seeking for some real answers.

    Thanks for the links. Yes, I am male and have two kids and a beautiful wife, pastoring a church in California, where God lives. I believe someone referrred to my as Top Cat before. Not bad, I say.:-)

  2. Personally, I’ve always thought that prayer makes a difference. In all honesty, if I didn’t, I doubt that I would pray.

    The idea of time, and how we as humans view it as opposed to how God views it has always intrigued me. We see time as having a “beginning and end” if you will, but I just don’t think that God sees it that way. We think of things as being in the past, present, or future, but I wonder if perhaps God sees things as almost all happening at once. Our view of time is very linear, but I don’t believe that that means that God views it the same way.

    I also doubt that at any point in my time here on Earth living my life will I ever completely understand how God views time (along with a lot of other things). I’m okay with that…my understanding of thing is far more limited than Gods. Simply b/c I can’t wrap my head completely around something…well, that just doesn’t bother me. I’m sure that there is much that my cat doesn’t understand about me, and how much greater is God than I as opposed to me being greater than my cat (hope that makes sense). There are some things that my cat simply can’t completely comprehend, and I tend to think that God’s view of time is one of those things that I’ll never completely understand while I’m in this life.

  3. Pingback: Is my God too small? « John Meunier’s Blog

  4. We can all “see the future” to a limited extent – I know that when I give my son (20) £10 he will buy beer with it. If I give my daugther (16) £10 she will buy choclate eclairs. My pre-knowledge of their actions does not in any way interfere with their free-will: it’s just a case of knowing them and their reactions very, very well. Magnify that 10 billion times and you begin to get somewhere near Gods foreknowledge of us.
    Think also of a master chess player. At each move he recalculates the possibilities and potential outcomes. I’m not comparing God to a chess player, manipulating us, more an expert spectator who can map out what may happen in the future based on what is happening now.

    So, we all have free-will but God knows exactly what can/might/will happen anyway.

  5. Rick, I see what you mean. This sounds like a variant of the Open Theism position. I am not entirely convinced that God infallibly knows all our decisions in advance, but in practice your position is similar to mine. However, I tend to prefer a formulation more like Rhea’s. Thanks, Rhea.

    Dave, thanks for the link.

  6. TC, basically that he is knowing but chose not to exercise knowledge. In a human situation it would be inconsistent to make decisions when one knows in advance what they will be. But then for me God is outside time and so this objection does not apply. Indeed one might say that he made all his decisions in the past, before the world began, taking into account in the process all the human decisions which he knew would be taken. Or one might say (with Pannenberg I think) that he is taking them all in the future with retrospective effect. Since he is outside time these are equivalent.

  7. But neither one of these positions have resolved the issue of our free will and answers to prayer. It seems to me that with both positions God already knows what we’re going to do even before we act, whether prospectively or retrospectively.

  8. The way you describe your position in the post doesn’t satisfy my standards of clarity. I’m not exactly sure what your exact position is.

    1. The open theist insists that God does not know the future exhaustively.
    2. The Wesleyan/Arminian position holds that God does know the future exhaustively, but some of what God knows is not determined by God. He can choose to prevent anything he doesn’t want happening, however, and so God is still completely sovereign in the sense that nothing happens without God allowing it.
    3. The Calvinist holds that God controls events in a stronger way. God works through human hearts and minds to bring about free choices that we’re morally responsible for.
    4. The hyper-Calvinist thinks God causes everything without distinction between different ways of causing and end up denying any kind of human freedom whatsoever.

    Your position sounds to me like #2. But if that’s right, then you’re using the word ‘open’ in a way differently from how the open theist is using it. You mean simply that there are genuine possibilities not predetermined by God. (I would use it to mean genuine possibilities even though they are predetermined by God.) The open theist means by ‘open’ that the future simply has not truth value. There’s no fact at all about who will win the U.S. presidential election in November, and so God can’t know it. The future is open not in just being not caused by God but in not even being determinate in any sense. If you speak about it, you speak vacuously. If one person says Obama will win, and another says Obama will not win, neither sentence is true. On your view as I read you, God knows what will happen and has perhaps (but not necessarily) influenced events so that it will go a certain way but perhaps has simply not affected anything out of a desire to allow it to go a certain way. God is still in control in a sense on view #2, and God will never be surprised in the sense of being taken by surprise.

    Just to be clear, it’s ok to use the word the way you do, but in this context it’s a little misleading given that it means something very different in the view that actually has that word in its name.

  9. On the substantive issue of prayer, I see no reason why the Calvinist has to say that prayer is just about changing us. Prayer has a causal effect on the future. In fact, prayer can have a causal effect on the past. God can foreknow my prayer about something whose status I haven’t yet heard (but has already happened) and, knowing it in advance, have already arranged things in answer to my prayer. God’s knowing how I’ll pray ahead of time can actually contribute toward influencing events.

    But even in the ordinary case, Calvinists should have no problem saying that my prayer is one of the reasons God does something. It’s true that God already knows what he’s going to do, but he also already knows that I’m going to pray and has led me to pray perhaps in order to have my prayer to respond to by granting it.

    With ordinary Wesleyanism/Arminianism, just replace God causing with God allowing, and you have the same thing.

    It’s really open theism that has a problem with prayer. It undermines the efficacy of prayer if God can’t be guaranteed to accomplish his purposes. Prayer assumes a strong view of divine sovereignty, especially prayer for someone’s salvation. I think most of us are practical Calvinists when it comes to prayer. I certainly know plenty who then go on to deny Calvinism when speaking more theoretically.

  10. Peter, this is somewhat unrelated to this post (though I’m sure that someone could make the case that it is related to prayer), but I was wondering if you had heard the news that Todd Bentley is now separated from his wife. There’s a little blurb about it on his website. I was curious as to whether or not that changed your views about him or the outpouring in Florida.

    Perhaps it’s not fair, as I do believe that “sin is sin,” but in all honesty, if this separation were to lead to a divorce, I would definitely think differently about Todd and his ministry (as I would any leader in ministry). I personally feel like that far too often the church (at least in America) treats divorce and remarriage like it’s no big deal. Would you say that it’s the same in the UK?

  11. Rhea, the news about Todd, confirmed here, is linked to prayer in one important way, that all of us need to be praying for reconciliation between Todd and his wife, and not kicking him when he is down. Sin is indeed sin but a trial separation from one’s wife is not sin, although in this case perhaps an indication that the pressure of the last few months has been getting to Todd.

  12. Jeremy, thanks for putting me on the spot concerning clarity. Yes, my view is your #2. But I could also say that the future does not exist now because God’s knowledge of it is not an event in time – unless God chooses to reveal it as such. Perhaps that is clearer if you look at my idea of God making decisions in the future with retrospective effect, which puts God’s knowledge of the future where it belongs, in the future!

    On prayer, you are right to distinguish true Calvinism from the popular position of many which is in effect hyper-Calvinism, that our prayers cannot affect the future but just bring us closer to God. In Open Theism of course there is a potential issue of God being unable to answer some prayers.

    However, I have specific issues with praying for people’s salvation because this involves asking for God to override other people’s free will, something he has said he does not want to do. Yes, pray for God to reveal himself to people in powerful ways, but let them make their own free decisions to respond or not.

  13. Peter,

    Is your discomfort limited to salvation prayers?

    For instance, does praying for Todd Bentley’s marriage to be reconciled in some ways pray for God to trump the free will choice of Todd and his wife if one or both do not desire reconciliation?

  14. John, my point is not restricted to salvation prayers. It is just that the issue is sharpest with them.

    I would not expect my prayers to overrule Todd or Shonnah’s free will if one or other of them chooses to refuse reconciliation. But I would expect God, in answer to my prayer and hopefully the prayers of millions worldwide including God TV viewers, to help Todd and Shonnah see a way through these difficulties and how they can rebuild a strong and happy marriage. It is then up to them to choose whether to take that way.

  15. “I think most of us are practical Calvinists when it comes to prayer.”
    I definitely wouldn’t agree with this. I would think that most believe that God genuinely responds to our prayers, not that he manipulates us to pray for what he is going to do anyway.
    I do pray for peoples salvation, it’s not a prayer that God will make them do something they don’t want to do, it’s a prayer that their eyes will be opened to the father heart of God and what he wants for them. Noteably that he loves them so so deeply and has so much for them if they’d only open their spiritual eyes and see his truth.

    I still don’t understand the following…
    3. The Calvinist holds that God controls events in a stronger way. God works through human hearts and minds to bring about free choices that we’re morally responsible for.

    A free choice is only a free choice if it is genuinely free!! NOT if it is pre-ordained. is there actually much difference between calvinism and hyper-calvinism?
    Does not a calvinist believe that EVERYTHING is ordained by God and all that happens is his will? His will can never be thwarted etc. Therefore a baby being raped and abused is part of his will. I don’t ask this in an accusatory tone, I’m genuinely interested and trying to understand where calvinists are coming from and why they actually pray.

  16. Ferg, I think you and I are thinking on the same lines here.

    But I do see a real difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism here. Calvinists pray for people to be saved because they believe that God can and sometimes will force people to believe. Hyper-Calvinists don’t ask for things in prayer at all because they don’t believe God responds to them at all – or if they do ask they are going against their theology.

    I think both groups are seriously wrong.

  17. Jeremy-

    The open theist insists that God does not know the future exhaustively.

    I believe you need to qualify your proposition in light of what open theists really believe about God and the future.

    I got the following from Grey Boyd’s blog:

    Now, does this mean that God doesn’t know the future perfectly? Not at all, unless you assume at the start that the future is exhaustively settled (that is, unless you assume at the start that Open Theism is wrong). If the future is “out there” as an exhaustively settled reality then of course something would be lacking in God’s knowledge if he didn’t know it. But leveling this charge against Open Theists is begging the question, since this is the very view of the future we deny. If one rather sees the future as partly composed of possibilities, then God knows the future perfectly precisely because he knows it as partly composed of possibilities.

  18. Ferg, I don’t think God manipulates us to pray for what he’s going to do anyway. I’m a compatibilist, not a hyper-Calvinist. God doesn’t manipulate us or force us (which means I deny Peter’s claim in his 12:25 comment above). He works through our free human thought processes, feelings, choices, character, personality, and so on. When I pray for someone’s salvation, I don’t pray that they would believe at the same moment that they don’t want to believe. I pray that God would move their heart so that they come to appreciate the gospel and freely and willingly embrace it, recognizing it as true and wonderful.

    Yes, a Calvinist accepts the biblical teaching that God works all things out for the good of those who love him, which means that every single occurrence is in God’s will in the sense that his overall plan includes it. That includes the rape of a baby, yes, whenever that occurs. (If you mean to confuse that with God endorsing the action as morally good, then of course a Calvinist doesn’t say that. Most hyper-Calvinists don’t even say that. You need to distinguish between different senses of being in God’s will, as theologians have done for many centuries.)

    Keep in mind that positions 2, 3, and 4 all have to say something like this. Position 2 has God foreseeing it and not doing anything about it, which must mean there’s a reason God allows it when he could have prevented it. It’s exactly for this reason that open theists think you need open theism to have an adequate response to the problem of evil, although it’s my contention that open theism creates more problems in dealing with the problem of evil than it solves.

    TC, I have expressed the view the way open theists typically express it. Boyd’s point is to deny the misrepresentation of the view that claims open theists to deny omniscience. They do not. God still knows everything there is to know about the future, so there’s no truth about the future that God doesn’t know. But it’s not the exhaustive foreknowledge that views 2, 3, and 4 believe God has, where there is nothing that will happen that God doesn’t know, and there are no open possibilities that God can’t know.

  19. so is the Spirit interceding on our behalf a violation of our “free will”?

    rom8:26In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

    only God knows if prayer changes the future. i’m inclined to believe that He encourages us and even prompts us to pray as part of conforming us to the image of Christ…and to help us recognize our need of Him, as He provides for us.

  20. Charles, no, because we are allowing the Spirit to do so. We can choose not to allow the Spirit to lead us in prayer in the way described in Romans 8:26. God wants us to pray at his prompting but does not force us to do so.

  21. Ferg-

    so was peter “free” not to deny Christ? was Jesus just guessing at probabilities when He told peter that he would deny knowing Him?

    it doesn’t fit our human philosophies that well, but as a calvinist, i would contend that God can command and require anything He wants – that we ought to “choose life” (deut30:19), we ought not to “be like a mule”(psa32:9) or we ought to “be perfect”(matt5:48) – whether or not we have the capacity to obey. i believe that peter was certain to deny Christ – that Jesus had sure and certain knowledge of the future – but peter was still responsible, even if he could not actually choose to do otherwise. (rom9:19-20)

    it does go against man’s philosophy, which teaches that ability and responsibility must go together, but it’s also scriptural.

    gen50:20You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

    if the bible can be trusted, God didn’t just “allow” these fellas to sell their brother into slavery, He “intended” (or “ordained”) it. that doesn’t excuse the brothers for their sin, nor does it mean that God “caused” them to sin…they did as their sinful hearts desired.

    acts 2:23 similarly states that the lies that put an innocent man to death were part of God’s “set purpose”(NIV) or “predetermined plan.”(NAS) still sin worthy of death…still against God’s command not to bear false witness, but also part of God’s plan.

    BTW, peter – i appreciate the fair tone towards calvinism in this post. very balanced other than jeremy’s minor nitpick about God changing our will and softening our heart such that we desire Him, rather than making us believe by “force” (although the apostle paul’s conversion might have seemed a bit forcible – with the knocking to the ground and blinding and all).

  22. TC, I have expressed the view the way open theists typically express it. Boyd’s point is to deny the misrepresentation of the view that claims open theists to deny omniscience. They do not. God still knows everything there is to know about the future, so there’s no truth about the future that God doesn’t know. But it’s not the exhaustive foreknowledge that views 2, 3, and 4 believe God has, where there is nothing that will happen that God doesn’t know, and there are no open possibilities that God can’t know.

    It seems to me then that we need to define what is the future. Is the future of all events imaginable already there? What do we mean by future?

  23. GREAT questions! And ones I appreciate and I think have to be accounted for.
    Answering these questions will generally always come from our view of our Father and how we interpret them.
    I think the Peter one is pretty simple in that contrary to the assumption that because Jesus predicted Peter’s denial that everything is predestined; it seems clear to me that God knew very much a predictable aspect of Peter’s character and revealed it to Jesus. God could have orchestrated the events for his denial knowing that Peter’s true character would come out. A specific example that does should not lead us to believe that everything is already mapped out.

    In relation to Genesis 50, again the passage doesn’t suggest that from the beginning of time that the brothers evil intentions where orchestrated by God the Father. The only thing the passage suggests is that at some point along the way God decided that in fitting with his will he will steer the brothers intentions to work good out of them. He did this based on their freely chosen moral characteristics, if the brothers where morally good, God wouldn’t have chosen that path. There are many examples of God using people who have chosen evil in their hearts to do evil things, however it doesn’t imply that God makes them evil so as to do evil things.

    Does God need evil to accomplish his will?

    A statement like this worries me…
    “every single occurrence is in God’s will in the sense that his overall plan includes it. That includes the rape of a baby”

    Does that mean that God plans and wants the rape of a baby, but holds someone else morally responsible for it? Why would he do such a thing? Why would God have a little baby girl maimed, abused and raped for his glorious pleasure?
    Sorry to use such a base example but that is real life and real issues. Do we really think that a God who has kids raped is a Father God worthy of praise?

    How do you account for such verses as
    2 Kings 20:1-7 where God tells Hezekiah he’ll die: and shall not recover” (vs. 1). Hezekiah pleads with God and God says, “I will add fifteen years to your life” (vs. 6).
    Jeremiah 3:6-7
    Regarding Israel, the Lord says “I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me’; but she did not return.”

    There are many many more verses that show God having a genuine responsive love relationship with us. YES i admit it’s a risky love he has for us as we can reject him, but it’s a risk he’s willing to take so we can engage with him freely.

    What does Luke 7:30 mean
    “the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves”

    Or Isaiah 30:1

    “Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the LORD, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine…”

    God’s will can be thwarted.

    I know i’ve given a few examples, and hear me out when I ask hard questions back – I don’t want to get in to a back and forth arguement, thats not my heart. I respect that you are genuinely seeking the heart of our Father God for us as am I.
    I think our differing views come from our overall view of God from scripture not just from specific verses that we can throw at each other. I’m also here to learn, I’ve been reading Piper and Ware and Carson and so on to find out more about Calvinism and to try understand why people believe it and to see am I convinced by their arguments. I’d like to think I’m genuinely trying to learn more about our God rather than just convince myself of my own beliefs!

  24. Does that mean that God plans and wants the rape of a baby, but holds someone else morally responsible for it?

    You have to make finer distinctions than that. God has a plan for the whole course of things, and in the microscopic details, if you were to ignore everything else, God would not want some of them, including the rape of a baby. But on the macroscopic level, the plan requires that, and there are things more important than physical suffering, even extremely serious physical suffering. It was part of God’s plan to bruise the Son, for instance, even though that on its own would be viewed by God as the sort of thing that, other things being equal, God would not wish. But other things aren’t equal.

    The Bible doesn’t usually give answers when someone asks for God’s specific purposes for a specific event. We do see some purposes at the end of the Joseph narrative, although we don’t see specific reasons for each specific thing. Job gets no answer at all save God’s insistence that he knows better than we do and ought to be recognized as just even if we can’t figure how certain things are just. But the book also does seem to set it up so that proving someone’s righteousness amidst suffering can be sufficient justification for allowing lots of people to die and one person to suffer intensely (and Job’s family who died didn’t get to enjoy the restored blessings at the end, although we can’t forget the afterlife, which can outweigh an evil of any amount that happens to us in this life, because a temporary length of a really great but finite evil is still of less consequence than eternity in God’s presence.

    There’s lots of stuff in the Bible about God’s moral will. The whole point of what I was saying is that you need to distinguish between that and God’s providential or permissive will, which is the plan of what will happen. Every view needs to make this distinction in some way. One is what God wants us to do. The other is what God insists on ensuring will happen. Calvinists need to distinguish the two, but so do Arminians/Wesleyans, and so do open theists. The examples you point to at the end of your comment are the moral will, not the providential or permissive will.

    As for passages of God seeming to change his mind, there are a number of ways to handle those. One thing to remember is that there are other passages that say God doesn’t change his mind, and there’s even one that says both within a couple verses. So there has to be one sense in which God doesn’t change his mind and another in which he does. The Calvinist view is that God doesn’t change his plan, but he does change his way of dealing with particular individuals at one time and then at another. The standard Wesleyan/Arminian view actually has to say exactly the same thing. Open theists have to interpret God not changing his mind as just being about God’s general character, which doesn’t seem to me to do justice to it. I also don’t think open theists have an easy time dealing with passages like Moses arguing with God and getting God to change his stance toward Israel. If it was God’s plan along to respond to Moses that way, that’s ok. If it wasn’t, then Moses basically showed God that he was behaving immorally, and so God changed his mind to be more moral. That view is intolerable biblically. So there are definitely problems each view has to face in putting this all together. I happen to think Calvinists have the easiest time fitting it all together and the most convincing case philosophically even apart from the biblical texts.

  25. ferg said: “God could have orchestrated the events for his denial knowing that Peter’s true character would come out. A specific example that does should not lead us to believe that everything is already mapped out.”

    but can’t God just as easily orchestrate this in every situation? and i still don’t see how peter was “free” if he lacked the power of contrary choice? calvinists believe that we do have a limited sort of freedom to act in line with our natures or “character” as you say, but the problems start when you look at what the bible teaches about our nature.

    ferg said: “There are many examples of God using people who have chosen evil in their hearts to do evil things, however it doesn’t imply that God makes them evil so as to do evil things.”

    no one has said that God “makes” them do evil. but i do think scripture teaches that we are all born evil and naturally want to “go our own way.” God doesn’t have to “force” anyone to be evil (although i do believe He is free to harden some in their evil.)

    Gen8:21The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood.

    Jer17:9The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

    rom3:11there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.

    “How do you account for such verses as…2 Kings 20:1-7; Jer 3:6-7;” (and you could have added exod 32:9-14; jer 32:35 and the like)

    God condescends to speak to us in human terms but i don’t think that should be taken too far. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” num23:19; 1Sam15:29

    i would say in the cases of hezekiah or moses, it is similar to watching a father wrestle his elementary school son and when the son winds up on top and “wins”, concluding that he didn’t truly overpower his father. if God knew for certain how abraham, moses and hezekiah would respond, then it’s entirely likely that He wanted them to engage with Him, rather than trying to learn something Himself or changing His mind. i don’t understand why God likes for us to wrestle with Him but it seems common enough in the bible. (gen32; luk11:8; luk18:1) similarly, i don’t think Jesus was using a dismissive tone when He told the greek woman that He couldn’t give “food” intended for the children to the “dogs” (matt15:26) but He wanted her to engage with Him, and to demonstrate her faith.

    i take jer 3:6-7 or jer32:35 the same kind of way, God is not contradicting Isa46:10 (“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ “) but he is expressing Himself in a more human way to help us understand. based on the facts, israel “should have” come back to Him. It’s not that He is some limited tribal god who didn’t know what was happening but that those who sacrificed their children to false gods were doing the “unthinkable.”

    people can differ but it makes more sense to me to take isa46:10 and num23:19 at face value and conclude that God’s original intentions were ultimately accomplished, for example, that He never intended to wipe out israel and start over with moses or to allow hezekiah to die that early. OTOH, if God really does need moses’ and our advice to make the best decisions, then isa46:10 and similar verses start looking merely like immature macho chest-thumping…which makes me even more nervous.

    ferg said: “God’s will can be thwarted.”

    His moral will, yes. the pharisees can “resist the Holy Spirit” in the sense that they disobey the revealed will of God by “persecuting the prophets” (acts 7:51). when God told pharaoh to “let My people go”, pharaoh’s resistance was thwarting God’s will in one sense while fulfilling His will or purpose in another sense. (rom9:17-20) the passover and Lord’s supper were not established by accident.

    “Does that mean that God plans and wants the rape of a baby, but holds someone else morally responsible for it? Why would he do such a thing? Why would God have a little baby girl maimed, abused and raped for his glorious pleasure?
    Sorry to use such a base example but that is real life and real issues. Do we really think that a God who has kids raped is a Father God worthy of praise?”

    i take it you draw the line at rape, since God clearly did command that infants be put to death:
    1sam15:3Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “

    a nonchristian would use the same basic argument against you, that any “good God worthy of praise” would never command the death of an infant (much less genocide). the same could be said of believing in a God who has the power to stop any rapist – as surely as He stopped paul cold from destroying the church in damascus – yet stands idly by and allows it to happen. would you truly offer the rape victim the solace of “well, God had to respect your rapist’s free will…philosophically, that’s very valuable.” how much comfort does that truly give?…particularly when there are many accounts of God interceding and delivering some (whether by miraculous or more ordinary means)?

    the problem of suffering and evil isn’t solved by trying to paint God as helpless but trying to do the best He can (scriptures like Dan4:35 and Prov16:4 – the NAS translation is particularly eye-opening – suggest to me that God is not making excuses) or by trying to measure His goodness against our standards and our expectations. even if we’re convinced that God can redeem the very worst of real life sin and suffering, it will still painful and confusing for us. habakkuk will continue to be a scary book: a prophet goes to God and cries “help! an evil pagan country is coming to kill us and steal our land” while God replies “you’re not going to believe this, but i raised them up for exactly that purpose.”

    i just don’t see how arminian theology is an improvement. if you’re confident that arminian teaching is a better fit with scripture – and not just for what fits with your notion of “goodness” – then stick with it. but whether you use language of “allows” or “ordains”, i hope we can trust God to make things right even in the most miserable circumstances.

    hab3:16 I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound;
    decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled.
    Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity to come on the nation invading us.

    17 Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
    though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
    though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,

    18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.

    19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to go on the heights.

  26. Charles & Jeremy,
    Apologies that I haven’t had time to respond. What I do have time to say though is that it’s VERY refreshing to engage (even if briefly) in a conversation about this topic where I feel respected, even if you guys think I’m way off the mark.
    I hope to have time to respond properly.

  27. Wow, God generally never chooses to intervene?

    This world would have been finished by now from nuclear war if it was’nt for God and His mercy.

    God also sends evil, create’s evil if we continue to sin.

    Juge.9 [23] Then God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem; and the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech:

    1 Sam.16 14] But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him.
    [15] And Saul’s servants said unto him, Behold now, an evil spirit from God troubleth thee.

    2 Sam.12 11] Thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.

    Never before has there been so many people who have married more then once or children without a father or mother due to fornication and divorce like this generation.

    Abortion, murders, child molesters, perverts, predators, gay, lesbian, famine and wars, false prophets and teachers florishing like never before, the F word all over tv and porno’s at your finger tips … this generation is cursed and is ripe for punishment and judgement.

  28. I’ve had problems reconciling Calvin’s view of pre-destination and a belief that God has created us with freedom to choose. As a Catholic I have accepted the Church’s understanding of mystery. (I certainly don’t want to say that I am a Catholic theologian however, but this is what I understand about our faith.) God does have omniscience but also omnipresence. God knows all things and is not restricted by time; yet mysteriously allows his human creatures to express themselves with complete freedom of will. This seeming contradiction can not be resolved because of the mysterious quality of God Himself. Our attempts to make sense of this mystery will only leave us philosophically & theologically frustrated. We believe that God is Love which intends to assert another aspect of this mystery — that He is just and merciful. Because God exists both inside and outside of time (creation, incarnation is God existing in time) (allowing freedom of will, justice and mercy is God existing outside of time) past, present and future do not necessary exist with God. God already is present in the past, present and future simultaneously. In my humble opinion that would mean that God is already in love with what was created by him and that he is very pleased with his creation’s future. He is so in love with what he created that He sent His only Son into his created time to reconcile Himself to His creation. This, of course, expresses more of the mysterious acts of God. Although we can and should study things of God (theology, philosophy, science, etc.) we should not believe that we can fully or completely understand Him. Our main act of prayer is not so much for the benefit of God or even to change our future — which it may — but simply to bring us more in line with God-thought and His love; ultimately “Thy Will be Done”.

  29. Thank you, Michael. I can only agree that there is a large element of mystery here, and that we should accept that, as Catholics do, rather than follow the more Protestant tendency (but surely going back at least to Aquinas) of insisting that we can plumb the depths of God with our rational theology.

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