by Santosh Poonen
Someone recently asked me whether God changes His mind. And if He does, how is it then possible for Him to still know the future? If He doesn’t change His mind, is there still a need for us to pray?
I’ll say upfront that I can’t answer this question completely. That’s something only the Holy Spirit can do for each person individually. This is God’s way of keeping us dependent on Him alone, and not on any human being. So, after considering what I say, I encourage you to put it before the Lord and ask Him to make it a conviction in your own heart. Also, I believe that there is an answer for every situation and question in life, in the Bible – either directly or indirectly. So, I will try to use Scriptural references frequently.
It is important to realize that time was created by God and placed as a limitation on all of creation (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13-19, etc.). But God Himself, being outside of time, sees the future as clearly as He sees the past and the present; to Him they are all the same. Our finite minds cannot grasp this concept fully because we live in time. The best analogy I’ve heard (and keep in mind that no earthly analogy is ever perfect in its depiction of the spiritual) to explain how God knows the future is that it’s like my watching a home video of something that was recorded earlier in my life. As I watch the video of myself, I know what I’m going to do next in it, but I can’t change the events in the video. Similarly, God sees the future like it’s already happened, and He knows beforehand what He’s going to do – the Bible calls this “foreknowledge” (Romans 8:29, I Peter 1:2, etc).
But, just because God knows what He’s going to do, that does not mean that He has already made up His mind about (or, predetermined) what is going to happen. In fact, one amazing fact about our Creator is that He gives us created human beings the free will to choose our own destiny – beginning all the way back in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16-17). Unfortunately, when we choose to exercise our own free will outside of God, we end up making a horrible mess of things and fall into sin, losing out on God’s glory (Romans 3:23) just like Adam and Eve did.
Amazingly, God in His love allows even for our falling! And this is where prayer comes in. Prayer is essentially saying, “God, I want You to choose my destiny for me according to Your will, rather than me choose my own destiny according to my own will.” Thus, prayer reaffirms that we are dependent on God (Luke 18:8 in its context). And this dependence on God – what the Bible calls “faith” – is the only way that we can be pleasing to Him (Hebrews 11:6). So, ultimately it is because Godb wants us to be pleasing to Him, that He tells us numerous times in His Word to pray constantly – Luke 18:1, Matthew 6:9, I Thessalonians 5:17, etc.
Since, as we saw earlier, God is outside of time, He knows beforehand that we will pray and ask Him to do His Will. Still, it is our prayer that unlocks the door and allows Him to then exercise His Will in our lives. Let’s say that you prayed, and as a result God then caused some event to happen. To you and I it might look like God changed the course of events, but God knew beforehand (from eternity) that you would be praying such a prayer, and that as a result He would then act accordingly. So God did act in answer to your prayer, but He acted in eternity past, because He knew that you would pray. In God’s mind you had already prayed. His foreknowledge of your prayer and the actual events does not in any way change the fact that He acted in response to your prayer.
Silvia Tarniceriu, in her book, God Knows My Size, recounts how as a young girl growing up in a poor Christian family in communist Romania, she wanted to be certain that there is a God. So, she asked for a miracle – specifically, a pair of shoes, a sweater, and a jacket, which a poor family like hers could not afford. Her prayer was answered when a few days later a box arrived with exactly the items she prayed for, and in exactly her size! She went on to be used mightily by God to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ behind the Iron Curtain.
God actually goes even further to say, “Before they call I will answer” (Isaiah 65:24). Hudson Taylor tells of a time when his mission in China was desperately in need of some money and prayed asking God for it. Their prayer was answered shortly thereafter when the money arrived in the mail. That might not seem as spectacular until you realize that international mail was transported by boat back then in the 19th century, so the mail had to have been sent 2 or 3 months prior. That means that God had already moved someone in England to send that money in answer to the prayer that Taylor and others would pray a few months later!
So, we see that the prayers of those who are constantly dependent on God can accomplish much (James 5:16). It is thus that God maintains His sovereignty while still allowing for our free will. The perfect example of this balance is in Jesus. He emptied Himself of His sovereignty as God (Philippians 2:5-8) and lived on earth as God (in identity), but fully as a human being (in ability) with the free-will to choose His own destiny. Yet, He prayed constantly (Hebrews 5:7, Luke 5:16, etc.), refusing to choose His own destiny, but to have the Father choose His destiny for Him (Luke 22:42). So, Jesus is our example (Hebrews 6:20, 12:2) even in how to pray!
One final thought: an even more amazing fact is that when we ask God to choose our destiny for us (by praying), He can take even the past sinful things we’ve done and destroy them (I John 3:8) – meaning that there’s no trace of them. He then turns our lives into something perfect (Romans 8:29). But, you have to first have faith in the previous verse (Romans 8:28), that God causes all things – even the things of your past – to work together for good because you love Him and are called according to His purpose!
May God make us effective and faithful “pray-ers” for His Kingdom!
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