Full Text for Dogmatics 1- Volume 39 - Do prayers ever change God's mind? (Video)

dogmatics 39 Captioning provided By: Caption First, Inc. P.O. Box 1924 Lombard, IL 60148 ******** This text is being provided in a rough draft format. Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) is provided in order to facilitate communication accessibility and may not be a totally verbatim record of the proceedings. ******** >> We have been talking about praying to God and about God's omniscience. I would like to ask if the prayers of people are ever able to change the mind of God or if this is only a matter of perspective. The story of Abraham and the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah comes to mind. >> God ever changes His mind, if we can through our prayer make God change His mind, is actually a question about the immutability of God. Does God always stay the same or does He change? Well, before we look at that, that's connected with what we have talked before. And it is with God's atemporality that God is eternal. When we change our mind, that means we as earthly creatures, we live in time, might have some plan for the future, and then we learn something new and then we change our mind. So you see that your question belongs together with God's timelessness. Because if God is outside of time, then there is no before and after in Him. It's not so that we pray to Him and He doesn't know about that and then He kind of deliberates. And then He says oh, yes yes, I changed my plans. Everything in God is in one instant, in one moment. So that would tell us that our God does not change His mind. But let's look a little bit closer at this question of the immutability of God. Traditionally, the Christian church has affirmed that God is immutable. Creatures change, they live in time, but God stays the same. What about then passages that seem to ascribe to God's change of mind. The one you mentioned, Abraham and God and talking about the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah. Or also God who seems to regret that Saul is king. Traditionally, Christianity has added to that by saying that scripture here conforms to our mode of thinking in terms of space and time, cause and effect. We have to think like that. We have to think sequentially, but God is above all that and therefore no change or mutation can be predicated of God. As said in 1 Samuel 15:29: God is not a man that He should repent. God does not change. So when we look at that, we see that scripture talks in two different ways about God. One way is that scripture talks about God in His majesty, as being above space and time. And in another way, that He is in time. And that's when wherer this language about change in God comes in. But that's just an adoption to us human beings. It is that we speak about God or that God reveals himself in anthropomorphic terms. It is part of His condescension to us men that He presents himself as a temporal being, as if there is a sequence in God, so that we can grasp Him and understand something of Him. Now, the concept of immutability has come under fire lately. It's not a very popular concept in mainstream theology anymore. So, let's look in more closely to what do we mean when we say that God is immutable? What kind of change is there? Well, there is a change caused by movement in space. Do we talk like that about God? No. Nobody really says that God moves around in space. There is relational change. An example for that is I am taller than Jim. Now Jim grows and that means suddenly I'm smaller than Jim. That's a change in relationship, but it doesn't involve that I have changed. I stayed actually the same. But in relation to Jim, I changed. There can be a change in decline, that something is becoming less. That cannot be said of God. There can be a change in growth and you increase. Also, that can cannot be said of God, because God is already perfect. There are no imperfections in Him. There is no potential in Him. There can be a change caused by time. And we say no, that's not -- cannot be said of God because He's outside of time. There can be a change of action, that God acts in history and that seems to be then a change in Him. Because now He does something which He hasn't done before. Does that mean that there is actually a change in God or does it mean that these actions are a consistent outworking of the one unchanged and unchanging divine nature? Does God ever change His mind? We talked about that, and we can rule that out. Is there a change of knowledge that God suddenly learns things He didn't know? That would of course be a denial of omniscience. Now, the arguments against immutability are first biblical, that there is the claim that the Bible depicts God as actually mutable. The passage is about the repentence of God. But against that, you can say there are also other passages that say that God does not repent. There is here the hermeneutical question, which statements do take precedence? Generally, we say that general statements should take interptative precedence over narrative passages. And when you say -- well, no, you can't do that. You can't simply say that's anthropomorphic language, then we get into further trouble. If this literal approach to the divine willing and acting as it is depicted in holy scripture is carried through consistently, then the results were rather strange. Look at, for example, the tower of Babel. God is said to be coming down. Does that mean He actually moved in space or is that here an anthropomorphic way of talking? So we get into less trouble when we see these statements as being anthropomorphic and hold then that God in himself is immutable, that this is the way how He reveals himself. Another reason why immutability has become a rather unpopular subject or a view of God is that it seems to come rather from Greek philosophy than from biblical theology. In Greek philosophy, you find a concept of God that shows Him as immutable. For example, Aristotle talks about God as being the unmoved mover who is so far above this world that He is in no way affected by this world, and that means also that He does not really interact with this world. You have in Greek philosophy also a strand that thought of passions, of emotions, or any change as something which is inferior to this eternal quietness that cannot be perturbed by anything. And therefore because God is the perfect being, he cannot be perturbed by anything, he cannot have any emotions, no passions. But He is eternally the same. Of course, such a view of God and such a conception of immutability is rather foreign to the depiction we have in holy scripture of God. But does immutability necessarily entail such a view? Well, obviously not, at least not in classical theism, in classical Christian theology. It seems when you say that any talk about the immutability of God makes God into some kind of static, some kind of lifeless being, you really mix static with stable. When we talk about God, we say that God is the living God. That distinguishes Him in the Old Testament from all the idols. God is life in himself. He's pure activity. He's not some kind of quiescent entity somewhere, but whatever He does is in accordance with His nature. A human being can see that only as changing when one of His actions seems to be in time or is in time. So, going back to your question, did God actually change when He talked to Abraham? Was God kind of insecure about how He should deal with Sodom and was open to some kind of bargaining? We have to see here again that God is talking to Abraham in space and time and thereby adopting and adapting himself to space and time in the way He reveals himself. There is not a change in God; but, rather, He does that to strengthen Abraham's faith. But it is from the very -- from eternity firm what He does. So when we pray, we do not try to bribe God or wear Him down so that He actually fulfills our prayers. No. We follow His command and His promise, sure that these prayers are pleasing to Him. But His actions in time are coming from His eternity. They stand in eternity and they stand for eternity. So there is no change in God and He never changes His mind. And that's, by the way, a very comforting statement, because otherwise we couldn't be sure that God at one point wouldn't say well, yes, I promised to you that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will be saved, but actually, no, I changed my mind. That would be rather horrible. We know that what God says stands and that He is unchangeable.