Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Does Prayer Change God's Mind?

Brian Jones believes prayer changes God's mind.  I disagree because the Bible is clear that God is eternal and does not change.  My comment on Brian's blog was as follows:
I believe, but cannot comprehend, that God exists outside the universe of our space-time experience, i.e. space & time are part of God's creation so He's transcendent above them.   So, in the context of this belief which I cannot comprehend, I find the question about God changing his mind to be irrelevant or meaningless from God's perspective as he knows our future interaction with Him with as much or more certainty as we know our past interactions with Him.
A follow up comment from Chris states:
What compels you to assert that time is a thing that's been created by God, and that He is transcendent above it (i.e., exists outside of it)? Of course, I've heard this all of my life, but have lately found the evidence for this assertion to be less than intellectually satisfying. But you're likely aware of data about which I'm not familiar. (I hope this doesn't constitute a hijack of the thread here.)
First, I'd ask what evidence Chris finds "to be less than intellectually satisfying"? And, I'd ask why he believes that the evidence needs to be satisfying.  The longer I live the less certainty I have about what I really know about God, and the more mysterious and transcendent I find Him to be. Isaiah said "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are [His] ways higher than your ways and [His] thoughts than your thoughts." We're not promised intellectually satisfying answers, and we're told flat out by the prophet that we cannot comprehend God's ways or thoughts.

The reason I assert that space-time, or without the hyphen as spacetime, is created is the nature of time as proposed by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity.  The best theory we have so far about gravity shows time is just another dimension in the universe and distorted by gravity just like spatial dimensions.  If God is truly the creator of the universe then we have to look at the created order as it is, and it appears that spacetime is not space and time.  It is spacetime - one word, one thing.

So, could there be time outside of our spacetime? That is, could God exist in a time continuum outside of our four (or more) dimensional universe? I suppose, but when you start throwing in philosophical ideas like multi-verse theories, we quickly get into the speculative realm of philosophy and away from the physics. My training was in physics. I try to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and I'm skeptical of anything beyond our immediate experience and reason. So, why does this mean God doesn't change his mind? If every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows, then I tend to believe what James says.  It is in the Book.  God does not change like shifting shadows. Period.

Brian Jones says that Genesis 18:17-33 is about prayer, and how God responds to it.  I can agree with that.  If you broadly define prayer as any conversation with God, then this negotiation with God could be seen as a prayer.  However, I've played the same game with my kids.  I'll let them negotiate with me about some purchase they want to make or some permission they are trying to obtain, but this "negotiation" with my kids is not changing my mind.  I'm selectively letting out the information about my firm and fixed position.  It may appear to them that I'm changing my mind if they didn't know my answer to begin with, and I'm simply letting them work through the issue and come to my conclusion.  I think God was doing exactly this with Abraham.

God didn't change his mind.  In fact, the entire negotiation could have been cut off at the beginning if God had just told Abraham that there were not even ten righteous people in Sodom.  God knew that from the beginning.  He knew he was going to destroy the wicked city.  Abraham didn't succeed in getting God to change his mind.  Sodom still went up in smoke.  So, we have no evidence of God changing his mind in this story, or anywhere else that I know of.  Still, I'm willing to change my mind about prayer changing God's mind if someone can provide a compelling argument.

Comments anyone?


  1. Dennis,

    I'm just running by. It's Wednesday and I get to teach tonight, and I therefore don't have time to flesh this out any more than a minor clarification. When I said that I've found the arguments intellectually unsatisfying, I meant that it does not appear to me that the arguments match the Biblical data. The "baseline" I try/hope to follow for any argument about anything is the actual Biblical data. I've recently come to conclude that the arguments about God's supposed existence outside of time are long on (mostly classical Greek) philosophy and short on Biblical evidence.

    Sorry I don't have more time to go into more, but I'll try to return and do so when I can.

    In any case, peace to you, brother! I'm sure when we see Him, we'll say, "Oh, that's how it works. That's what He meant." And it will be beyond anything we every imagined in so many ways.

  2. My reason for believing space-time is part of the created order is just as much scientific as philosophical, and I see no conflict with the Biblical evidence. The Big Bang Theory posits that the universe had a beginning where physical space and time themselves, along with all the matter and energy in the universe, came into being at some point in the past. While all parties might not agree on how long ago this point in time might have been, in general this is solid scientific data that backs up the cosmological argument (philosophy) for the existence of an "uncaused Cause" which is transcendent, eternal, and sufficiently powerful to create the space-time continuum in which we exist. This is intellectually satisfying to me since science, philosophy, and the Bible don't appear to be in conflict on the notion of time being part of the created order. What Biblical evidence do you see that would lead you to believe God didn't create space-time?