It interests me how many questions we ask about God — and ask God directly — come back to the question of what does God know, what does He control, and who is to blame when things go wrong. Here is another such question that was waiting in my inbox at email@example.com.
While reading about Hezekiah and his prayer for longer life, I couldn’t help but notice that Manasseh was born within the extra 15 years. Obviously pride was a bit of an issue for Hezekiah during that 15 years and it seems that he wasn’t able to instill in Manasseh what he needed to. And when we see how serious Manasseh’s sin was (2 Kings 21:10 and on) and even directly after the praise of Josiah, we hear again about the sin of Manasseh (2 Kings 23:26 and on), my question is…did God make a mistake? Is it possible there was some regret here?
A quick backstory: Hezekiah was the 14th king over Judah. He witnessed the fall of the Northern Kingdom and defended Jerusalem against invasion but he is best known for establishing religious reforms, removing idols and the altars to pagan gods and encouraging worship of Yahweh. He became ill and God told him through Isaiah that the illness was a terminal one. He mourned and cried and asked for God to reverse His decision. God responded to Hezekiah’s prayer and extended his life (after stopping Isaiah before he cleared the palace to tell him He had changes His mind, sending the prophet back in to the king to tell him the good news).
Hezekiah had a son who was the first king of Judah who had never seen anything of a united Israel. He co-reigned with Manasseh for several years before his eventual death, leaving his son to enjoy the longest reign of any king of Judah – 55 years. He is best known for reversing the religious reforms of his father and encouraging the worship of pagan deities throughout Judah. In Second Chronicles 33:12-14, he repents and is apparently forgiven. This is not mentioned in Kings and may be an addition made by the Chronicler who put together this history from various sources during and after the Babylonian captivity and some view this “happy ending” as suspect. Regardless…
There is no question that Manasseh was bad for Judah and set them on a course of destructive behavior that would plague them for hundreds of years. So, did God make a mistake in allowing Hezekiah to live?
This is actually a fantastic thought exercise. If God hears the prayers of His people and if God cares about us and promises to act in our behalf, what happens if He gives us what we want and it turns out to be bad for us? Should God only give us what we request when the result is absolutely perfect and good in our lives and in the universe? Think about that for a moment. If I ask God to help me repair my truck’s transmission and He helps me find the money and the right repair shop, is He responsible if I later decide to drive drunk and T-bone a car at a four way stop killing an entire family?
The Hezekiah-Manasseh question is not some academic exercise but a real life question. How many people ask for a child year after year and finally get a child through procreation or adoption? Once that child is given to them, their prayers are answered. Now… does that make God responsible for everything that child and its children and its grandchildren (et cetera ad infinitum) do?
Some religious systems would say “yes!” They believe God knows every single thing that is going to happen in the future and, much more than just knowing, He planned it. John Piper has recently said some outrageous and horrible things about God and the shootings of children in Connecticut… but he HAS to to continue to teach Calvinism and his version of predestination. As all of those of you who read Tentpegs regularly know, I am not a Calvinist. I introduced many of you to Gregory Boyd’s amazing book, “God at War” and wrote a series of blogs about it (do a simple search and you’ll find it). God and modern, quantum physics are in agreement that the future is not settled and entirely planned out. God will do what God has decided to do and He will move players and nations about as necessary to get what He wants, but that is a long way from saying that everything in our lives’ future is known and planned.
God gave me two children. Some people who have known me all my life might have accused God of being irresponsible to do such a thing, but He did it anyway. I made mistakes with both of them. Both of them have sinned. I happen to be immensely proud of both of them, their lives, their faith, and their characters but it would be ridiculous to assert that they have not erred and caused pain or disruption to others. Is God to blame for that since He gave those children to my wife and me in response to our prayers? Of course not! I am to blame for my mistakes and my children are to blame for theirs.
But – some may counter – if God KNEW they were going to make those mistakes or even do some terrible thing, doesn’t He bear responsibility for the answer to prayer that put them on the planet? Again, the questioner assumes that God knows every decision every human is going to make and they assume that God is responsible for what we decide to do. I would dispute both of those assumptions vigorously.
To up the ante, some would then say that God could have (and SHOULD have) stopped the shooter before he entered the school. I understand that impulse and agree that, if I were God, I would have stopped him. But that shows more my ignorance of what it means to be God than my “superior” instincts. Let’s not even get into the “what would those kids done to the world in a negative way in their lives” or “this way they were assured of heaven when if they’d been allowed to grow up, who knows?” discussion. Those are the kind of arguments Calvinists are forced into but I see no need to go there. The fact is – God allows us to make our own decisions and unleash love or pain on the planet. It is His desire that enough of us choose Jesus and live accordingly that this planet and its people are redeemed. And if He intervened all the time, that would be horrible.
Think about it: you thank God for the food you are about to eat and then He won’t let you eat your favorite part of the meal because you have this or that health condition. You are late for the airport but he won’t let you drive faster. You are not allowed to have an evil thought, an impure impulse, or a daydream about health, wealth, sex, etc. We would be a world of Stepford Wives and the whole message of that book was that you might think you’d like that kind of arrangement but when you see it in person it becomes horrific.
I’m thinking about going to Chipotle for lunch later today. I will ask God for safe passage through the streets of Colorado Springs and I will thank Him for my food. And He will let me eat it even though it might not have been the best choice for me… if I get there at all, for others on the road have free will, too, and they might exercise theirs in a way that would impede my safe arrival at the restaurant. I understand that. But I don’t blame God.