Ahhh… we have contact! Thank you for all the thoughtful comments. Before we review some Biblical examples, remember what the classical view states: God knows the entire future — every single bit of it — of every person, place and thing. That requires that future to have been prewritten. That does not necessarily mean that God planned every event and all of our futures, but it DOES mean that He must be aware of it, fully. Open Theism says that isn’t Biblical. To Open Theists, God knows what IS — the parts of the future He has predetermined — but it is senseless to say that God knows what doesn’t exist: the bulk of the future. He is still omniscient because He knows all things. He is still omnipotent because He can declare that something WILL be and it WILL be! However, Scripture does not indicate that He has declared all things, just some… and Scripture absolutely DOES show the future to be malleable, subject to change by God when we pray.
We have already referenced the Hezekiah story. Let’s look at some others…
Exodus 32:14 says God "changed His mind about the disaster He planned to bring upon His people." Either this means what it says or it doesn’t. Did God have a plan and, because of Moses’ intercessory prayer, He changed His mind or did the writer of Exodus get it wrong?
The very next chapter, verses 1-3 and v.14 show Moses changing God’s mind again through prayer. God had not intended to go with the people, but Moses talked Him into it. The future, therefore, cannot be set, known, and unchangeable. God can manipulate time and He can change His plans.
Deuteronomy 9:13-29 show God "intended to destroy" Israel and "ready to destroy" Aaron. Moses’ 40 days of prayer changed God’s intentions. As Greg Boyd says, "Could God truly intend to do something He was eternally certain He wouldn’t do?"
1Samuel 2:27-31 shows the reverse — God intended to bless Eli and his household but now withdrew that promise. "I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever but now, the Lord declares, far be it from me!… I will cut short your strength and the strength of your father’s house." Even God’s promises can be modified or dropped entirely when we do not live up to His standards or keep our end of the bargain. He fully intended to bless Eli but Eli’s failure as a father made Him decide to withdraw the promise He’d made.
1 Kings 21:21-29, God tells Ahab that He will bring disaster on him because of his sin. Ahab humbles himself and so God, in verse 29, says He will no longer bring that disaster on him. The plainest reading of these passages is that God changes His mind after our behavior or prayers touch Him. That means that not all of the future is set and it changes as God reacts to us and us to God.
2 Chronicles 12:5-8 has God saying He "has delivered" Israel into the hands of their enemy. After they repent, He withdraws that judgment and will no longer allow them to be beaten by their foes. He reverses an edict He Himself made in order to save them.
Jeremiah 26:2,3 — God tells Jeremiah that, if Israel repents, "I may change my mind about the disaster I intend to bring upon them because of their evil deeds." How can we read this and not see that God is open towards the future; the future has not happened and, therefore, anything He has not established as required in the future is open? The very point of passages such as this and the story of Jonah is to encourage us to pray and repent so that God’s intention to bring judgment is changed to a blessing. Prayer matters and so does repentance.
Ezekiel 4:9-15 — God tells Ezekiel to use human feces to cook with and Ezekiel asks God to change His mind as that is repugnant to him. God agrees to let Ezekiel use animal feces instead. God is willing to adjust His plans according to our requests, our sentiments, and our uneasiness with some of the things He might have told us to do. Who wouldn’t be comforted by this knowledge?
Amos 7:1-6 — in this short passage in a short book, there are two instances where God declares a judgment and Amos asks for mercy. In both instances, the scripture plainly says God "relented."
Jonah 3:10 — one of the more famous examples of God changing His mind. After sending Jonah to Ninevah, and against Jonah’s wishes, God decides to cancel the sermon He made Jonah preach! The very prophecy He gave Jonah to deliver to the people, He overruled, leaving Jonah to sit and stew at God’s (in his opinion) capriciousness.
God is God over time… and over possibilities. He is not the curator of a set future, a Calvinistic, predestined, micro-managed universe.
I’ll answer some of the questions this raises next time. For now, do some reading of these passages and see what conclusions they lead you to. For now, I’ll answer one question posed by a commenter (and which I had when I first started studying this some time back). What about Psalm 139 where God says He has written in a book all the days that were formed for David? First, even if this means that God knows the exact length of our lives, it does not mean that He knows everything we will do, down to the smallest detail, before the day of our death comes. Second, this is a poetic work and most theologians agree that it is best not to use poetic works to settle theological arguments. Third, English translators have to add in a subject here to make it the days that are determined. The subject is not named in the original text and a casual reading would lead you to think that David was talking about parts of his body being predetermined. The KJV uses that conclusion and it better fits the context of that part of the Psalm. Fourth, if God was actually saying that David’s days were counted and numbered exactly, the Bible elsewhere shows that that can be changed (see Exodus 32:33; Revelation 3:5; Isaiah 38:1-5; Jeremiah 18:6-10). It seems best to read Psalm 139 as indicating God’s intentions rather than a future set in stone.
See you next time… if God wills…