Friday, November 15, 2019

Immutability and Prayer

Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10)
Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. (James 3:16)
The first verse, where God appears to change his mind regarding the fate of Nineveh, is rather easy to dismiss as nothing more than an anthropomorphism. It is not necessarily correct to do so, but it sure is easy. You simply make a question-begging argument (though fallacious, it doesn't mean it reached the wrong conclusion) that God is immutable, and that means he cannot change his mind, and so, ipso facto, he didn't change his mind.

The second case is more problematic. The question of prayer is already difficult for those of  us with a strong view on God's sovereignty. Throw in an extreme view of immutability and you are left with one of the reasons we are supposed to pray (the clinical reason: because we are commanded to pray) as virtually the only reason we are to pray. And you are left with no way to explain James 3:16 and other similar passages that indicate prayer can be effective--and not just as a catharsis for your soul (although it certainly is that) but truly effective.

There is no way, that I see, to wield the broad "it's just an anthropomorphism" brush when it comes to passages that teach that prayer can be effective. Such scripture gives the clear indication that the universe is heading for state A, but your prayer might cause God to divert it to state B.

God "relenting" (whatever that means, but it means something), or God being alternately "angry" and "pleased" (whatever that means, but it means something), or God answering prayer (whatever that means, but it means something) are different sides (three of 'em!) of the same coin. They require, in our time, a change of direction. Throw out one, you throw out all three. They stand or fall together.

The (I believe) proper view of immutability, if not solving the problem, at least makes it less vexing. In this view God is strictly immutable in his transcendence, outside of space and time. We, on the other hand, tread an inexorable, one-dimensional, constant direction, and constant speed path through time, seeing only here and experiencing only now. God relented because Nineveh repented, but these data were known to God from eternity.

God has a full range of "emotions" (whatever that means, but it means something) but the changes in God's disposition and affections toward us are already known (and experienced) to God outside of time, and though fully immutable are to  us are very real changes in response to very real actions on our part.

To me, it is the only way to integrate immutability, a gazillion occurrences in scripture that speak of God's "emotions" changing, and the passages that speak of the power of prayer--passages that cannot be dismissed as anthropomorphic.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these thoughts on a difficult subject.