As I was going through this past semester I began to ask a few of my Christian friends about something new that I had found in my studies. I simply asked, “Does God ever change His mind?” The answer I received was the same without fail: “Of course not, God is infinite, He is God. How could He possibly change His mind? There is a common tendency that I feel many Christians have that we do not realize. We often take one particular attribute of God and impose it upon every area of our theology. That attribute then becomes a lens through which we view God’s entire character and how He operates. A common attribute that Christians tend to do this with is that God is eternal. The viewpoint of God being infinite is where most Christians derive their theology of His sovereignty. Most Christians take the truth that God exists outside of our spectrum of time and they apply it to all of life’s circumstances. The most prominent view of God’s sovereignty implies that whatever we experience in this life, whether it be good or bad, is already set in stone. So naturally, people who view God’s sovereignty in this manner could not consider that He would ever change His mind. I mean after all He is all controlling and all knowing isn’t He? So how could God possibly change His mind about something that He has already willed to happen?
The biggest issue that I have with this type of thinking is that it is fatalistic. And ultimately, it claims to have knowledge that only God has. In other words, if I am not seeing an answer to my prayer, the immediate Christian response is that it is not God’s will and He is saying no. This type of thinking is overall presumptuous and places man’s knowledge and perspective over God’s. When applied to prayer, the problem is that once Christians begin to believe that their circumstances cannot be changed, they become discouraged and pray fatalistically or completely stop praying all together. This is because they feel as though the circumstances that are laid before them are unchangeable, because everything depends on the will of God. Some people stop specific requests and others cease praying all together. Many Christians are even taught to pray until they feel God say “no.” This type of thinking fails to realize that even though God is infinite, He works with people who are in finite situations. Therefore, to claim that God is ultimately saying no, would be placing man’s circumstantial-finite-knowledge over God’s infinite knowledge.
As I have been reading through the Old Testament I have come across quite a few instances where a righteous man’s prayer had actually changed what God had originally intended to do. One of the greatest examples of this actually follows after a very widely known event. In Exodus 32, the Israelites had built the Golden calf while waiting for Moses to come down from the Mount. Before Moses had gone down, God said to him: “I have seen these people,” the Lord said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.” (Exodus 32: 9-10 NIV). The all-powerful God of the universe has just declared that He is going to destroy all of Israel. Now, what you or I would have done in this situation would probably sound something like: “Alright Lord, Your will be done, You are the one in control here so, uh yeah, go ahead. Destroy them all!” But what Moses does here is quite the opposite:
11 Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exodus 32:11-14 NASB).
The first time I read verse 14 I nearly fell off my chair. I had never before heard of God changing His mind. This is because Christians develop blanket theologies based off of one attribute of God, rather than basing their theology on God’s behavior in scripture as a whole. In this case, God says to Moses that He is going to destroy the entire nation of Israel for their sin. Moses intercedes for Israel and actually reasons with God! After hearing Moses’ prayer, God changes His mind! Although, after this conversation, Moses went down, and with the Levite priests, killed 3,000 of the Israelites as punishment for their sin. But lets be real, 3,000 is substantially less than blotting out the entire nation as God originally intended. It is incredibly powerful to see how God chose to hear Moses’ prayer of faith and relent from His original intent to destroy the nation.
By far my favorite story of God changing His mind involves King Hezekiah. The passage speaks for itself.
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”2 Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, 3 “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.4 Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: 5 “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. 6 I will add fifteen years to your life…’” (2 Kings 20:1-6a NIV).
Now, lets put ourselves in Hezekiah’s position for just a moment. Isaiah comes to him and God says that he is going to die and that he will not recover. That he is going to die… and that he WILL NOT recover! God. God just said this. I believe that if most of us were in Hezekiah’s position we would have said: “well, guess that’s it for me, I better get my stuff together so I can just go and die”, and passively accepted our demise. But I truly believe that God is expecting more faith out of us than that. The Lord of the universe tells Hezekiah that he is not going to get well and he has the audacity to plead with God for his health and his life. And God changes his mind and adds 15 years to his life!
If there are multiple instances in scripture where we see God behaving in this way, than why is it when we pray for something and don’t see it answered we immediately take it as being the ultimate will of God? What if we are meant to be persistent in our prayers even if we haven’t yet received what we are asking for? Why is it that when we are praying for ourselves or someone else and it doesn’t happen we immediately default to “it must not be God’s will?” It is so frustrating to hear Christians say, “Pray until you hear no” when we are encouraged to be persistent in our prayer life. I believe it takes less faith to believe that God’s will is for someone to suffer in sickness than it takes to believe that He ultimately desires to heal. The theology that says everything we experience in this life is the will of God is not Christian faith. It is fatalism.
A truth that I am discovering more and more in scripture is that not everything that we experience in this life is what God desires for us. We live in a fallen world that is dead to sin. I can no longer look at the God of the Bible and continue to believe that everything we experience here is what He wants for us. The reality is that pain, confusion, sickness, and any other product of sin that we can think of is just that, a product of sin. If God’s will was perfectly done on the earth, Christ would not have prayed for the Father’s will to come on earth as it is in heaven. There is no sense praying for something that is already in place.
What we also know is that God is about faith. He is pleased by faith, and He works through faith. It is the economy of His kingdom. But true faith, that actually believes that He desires to heal, not double mindedness that considers all the possible reasons why He won’t. Many Christians will argue against this by saying, “it’s not about faith, it is about God’s will.” I dare you to objectively study the gospels and tell me that Jesus didn’t care about faith. He constantly rebuked people for their unbelief; and He does so after speaking about persistence.
The Parable of the Persistent Widow
Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. 2 He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8 NIV).
It is clear that in its context this passage is encouraging persistence. Jesus gives the example of a persistent widow who keeps bothering an unjust judge. Christ says that if this unjust judge brings justice for this woman how much more will God bring justice for His children? Something that is so important to note in this passage is that the widow is pleading for justice against her adversary. Who is the adversary of the Kingdom of God? The tools that he uses are things like depression, immorality, violence, bodily sickness etc. The spiritual roots of these things are what we battle against. How do we know this? Because these are the types of things Jesus began to free people from when he came to establish His kingdom on earth. And Jesus goes on to ask if he will find faith on the earth. Why would Jesus ask this? Could it not be that persistence in prayer is contingent upon our faith?
At this point you may be wondering what the purpose was of me even bringing up the subject of God changing His mind. Firstly, the ways that Moses and Hezekiah reacted to their situations are incredible examples to us, both in how we should devote ourselves whole-heartedly to God; as well as being persistent in prayer. Also, I believe that things changed both naturally and cosmically when Jesus rose from the dead. I believe theologically that God’s will is to heal under the New Covenant. Christians have downsized the responsibility that has been placed in our hands, because it’s easier; it takes less work. If there is suffering or if someone still hasn’t been healed it is no longer our responsibility but God’s. We can just sit in the comfort of our church walls waiting for God to do His will. This is not what Jesus taught. The responsibility of God’s kingdom has now been handed over to us for the time being. We are now the body of Christ; what He did on the earth we are now called to do. God has given us the responsibility to perform His will upon the earth.
With that being said, even if you believe that God wants you or someone else to be suffering and you supposedly feel like God has said no, you should still be persistent in your prayers regardless. You don’t know what the will of God is because you are not God. Why continue writing off people’s salvation, freedom from sin, and physical healing, under a false veil of “God’s will?” Our commission is clear throughout the gospels and I’m done twisting and reading between the lines of scripture for excuses why someone should still be sick etc. We need to simply take Jesus at His word and allow Him to work His will through us for the purpose of advancing His kingdom on the earth.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. –Matthew 10:8 NIV