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Can You Change God's Mind?

Can your prayers change God’s mind? This was one of five questions about prayer I addressed in a sermon on March 13. The question deserves a sermon all to itself. So here, I want to share a little more on the topic that got left on the cutting room floor.

Some Bible passages would seem to say No. The prophet Samuel said to King Saul, “the Glory of Israel will not recant or change his mind; for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 15:29). Once God has decided, that’s that! God will not be moved by begging and pleading after the fact. In this case, it was Saul’s begging and pleading that the Lord would not depose him as king.

Many theologians down through the centuries have described God as immutable, or not subject to change, because, as the prophet says, God is unlike human beings in every respect. Humans change their minds all the time, and their bodies are constantly changing, but God, by nature, is unchanging. One recently deceased theologian has argued that prayer changes situations, but prayer does not change God’s mind. The unchanging God works through prayer or through other means to accomplish God’s will in an ever-changing world.

On the other hand, there are plenty of passages in scripture that do tell of God having a change of mind. When God saw the wicked residents of Nineveh repent of their sins, “God changed his mind about the calamity that he said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). When Moses begged the Lord not to destroy the people of Israel for the sin of worshipping a golden calf, “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Exodus 32:14).

And there’s a funny thing about Samuel’s word to King Saul. He made his statement about God’s unchanging nature in the context of God’s change of heart over appointing Saul as king in the first place. “I regret that I made Saul king,” the Lord admitted to Samuel.

Process theologians have argued that God is unchangingly good, but God is affected by God’s relationship to a changing world. God adapts and changes course in response to human prayers and behaviors.

What do you think? To be honest, I am undecided about this question, although I lean toward the “Prayer doesn’t change God; prayer does change situations.”

Sometimes I have “gotten what I wanted” in prayer. She got a good biopsy report when we thought it was going to be a bad report. Praise God!

Many times, I have not “gotten what I wanted” in prayer, but I got other blessings I didn’t ask for. Trust. Perseverance. Correction. Discipline. This leads me to agree with C.S. Lewis who wrote, “Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

We go astray when we things don’t work out the way we wanted them to, and we decide that, either we didn’t have enough faith, or weren’t persistent enough in our prayers, or that God is stubborn or uncaring. “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28). Even unanswered prayers or worst-case scenarios can’t “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).

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