By Paul R. Baxter
The above question was raised in an email from a Christian who has posed previous questions to me. He has just read a most questionable book about “open theism” that is somewhat based on the idea that God changes his mind. After asking me what my “thoughts are on open theism” he goes on to say: “There are lots of examples in Scripture where God changes his mind … one example: Isaiah 38:1-5: “In those days Hezekiah became terminally ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Put your affairs in order, for you are about to die; you will not recover.’ Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord. He said, ‘Please, Lord, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly, and have done what pleases You.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: ‘Go and tell Hezekiah that this is what the Lord God of your ancestor David says: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Look, I am going to add 15 years to your life.”
Here is my response:
Before we examine this passage, let’s step back for a moment to take an overview of what Scripture says about God not changing his mind, beginning with James the brother of Jesus who wrote: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom (and wants to know what you don’t know or is not clear), he should ask God, who gave to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind … (please remember) with God there is no variation or shadow of cast by turning” (James 1:5-6, 17b). I appreciate you asking my view, and trust you have already prayed about this matter – trusting that God will steer you clear.
Although there are many passages like Isaiah 38:1-5 that may seem to suggest God changes His mind, Scripture as a whole tells us that God does not change His omniscient mind about what He already knows He will do no matter what the changing circumstances. Numbers 23:19 summarizes this Biblical truth: “God is not … a son of man who changes his mind.”
Let’s examine vs. 1 where God’s prophet tells Hezekiah what God wanted him to know would happen unless God miraculously intervened. This was a conditional announcement. The prophet does not spell out what God wants Hezekiah to do (pray) because He does not want to coerce him into praying. Geoffrey Grogan writes in his commentary: “The condition (he has to pray in order to be healed) is not expressed (or spelled out) in order that God may call it forth as voluntary” (p. 236).
In vss. 2 and 3 we read how Hezekiah put his heart and soul into his prayer after being humbled in the face of his impending death. We then see in vss. 4 and 5 an unconditional answer to Hezekiah’s prayer, a declaration that he would not die of this terminal illness but in fact live another 15 years. God foreknew that in hearing about his imminent death Hezekiah would humbly and faithfully turn to Him in deep and sincere prayer, which God would answer.
Those who sincerely believe God changes his mind often cite the case of Job 3:10 where we read how “God saw their actions – that they had turned from their evils ways (because of the prophet Jonah’s preaching whom God had deliberately sent to Nineveh to accomplish that result) – so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it.” H. L. Ellison explains so well what can be a most misleading verse: “When he (God) does not do what he said he would, we as finite men can say only that he had changed his mind or repented (relented), even though we should recognize, as Jonah did (4:2), that he had intended or desired this all along” (Expositor’s Bible, Vol. 7, pp. 383-384). Let me repeat if I may: “He (God) had intended or desired this all along!”
When we mistakenly assume that God changes His mind as if He did not know what was going to happen, then we can slip and slide into a second question which asks: Does this mean God doesn’t know the future? Some who promote what is called “Open” or “Free Will” Theism answer with a most disturbing yes. Their view can be traced back to the Socinian heresy rejected by the Christian Church in the sixteenth century. Perhaps you are familiar with the differences of opinion between Christian Arminians (cf. Methodists) who stress the importance of human free will and Christian Calvinists (cf. Presbyterians) who stress the importance of Divine Sovereignty. While Arminians disagree with Calvinists’ teaching that God foreordains everything that happens, believing such teaching precludes free choice, they do agree with Calvinists that God has foreknowledge of what will happen. Meanwhile, Socinians or Open Theists contend that a full measure of human freedom excludes God from foreknowledge. This position, of course, flies in the face of Christian belief in God’s omniscience, and a belief buttressed by countless Scriptures and Biblical prophecies – reaching a climax in the coming of Jesus the Christ.
May God guide and direct you as you seek answers to your questions that are Biblical.