CYPRESSWOOD CHURCH OF CHRIST
April 4, 2010
25424 Aldine-Westfield, Spring, TX. 77373
THANKSGIVINGS AND PETITIONS:
God’s will for our congregation Various friends, relatives and co-workers
Our nation, military and leaders Joy in Christ
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO: Yevette Mearns (1st), Hannah Allen (2nd), Ronnie Sadorra (10th), Talia Gradney (11th), Jo Anna Ross (13th), Sarah Cruthirds (28th)
DOES HE OR DOESN’T HE?
“Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him” (Psalm 115:3).
The more I study scripture, the more I come to realize that while we think we can figure it all out, especially about God, we can’t. For instance, we are told by God that no human can see Him and live, yet Moses, Aaron and sons, and seventy others saw God and lived (Exodus 24). Is one literal and one figurative, or are both true because God does whatever He pleases? We have been told by scripture that God is unapproachable and that sin cannot enter His presence, yet twice in Job the Accuser comes into His presence and Jesus, God the Son, entered a sin-filled world. Confused?
Systematic theologians have attempted to organize our views of God so that we can understand Him. We find various aspects of His character, of who He is, and how He acts throughout history, and especially about His foreknowledge. Several streams of thought have arisen over history concerning foreknowledge. The classical stream can be divided into two parts. One is that God knows everything about the future and has determined, or predetermined, every aspects of a person’s life. That means that some will be saved and others lost because it has been predetermined by God. Free will is discussed in this stream but becomes part of the predetermined plan. Now this is a very simple way of stating a very complex issue. The second stream in the classical area is that humans have free will but God already knows how they will chose. This would be the option found in churches of Christ. Another view is called an open view or open theology (1). In this view, God knows the future and has planned and even determined certain aspects of it, but that there are other aspects of the future God does not know about because of human free will. God knows the options that humans have but doesn’t know which one he will choose. God allows free will. God wants us to choose the best but then can work with whatever choice we do make, which Paul seems to teach in Romans 8:28.
Let’s look at Abraham as an illustration. In Genesis 22, God told Abraham to take Isaac and offering him as a sacrifice. After three days walk, Abraham and Isaac go up the mountain where Abrahams bounds Isaac and raises the knife to kill Isaac. God intervenes and says, “’Do not lay a hand on the boy’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him.’” Here is the important part. “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son” (vs. 12). Let’s look at the three views and how they see this.
The first view says that all this was predetermined. God planned that this would happened in every aspect of the event. Abraham had no choice in the matter. He would do all that the story tells us. The second stream in classical theology says that Abraham had free will in his actions. He chose to go to the mountain and there offer Isaac. When God said that He now knew that Abraham feared Him, it was for Abraham’s benefit, not God’s. God wasn’t looking for information, rather He already knew that Abraham feared Him, but Abraham needed to know that. This is the view I have taught over the years (2). The open view looks at it differently. When God stopped Abraham and stated that He now knew that Abraham feared Him, this was God gaining insight into Abraham’s commitment. God didn’t know if Abraham feared Him because He did not know which choice he would make. This was a test and anywhere along the way, Abraham had the choice to turn around. God put him into this situation “hoping” he would choose this direction, but until he did, God didn’t know if he would. If this is the case, it can be very challenging to us who have held to the second classical view.
God does not change in His character. He is not wishy-washy. His character is the same from eternity to eternity. That doesn’t mean that God cannot look at things concerning humans and change His mind. Changing one’s mind and changing one’s character are two different things.
Let’s look at some other scriptures. Does God change His mind? We can say that He doesn’t change His character, and I think that it is here that we confuse things. Consider Hezekiah. The king was told by God through Isaiah that he needed to get his house in order because he was going to die. On his death bed, he turns to the wall and begins to lament. God sees this and tells Isaiah that Hezekiah would live another fifteen years. Was God just trying to “see” Hezekiah’s faith, or was he really going to die and God changed His mind? Was God testing Hezekiah or was He moved by Hezekiah’s lament to add fifteen years to his life?
Go ahead and chew on this and next week, Lord willing, we will look at some more scriptures. If indeed God changes His mind concerning humans, at least in certain ways, what does that mean for us in prayer? What does that mean for us in our lives? Think about it (3).
George B. Mearns
(1) There are various steams within open theology, some too extreme to be considered valid. We must be careful when we here criticism of this view (or for that matter any view) that we do not just go to the extreme and assume that every part of it is that way. The same could be said of the two streams of classical theology.
(2) It appears that Timothy Keller holds this view. He sees in this story that Abraham was becoming more interested in Isaac as the son who filled the promise than the God who gave it, a form of idolatry. See his book, Counterfeit Gods, Dutton, 2009, chapter 1.
(2) Thoughts about this comes from Gregory A Boyd, God of the Possible, Baker Books, 2000. You can also read about some of this at www.gregboyd.org under essays and Q & A.