Remember those stop signs you made last week? Run and get it before we start. You are really going to need it this week. And more than that you will need to be willing to examine what you truly believe and the words and phrases you commonly use.
First let me ask you this: why do you pray? Believe it or not, there is a theology out there that does not believe God will change His mind if you ask. Now don’t be so quick to judge. The word they use is “immutability,” which we often use ourselves, and which is NOT a Bible word.
First, let’s look at a few passages. Will our prayers indeed influence God?
In his discussion of the coming destruction of Jerusalem Jesus said, “Pray that your flight not be in winter or on a Sabbath,” Matt 24:20.
He also says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matt 7:7-11.
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. Luke 18:1.
Jesus seemed to believe our prayers would make a difference in God’s actions. The word “immutability,” though, means “beyond the ability to change.” Add that to the word “omniscience,” also a word not found in the Bible, which means “knowledge of everything past, present, and future, and therefore never surprised,” and you get a doctrine that says since God knows everything, then He knows the best course of action and the right thing to do and any change would mean He had made a mistake. That is mainstream theology.
STOP! You are sitting there getting ready to say, “Yes, but---“ Don’t. Just listen, and more important, read what God has to say about Himself.
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, saying, “Now, O LORD, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the LORD came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David's sake.” 2Kgs 20:1-6.
And I[God] thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me,’ but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. Jer 3:7.
“‘I [God] said, How I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beautiful of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father, and would not turn from following me. Surely, as a treacherous wife leaves her husband, so have you been treacherous to me, O house of Israel, declares the LORD.’” Jer 3:19-20/
And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Jer 7:31.
And have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind-- Jer 19:5.
They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. Jer 32:35.
STOP! You’re about to do it again, I know you are. You are trying to explain away the plain statements of God about Himself. What you are doing is trying to make an incomprehensible Being comprehensible to a human mind and that is the ultimate irreverence. Guess what? We are not finished yet. This one will knock your socks off:
He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” Gen 22:12.
STOP! Someone out there is thinking, “Are you trying to say…” I (and the teacher I sat under last summer) are not saying anything. God is. Do not tell God what He means to be saying and then call it respect.
There are many, many times in the Bible that God says, “If.” This one may be the most famous:
Then the word of the LORD came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Jer 18:5-10.
Here is the conclusion of all this; God always bases His action on men’s behavior. And that means not everything is set in stone. Even God says so. When you try to push these un-Biblical words on people and define them so strictly, then you wind up with doctrines never taught in the Bible. And when you do, you wind up with things that are totally inexplicable, like the following passage.
David knew that Saul was plotting harm against him. And he said to Abiathar the priest, “Bring the ephod here.” Then David said, “O LORD, the God of Israel, your servant has surely heard that Saul seeks to come to Keilah, to destroy the city on my account. Will the men of Keilah surrender me into his hand? Will Saul come down, as your servant has heard? O LORD, the God of Israel, please tell your servant.” And the LORD said, “He will come down.” Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah surrender me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And the LORD said, “They will surrender you.” Then David and his men, who were about six hundred, arose and departed from Keilah, and they went wherever they could go. When Saul was told that David had escaped from Keilah, he gave up the expedition. 1Sam 23:9-13.
Oops! God said something was going to happen and it didn’t. Why? Because men’s behavior changed what happened. When we force things on our understanding of God, we always get into trouble. Better to let God tell us how He acts and thinks, and keep from putting both our feet into our mouths hip-deep.
Keep your stop sign handy. There is more to come.