Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future

This is the first in a series of posts on the advantages claimed for open theism that I identified in What Is Open Theism?. It expands on this statement in that post:

Proponents of open theism claim that only it makes good sense of passages in which God changes His mind, regrets His decisions, expresses surprise over what happens, states He didn’t know what people would do, tests His people to learn what they will do, and shows uncertainty about the future. See God and the Future at Open Theism Information Site or A Brief Outline and Defense of the Open View at Greg Boyd’s ReKnew website for examples of such passages and Open Theism verses listed by topic at Matt Slick’s CARM website for explanations of the passages by an opponent of open theism.

For each of the actions of God listed in the quotation, I’ll give two or three examples. Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

God Changes His Mind

In Exodus 32:7-14 God told Moses that He was going to destroy the Israelites for making and worshipping a golden calf, Moses interceded for them, and God changed His mind. “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people” (32:14). Later, in Psalm 106:23, David referred to this incident when he observed that God “said he would destroy them–had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.”

In Jonah 3:1-10 Jonah proclaimed to the people of Nineveh God’s message that it would be destroyed, the people repented of their evil ways and called out to God, and God changed His mind. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it” (3:10).

In Jeremiah 18:5-10 God gave this message to Jeremiah for the Israelites: “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 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 intended to do to it.” Thus God suggests that at least some of His prophecies, such as the one given to the Ninevites through Jonah, were conditional, their fulfilment depending upon the recipients’ freely-made responses to them.

God Regrets His Decisions

In Genesis 6:5-7 God saw the amount and depth of people’s wickedness, regretted that He had made them, and decided to destroy them. “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (6:6).

In 1 Samuel 15:11 God told Samuel that He regretted having made Saul king because Saul had disobeyed His command to destroy the Amalekites and all that they had: “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” As a result God rejected Saul as king. The point is repeated in 15:35, “The Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.”

God Expresses Surprise over What Happens

In Isaiah 5:1-7 God compares Israel and Judah to a vineyard, describing His creation of and expectations for it, His disappointment at its producing wild grapes instead of cultivated grapes, and the destruction that He planned to bring upon it as a result of His disappointment in it. In verse 3 He asks, “What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?”

In Jeremiah 3:6-7, 19-20 God refers to Israel as His wife, expressing disappointment over her leaving Him and worshipping idols after His blessing her with a pleasant land (vv. 19-20) and over her not returning to Him after her whoredoms (vv. 6-7). In verse 7 He tells Jeremiah, “I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me, but she did not return.'”

God States He Doesn’t Know What People Will Do

In three places in Jeremiah, when expressing His anger over Judah’s offering their children as sacrifices, God said that such a thing had not come into His mind. Whatever the phrase means, it implies that such behaviour was not part of God’s eternal plan or knowledge.

In 7:31 He says, “And they have built the high places of Topeth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, which I did not command, not did it come into my mind.”

In 19:5 He says, “And [they] 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.”

In 32:35 He says, “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.”

God Tests His People To Learn What They Will Do

In Genesis 22:12, when Abraham was about to kill Isaac in obedience to God’s command, the angel of the Lord, whom some think was the preincarnate Christ, told him, “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.” The whole incident is referred to in 22:1 as God’s testing Abraham, and the words of the angel indicate that He learned something from the test.

2 Chronicles 32:31 observes that when envoys from the king of Babylon came to ask about the sign that had been given that Hezekiah’s life would be extended, “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to show all that was in his heart.” The result was that Hezekiah showed the envoys all his possessions, was reprimanded by Isaiah for his pride, humbled himself, and was told that the threatened punishment wouldn’t occur during his days. The entire story is given in 2 Kings 20.

God Shows Uncertainty about the Future

In Numbers 14:11 God seems to express uncertainty about the future when He asks Moses and Aaron, “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?”

In Ezekiel 12:3 God tells Ezekiel, as an explanation of why He instructed him to enact symbolically to exiled people of Israel the forthcoming exile of more from Jerusalem, “Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious people [italics mine].” Unfortunately the people didn’t understand.

These actions make sense in open theism, which views the future as partly open, but don’t make sense in traditional theism, which views the future as eternally foreordained (Calvinism) or foreknown (Arminianism).

4 thoughts on “Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future

  1. Allison

    If God can change his mind about actions, how do we know that God’s promise of heaven will come to pass? If God can be uncertain or surprised by the future, how do we know that God will prove victor in the end?

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Allison, I’m sorry for my delay in responding to your comment. I didn’t respond to it when I approved it so that I could think about what to say and then I forgot about it. The silver lining to my tardiness is that Curmudgeonly Librarian gave a better response that I would have. I’ll just add to what he said that knowing waht God has done and is doing in the world and in our own lives should make us confident that He will prove victorious in the end and that His promise of Heaven will come to pass.

  2. curmudgeonlylibrarian

    That’s easy-peasy. Because God is omnipotent. He is able to work His will. So, if He want to do something, then there is no one to stop Him from doing it. The story of the ten plagues is illustrative of this. If you read through the Exodus story, you will see that for the first few times, Pharaoh “hardened his heart.” The hardening was his own inclination.

    However, at some point, even Pharaoh was at the point to which he would give up, but “God hardened Pharaho’s heart.” Was Pharaoh responsible for the times he hardened his heart? Yes. Was Pharaoh responsible for the times that God hardened his heart? No, as it was God moving in and through Pharaoh to bring about His purpose.

    Yes, man may propose, but God still has power to dispose.

    1. Bob Hunter Post author

      Thanks, Curmudgeonly Librarian, for your fine response to Allison’s questions. After reading your comment, I visited your blog and read your “The Apostles’ Creed” and “The Why and How of My Now” posts. Interesting!


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