Open Theism Encourages Prayer

This is the fourth (and last) 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 also claim that … it encourages prayer because according to it God may change His mind when petitioned.

Prayer is talking with God. The acronym ACTS is often used to summarize the main kinds of prayer:

Adoration
Confession
Thanksgiving
Supplication

Although whether a person holds a traditional or an open view of God would seem to be irrelevant in most types of prayer, it certainly is relevant in supplications or prayers of request for ourselves and others. According to traditional theism, God has already determined (or at least already knows) what is going to happen and cannot change what is planned. Really believing this discourages our making meaningful prayers for ourselves and others. According to open theism, the future is not entirely settled and God’s plans can be changed. Believing this gives us the hope that God will respond to our prayers for ourselves and others and encourages us to pray more passionately and urgently.

The church Life group which my wife and I host is reading Dr. Gregory A. and Edward K. Boyd’s Letters from a Skeptic (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1994). The next exchange of letters between the two men which we’ll read concerns prayer. In it Dr. Boyd observes:

A genuine relationship … can only occur where there is personal interaction between two persons, where there is “give and take” between two parties…. This is as true in our relationship with God as it is in our relationships with other people…. So God ordains things so that we are to some degree empowered in our relationship with Him. He ordains things so that we can actually influence the Creator, not because He needs us, but because He wants us. And petitionary prayer … is the principal means of this human-to-divine influence (page 66).

The Bible contains several examples of prayers petitioning God for a change in what He had said would happen being answered. Here I’ll give just two, one of prayer for oneself and one of prayer for others. For more, see my Scriptures Suggesting a Partly Open Future. I’ll also give a parable that Jesus told his disciples to encourage them to pray. Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).

In 2 Kings 20:1-7 God told Hezekiah through the prophet Isaiah that he would not recover from his sickness, Hezekiah prayed with weeping to God, and God told Hezekiah through Isaiah, “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” (20:5-6).

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 “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.”

Hezekiah and Moses prayed for God to change what He had said would happen because they thought that the future was open for Him to change. And what changes their prayers brought–God added fifteen years to Hezekiah’s life and He didn’t destroy the Israelites as He had threatened to!

Jesus told his disciples the following parable to encourage them to pray continually and persistently (Luke 18:2-8):

In a certain city there was a judge who neared feared God nor respected man. And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continued coming.” … “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

The examples and parable demonstrate that God is not bound by a predetermined future and thus is free to answer our prayers. Knowing that, let us “pray without ceasing” (2 Thess. 5:17).

For more on prayer see my Prayer. In it I consider what prayer is, why we should pray, how prayer works, how we should pray, and unanswered prayer.

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