God Of the Possible

God of the PossibleDue to the depth of this book, and how much I enjoyed it, this post is a bit longer than normal. Feel free to use Evernote Clearly to help you dial it in.

Our life group has been going through Greg Boyd‘s book The God of the Possible. The book is a biblical study on the open view of God. Namely, that God can change His mind and that He allows us the free will to the extent that He doesn’t foreknow every little decision we will make. For people who have grown up with the classical view of God’s foreknowledge (that God foreknows EVERY little detail of EVERYTHING), and who haven’t had a reason to challenge this belief, the open view can be a little unnerving. I know it was for me. But in my studies, it is the only view that gives an accurate voice to what we see throughout Scripture.

The open view of God is not the view that God doesn’t know anything. The open view espouses that God foreknows the future in different ways. As Boyd explains:

The future is to some degree settled and known by God as such, and to some degree open and known by God as such. To some extent, God knows the future as definitely this way and definitely not that way. To some extent, however, he knows it as possibly this way and possibly not that way.

Wait, if God is perfect, how can He not know something? Isn’t that a serious limitation? Not at all.

The issue is not whether God’s knowledge is perfect. It is. The issue is about the nature of the reality that God perfectly knows. More specifically, what is the content of the reality of the future? Whatever it is, we all agree that God perfectly knows it.

Admittedly, this topic is what is considered a non-essential. That means that you can be a Christian regardless of your take on this topic. I know plenty of Christians that I deeply respect that do not see this the way that I do. With that said, of all of the non-essential issues this one is by far the one I care the most about. The reason is that this one (as opposed to how you think the end times will play out logistically) shapes how we interact with God daily. There are four areas in particular where the open view of God makes sense with what I read in the Bible and what I experience with the Spirit of God in my life. They are the topics of regret, prayer, God’s sovereignty, and God’s ability to change His mind. I will briefly look at each.

Regret

I’ve heard critics of the open view describe it as saying that God can make mistakes. When I’ve asked more about what is referred to as a mistake, it is usually referenced to God regretting something that He did. While this may make us a bit uncomfortable to think through, the Bible clearly allows for this. Consider the following two examples. The first example is when God floods the earth in the days of Noah and His explanation for doing so. The second is in reference to the first king of God’s chosen people throughout the Old Testament.

“The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’” Genesis 6:5-7

“Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: ‘I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.’ Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.” “Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel. 1 Samuel 15:10-11, 35

If God knew these things in advance, how is it He can have regrets? By contrast, if God does not foreknow every little detail then we have no issue making sense out of passages like this.

Prayer

I’ve never met a Christian who doesn’t believe in the importance of prayer, even if they themselves aren’t “good” at it. But consider this, if God foreknows every little detail, what’s the point of praying? If the future course is already determined then all we have to do is adjust ourselves to the script and follow along obediently. I don’t know about you, but this isn’t something that makes me want to pray.

The problem, I believe, is that despite all the pious talk about how God wants and even needs us to pray, many Christians have an understanding of divine sovereignty in which the urgency of prayer simply doesn’t make much sense.

The common saying that “prayer changes us, not God” simply doesn’t reflect the purpose or the urgency that Scripture gives to petitionary prayer.

I do not see that any view of God captures the power and urgency of prayer as adequately as the open view does, and, because the heart is influenced by the mind, I do not see that any view can inspire passionate and urgent prayer as powerfully as the open view.

Prayer matters because many of God’s actions are responses to what we do or pray about. (Consider the Jeremiah passage below).

Sovereignty of God

The major fear that Christians usually have when considering this view of God is that it diminishes His power. At first glance, this seems unavoidable. The more you think through this though the more you realize the reverse is actually true. My view of God exploded when I realized what the Bible is really communicating about Him.

It takes a greater God to steer a world populated with free agents than it does to steer a world of preprogrammed automatons.

If we simply allow biblical texts to say what they seem to say, however, we are led to embrace the conclusion that God is so wise, resourceful, and sovereign over history that he doesn’t need or want to have everything in the future settled ahead of time. He is so confident in his power and wisdom that he is willing to grant an appropriate degree of freedom to humans (and angels) to determine their own futures.

Scripture is filled with examples of people who “rejected God’s purpose for themselves” (Luke 7:30). In fact, every sin we have ever committed is an example of resisting God’s purposes for our lives, for God doesn’t intend us to sin. The same is true of every person who refuses to enter God’s eternal kingdom, for God wants “all to come to repentance” and be saved (2 Peter 3:9). The reality of sin and damnation, in other words, demonstrates that God’s purposes do not always come about.

We might imagine God as something like an infinitely intelligent chess player. I am told that the average novice chess player can think ahead three or four possible moves. If I do A, for example, my opponent may do B, C, or D. I could then do E, F, or G, to which he may respond with H, I, or J. By contrast, some world-class chess masters can anticipate up to thirty combinations of moves. Now consider that God’s perfect knowledge would allow him to anticipate every possible move and every possible combination of moves, together with every possible response he might make to each of them, for every possible agent throughout history. And he would be able to do this from eternity past. Isn’t a God who is able to know perfectly these possibilities wiser than a God who simply foreknows or predetermines one story line that the future will follow?

Can God Change His Mind?

While the Bible tells us that God Himself is unchanging, it does not say that His plans are unchanging. This is a significant difference. The Biblical answer to this one is an overwhelming “yes.” I’ll give just one example that blatantly makes the case.

“This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: ‘Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.’ So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, ‘Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. ‘Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’” Jeremiah 18:1-12

God is showing how He interacts with mankind often in response to what we do. He faults Israel at this time for not believing that what they do matters and that God will respond accordingly. Ironically, what many Christians do today.

Conclusion

While much of this book may push you to think through ideas that are new, and often uncomfortable to you, it should cause you to read your Bible with a renewed vigor. As has been my experience, I will bet that you’ll start seeing things about God that you’ve never noticed before. And if your experience is anything like mine, it will ignite a spiritual fire in you like nothing else. This book covers the many ways that the Bible addresses this topic much more extensively than I am able to do in this post.

Practically, a God of eternally static certainties is incapable of interacting with humans in a relevant way. The God of the possible, by contrast, is a God who can work with us to truly change what might have been into what should be.

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Jeremy Jernigan

This is the personal blog of Jeremy Jernigan husband, father, executive pastor, and student of truth

16 Comments

Earl Ricker

about 2 years ago

This open view of God is to theology as Heisenberg's uncertainty principle is to physics. That is to say it can be uncomfortable for folks to envision a God who leaves some things to chance. Albert Einstein was so uncomfortable with the uncertainty principle that he said "God doesn't play dice". For me personally, Boyd's view of and open God is comforting and I am definitely going to read the book. Thanks for making me aware of it.

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Marc Dewease

about 2 years ago

Interesting topic. I just finished a paper in my Systematic Theology class covering the immutability of God. The fact is, God CAN change His mind because He is God and He can do whatever He chooses. However, several verses of scripture remind us that God never changes, that He is the same yesterday, today and in the future. Open theist seem to believe that God doesn't know what is going to happen in the future because it hasn't happened yet, and His ability to decide what to do next is based on the decisions people make. However, from what I know and read, this would put God on equal basis with humanity. If God does not know the future and how things will turn out, He isn't a very reliable God. God knows what will happen. He is more than reliable. He is faithful to His word and the promises He made to us. John reminds us in Revelation that He is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Can God change His mind? Sure He can. Will He change His mind? I'm not putting money on it.

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jeremy

about 2 years ago

Thanks for weighing in Marc, but how do you explain the story of Hezekiah if God doesn't change His mind?

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Robert

about 2 years ago

"...all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." :) Just helpin' Marc out a bit.

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jeremy

about 2 years ago

Hate to burst your bubble on this one but he'll need more help than that. The open view of God argues that "The future is to some degree settled and known by God as such, and to some degree open and known by God as such." (see above). The classical view of God argues that God ONLY knows the future as completely settled. Thus creating issues like Hezekiah, Jeremiah, etc, (there are MANY). The Bible talks about both, but only the open view allows for both.

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Robert Tewart

about 2 years ago

The Hebrew word for "changed His mind" is nacham. It also means "relented" and it "does not mean that God changed His mind but that He embarked on another course of action. The Hebrew word nacham suggests relief or comfort from a planned, undesirable course of action. God is not inflexible; He responds to individuals’ needs, attitudes, and actions. Different Bible translations render this verse differently. The NASB says, "changed His mind." The NIV and NKJV, say "relent." The KJV, RSV, and 1901 ASV say "repent." Either way, the Lord knows the future and states what will happen if different choices are made, i.e., "If you do this, then this will happen; if you do that, that that will happen." They do not mean that God is ignorant of the future and had to adapt. On the contrary, they mean that God knows exactly what will happen in the future given different choices. This is not possible if God does not know the future precisely and exhaustively. Nevertheless, in Jer. 26:19, we have the account of the Lord dealing with Hezekiah. God's "changing of his mind" is the reference to how God deals with us in our time frame. We perceive it as God changing His mind, but from all eternity God knew what would happen and what He would do.

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Barbara

about 2 years ago

This is an issue that I have wrestled with for years because I believe prayer changes things including history. This makes perfect sense to me because I know God didn't make human robots and prayer makes things happen. I will be looking for this book also. Thanks for highlighting it for us.

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Greg M

about 2 years ago

Jeremy, It is good to check in with your posts. Although I do not totally agree with all that you share, I will defend you to the hilt for expressing your well-thought out words. It seems the none essentials are the areas which tend to alienate some followers of Christ from others. Again I go back to what a pastor once said from the pulpit. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. We tend to get caught up in semantics and I never know how semantics cause resentments. But we need to all agree on the Sovereignty of God, Christ fully God and man, dying and resurrection and His return someday soon. I guess I need to remember that whether God literally changes His mind or regrets something He did, my role will always be to respond to the Love He has for me and return that Love in worship to Him and loving others as myself.

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Dave Knutson

about 2 years ago

Thanks Jeremy, your thoughts about this book helped to open my mind up to the open view...I look forward to reading this book....

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steve

about 2 years ago

Oh Jeremy my son, you don't know what youv'e just done, You have just touted a book who's author is at best a man trying to diminish Gods words . His stance is obviousally a very liberal one ( and i aint talking about politcs ) , his philosophy is one which is saying " everything God says is subjective ", " we might be interpreting it wrong " or i'm sure he didn't mean it that way - just see it how you want to see it, and be creative about it ". : (

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Jeremy Jernigan

about 2 years ago

Steve, if your assumption is that I will only read a narrow group of authors who are all conservative...then I can tell you now that your expectations will be dashed—often. I look for Truth wherever it is found. In the handful of books that I've read from Boyd I've read countless things that are spot on Biblically and have yet to read anything remotely like you are attributing to him. I don't judge books, or their authors, by reputation but rather by testing their words for myself. While I don't agree with everyone that Boyd writes (there is no author that I could say this about), I resonate with much of his perspective. You are entitled to your opinion about people but please don't expect everyone to adopt it without question.

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Josh Adkins

about 2 years ago

I've never understood how people cannot be at least open to the idea (pun intended) that God set His kingdom up in such a way as to allow man kind to make decisions which affect outcomes on a micro-level. The word "sovereignty" means, "having all power and authority." It does NOT mean, "always exercising [said] power and control." For example, a king can maintain all authority in one sense, and yet delegate some to his subjects. The same is true of the relationship between a CEO and his/her employees. The CEO still owns the company and ultimately is the manager of all assets. However, he's delegated authority to his employees to make some decisions which can ultimately affect the company as a whole. Is the above not what Jesus has done with His church as well? Sure it is! It's why Jesus taught on man exercising faith, and why He scolded those who chose to exercise doubt. If God had already ordained such things, then Jesus is sure wasting his breath in posing such charades of judgment. Luke 13:34 - "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!" (btw, Jesus is weeping over this). These things do not in any way diminish the sovereignty of God. On the contrary, they assume the complete sovereignty of God in that only a sovereign, all-powerful God could create such a universe in which He's delegated authority in certain matters. Now, I'm not sure I totally buy into the totality of Boyd's open view, but I will say that with ALL of the Scripture in mind, there is a whole lot of explaining needed amidst the more classic, non-open theologies. I love Boyd's mind and willingness to question traditions, and I respect him because He serves Jesus to the fullest while doing it. Great post, Jeremy.

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Gordon Brooks

about 2 years ago

What does "God is in control" really mean to people today? I am almost certain that we cannot consider the word control without thinking of it mechanistically. In other words, for you to be in control means to make something happen your way, the way an operator operates a machine, flipping switches, turning gears, pressing buttons, causing effects that cause other effects. I think it is almost impossible for us to consider control meaning anything else. But then I consider this: before the modern world, there were no complex machines. There were no switches to flip, buttons to push or gears to grind. If I recall correctly, some of the first complex machines, clocks, were beginning to be developed in the 1300s, but it wasn't until the harnessing of the pendulum for clock technology in the early 1600s that modern machines really became commonplace. So God, whatever a person in ancient biblical times would have meant by saying "God is in control" (if he would have said such a thing at all) it is almost certainly very different from what we mean today. For him, control was associated with farmers controlling animals or parents controlling children or perhaps a king controlling subjects - all very different from an operator controlling a machine "like clockwork". So if we say the Bible speaks of God being in control (a word not found in a concordance) we run the risk of importing or imposing all our modern conceptions of clockwork, operation, mechanism onto God. We end up thinking of God in a way that may really distort both His nature and our situation in relation to Him. In one way, Lord, this makes me want to praise you, because many of our intellectual problems with faith, like the whole issue of how evil can exist in your universe, seem to disappear or shrink when we step outside the mechanistic model. In other words, if a company designs a plane and it crashes due to a design failure, we hold the designer liable. Or if a person drives a car drunk and kills a pedestrian, we hold the driver responsible. In both cases, the machine designer or operator is the only sentient being capable of being held responsible. But if a parent raises a child with all appropriate guidance and the child grows up and rejects his parent's teaching and commits a crime, we don't hold the parent responsible in the same way. So I can see how limiting ourselves as moderns to a mechanistic view of the universe - and of you - really creates problems for us. Forgive us, Lord, for judging you according to our own incomplete paradigms. - A New Kind of Christian

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Randy Blunt

about 1 year ago

Some great comments in support, and a great post Jeremy. Thanks for pointing me towards Greg Boyd. His Myth of a Christian Nation was an awesome read, and I'm looking forward to starting God of the Possible today. Andrew Farleys books have helped me see the goodness of God and the reality of Christ in me, and they have allowed me to read the Bible in context, with clarity, and without many of the contradictions I assumed existed for decades of being a believer. An intellectual understanding of Old Covenant vs New Covenant and the awesomeness of the exchanged-life changed everything for me. Scripture doesn't seem to contradict itself (mean God vs nice God) like it seemed to me to do for so many years. I know now that while God doesn't/didn't change, His covenant did, so our relationship with Him today is way different than His relationship with humans before the cross. Celebrate that! From what I gather about this open view, it sounds like it has the potential to help the bible make more sense to me as a complete work/story, and to improve my view of God, so I'm excited to investigate further. I believe our best clues about of the true nature of God come from the life of Christ, yet for so many years my view of God was like the bad cop while my view of Christ was the good cop! Sounds like the open view may help clear up this picture for me, and I'm stoked to learn about it!

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Randy Blunt

about 1 year ago

Just finished the book, and it rocked my world a bit, in a good way. Guess I can now call myself a believer in the open view of the future. God of Possibilities > God of Everything's Decided. Thanks again Jeremy.

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Kaylene

about 1 year ago

I gleaned a lot of wisdom from this blog and the comments, thank you for your for summarizing the book so well! I've been pondering John 3:8, Jesus speaking to Nicodemus and telling him that the wind blows where it wishes, you hear it's sound but you don't know where it comes from or where it goes and this is how it is with everyone who has been born of the Spirit. It seems like Jesus is explaining that we have nothing to do with making the Spirit move. Can anyone please help me understand this in context with our prayers moving God to change his mind?

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