Due 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.
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.
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.
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.