#2 Post of 2013 – If God Cannot Change, Then Why Should We Pray?

Post Author: Bill Pratt

The Bible teaches, and theology argues, that God cannot change. This is called divine immutability. But if God cannot change, then why do we pray to him? After all, when we pray, aren’t we trying to change God’s mind?

Norm Geisler answers this question in his Systematic Theology, Volume Two: God, Creation. Listen to what he says:

God is omniscient . . . , and an all-knowing Being cannot change His mind. If He does, He is not really all-knowing. Therefore, God cannot change His mind in answer to prayer.

When we pray (or have prayed), God not only knew what we were going to pray, but He ordained our prayer as a means of accomplishing His purpose. Prayer is not a means by which we change God; it is a means by which God changes us.

Prayer is not a means of our overcoming God’s reluctance; it is a way for God to take hold of our willingness. Prayer is not a means of getting our will done in heaven, but a means of God getting His will done on earth.

If you think about it for a minute, we don’t want to change God’s mind anyway. After all, who knows what is best? Us or God? Geisler reminds us of why we should rejoice in the fact that God is immutable:

Since God is unchangeable, we can trust His Word: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Num. 23:19).

Also, we can trust God’s promises completely: “In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end” (Ps. 102:25–27).

Further, we can be sure of our salvation, because “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). What is more, God’s immutability provides an anchor for our souls: “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged” (Heb. 6:17–18).

Finally, we have a stable foundation for service. Paul wrote, “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

God is unchanging and we can all give praise for that. I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time worshiping a God whose mind I could change.

  • Anthony Ramsey

    So would this fall under the same category as determinism? Is God fully responsible for salvation (from a Calvinistic approach), and also the leading motivation for prayer? Or am I blurring the lines between motivation and outcome?

    Please explain this more in depth, so I don’t fall to the wayside of bitterness, feeling like a mere robot before God.

  • rericsawyer

    yes, but in addition to the accounts of Moses interacting with God over the fate of the people, Jesus instructed us to ask God for “our daily bread” etc.
    I think even more interesting is the interaction of Blessed Mary and Jesus at the wedding at Cana, where Jesus changed the water into wine after first rejecting her request as untimely.

    I certainly agree with you about immutability. But like many aspects of an infinite God, there is a tension between two finite descriptions.

    I think that perhaps we sometimes work too hard at trying to eleminate that tension, and thus miss the understanding of God which lives in that very tension. The doctrine of the Trinity comes to mind.

  • Hi Anthony,
    I have written extensively on free will and God’s sovereignty on this blog. Please click on category “Free Will” in the left side bar to get to 14 posts on free will. I hope you will find the answers you are looking for there.

  • God’s immutability really has to do with His nature. His nature cannot change. What He wills in based on His nature. Thus, what He wills and what He ordains based on His purposes will not change. It would be impossible to pleanse a God who changes His mind about our salvation and what He expects of us (this is where there is a difference between Yahweh and Allah). Yet, I think some take this too far and think God has foreordained absolutely everything that is to occur – to the point of fatalism. If that is so, then no one can be accountable for their own sin because God then foreordained our every thought and thus our every sin. However, God is not tempted nor can He tempt anyone. So, it does not make sense to say God foreordains ALL things. That does not mean however that God does not know what we will pray before we pray for it, even whether we will pray or not prior to our doing it, and that He does not have an answer for that prayer before we pray. Having knowledge of all things is not the same as saying God has fixed all things in stone in such a way that a prayer has no effect. That God does change His mind based on our actions and our prayer requests (according to plain reading of Scripture) does not mean God changes in His nature, nor that He didn’t know the ultimate outcome of the actions or the prayers. Remember, we have a personal God who listens and considers our prayers, not an impersonal one. But evern a personal God cannot change His own nature and must deal with sin as His nature requires.

    Here is an example. Let’s say that a child is to be in a fatal accident this afternoon based on the calamaties that happen in this fallen world. The accident to due to the fallen nature of the world, not God’s forordained choice. God may not have a decision in that accident. It isn’t that He doesn’t care, but if He rid the world of all sin and evil, we wouldn’t be in the world and there would be no more opportunity for salvation. In other words, we would already be in the times of the new earth and heaven that is actually still yet to come. By default of indecision, the course is set. However, if I know the child and prayed for protection of that child in a way that brings glory and honor to Christ, then I may bring to God a reason for altering events by His providence so that the child lives. Before the foundation of the world, God knew I would pray that prayer and as such foreordained the situation to be different. In that sense, I have caused Him to change His mind. Yet, He did not change His nature, nor His knowledge of the situation. What happened was my prayer reached eternity outside the bounds of physical time to affect a situation that had I not prayed, would not have been a particular concern of God beyond His general concern about sin and the well-beling of all people – why He calls us to salvation, and why the blood of Christ covers an innocent child it terms of his eternal destiny. The last half of Romans 8 makes a good case for the sufferings of this world to be used to bring about the children of God. It is in that context that all things work together for good for those who love God and have been called according to His purposes.

  • Dean

    “If you think about it for a minute, we don’t want to change God’s mind anyway.”

    Spoken with all the arrogance of someone who didn’t lose their mom when they were 8, and had to grow up in an abusive home.

  • Dr. Geisler has had his issues to deal with that I’m sure he would have wanted to turn out differently. But your comment Dean implies that if God needed to change His mind that it was His decision that both of these happen or else that He didn’t care. I’m sure He would rather they had not happened and I’m sure He cares. We cannot know the mind of God on everything that happens in this world, but we know that it is a fallen world. God has not made the new heaven and the new earth just yet. Sin and death continues to reign for now and is the result of human decisions. Some of it is not decisions of our own, but of others around us or long before us (as in the case of death and disease). God hates that and provides rescue from it through His Son who was tortured and killed to show us that through Him we too can overcome death and sin. We wish all things were made perfect in this life, but that is in a life to come. In the meanwhile, those who trust Him in faith and are guided by His Spirit are to carry the love and acceptance God provides to others who are in those situations. It is unfortunate that many in such situations do not have anyone to come up next to them, but once one who has been in such accepts God’s love, they are to be the ones who come up against others to help ease their suffering. If every Christian would take the love they have received to those in need, suffering in this world could be reduced and be bearable until the time that we are all in the direct presence of the Lord. Any anger at God for what the sin of the world did only hurts us. But, seeing the suffering that Jesus had to undergo in order to enable us to be rescued from the domain of separation from God should help us have perspective and see the need to reach out to others in need. If you have not already, receive the forgiveness and love of Christ and take that love to one who is undergoing a difficult time. Be there for them and you will have reward not only in the life to come, but in this life.

  • sean

    If he already knows, then I don’t understand why the prayer is needed in the first place.God already knows what I’m going to ask him for, so why do I need to ask him for it?

  • I thought the post addressed that question.

  • sean

    I guess my issue is that I don’t understand how it is that asking praying to god will change our minds. Certainly ostensibly it seems that you are asking for something from god. I don’t understand how prayer allows god to change our minds. Is it just like introspection?

  • Christian prayer is supposed to consist of 4 aspects. We first praise God for who he is. We then confess our sins. We then thank God for everything he’s given us. Finally we ask God to supply our needs and the needs of others.

    Most people forget about the first three steps of prayer and jump straight to the fourth step. If we are praying properly, though, then we will be changed because we are thinking about God.

    There is nothing or nobody greater that we can think about. Every good thing that we desire is derived from God.

  • sean

    It seems to me that the same benefits can, and are, achieved through meditation. We can think about ideals, think about how we may have failed t live up to them, and then there’s the betterment. I don’t understand why this needs to involve a god who’s supposedly omniscient anyways. If god is omniscient, then the praise is for our benefit, not his since he doesn’t need reminding of his greatness, he knows it. It would seem that’s exactly what thinking about what our ideals are is. Then thinking on how we may have failed, since letting God know is pointless, he already knows. The thanking seems pointless too. For starters, how do we know which things to thank him for if we admit that sometimes we are just lucky? Do we thank him for that which we perceive unlikely to have come about without his help? And if we ask for help, well that’s either going to happen or it isn’t. Your asking of it wont change his mind, and he already knows where it is that you need help, since he’s all knowing.

    I can now better see that prayer is actually useful in some respects, in that those who reflect on their actions may be better suited to think clearly and rationally about what they need to do, but I don’t see how prayer useful beyond anything that could not be equally, if not better, achieved by secular means. And perhaps it isn’t. Certainly the title of this post doesn’t preclude such ideas. The point is that prayer can better you, and as you have laid it out, I agree. The system just seems to be less streamlined than it could be.

  • Praying to a person makes all the difference in the world. Especially praying to the person who created you, the person who knows what’s best for you, the person who is the source of all that is good.

    When I pray, I am praying to a concrete being, in fact, the most concrete being that exists. When you meditate, it is all very abstract. You aren’t communicating to anyone but yourself. It’s just self-talk about abstract principles that aren’t grounded in any authority besides yourself.

    It is scientifically established by psychologists that we all think far more highly of ourselves than is warranted, so all you will do while you meditate is tell yourself how wonderful you are and how you’re better than other people. Everyone does it.

    When I pray to God, however, I am reminded about how far short I come to his standards. I am reminded that I have a long way to go before I am living the way he designed me to live.

    At the same time, I am reminded that even though I fail to meet his expectations, He loves me unconditionally and has provided a way for us to be reconciled. He has provided a way back for me.

    Given all of that, there is an ocean of difference between the way I pray and the way you meditate.

  • sean

    “It is scientifically established by psychologists that we all think far
    more highly of ourselves than is warranted, so all you will do while you
    meditate is tell yourself how wonderful you are and how you’re better
    than other people. Everyone does it.”

    That’s a very big leap. Just because I, in general, think highly of myself does not mean I am incapable of reflecting on my actions and realizing that I screwed up. How are you making the leap between those statements?

  • sean

    Moreover, that this has been scientifically established is no more to the point than that the evolution of man followed the trend of evolution in general, which makes me wonder why you bother to invoke science when you clearly don’t care about it in this other category.

  • I am generalizing. My point is that we need an outside authority to remind us of our flaws. If we rely on our own conscience to be that authority, it will just lead us to rationalize most things we do.

  • sean

    Again, in general others are helpful for recognizing where our flaws are, but in general people also don’t reflect on their own actions in any serious way.

  • Huh? I follow evolutionary science very closely, far more closely than most people. Not sure what you’re talking about.

  • Exactly, and that’s why prayer to God is so effective at changing the human conscience.

  • sean

    Do you think evolution was the reason man came to exist, that we evolved, and that moreover there were other species of ‘man’ other than homo-sapiens? That’s what the science says, and I’ve read some posts by you that seem to suggest you doubt that.

  • sean

    Sure, but we don’t need to appeal to god to do it is all I’m saying. We can certainly. It’s a way to do it, but it’s not a needed way.

  • I have always agreed that some form of evolution has occurred in the history of life on earth. I also agree that hominids, or pre-human primates existed before Homo sapiens (modern humans). How modern humans are related to those hominids, I have no idea. Evolutionary theories on the origins of modern humans seem to be in a constant state of flux, especially since the evidence is so sparse.

  • sean

    So no… You dispute the science here. Which is what I said. I was not questioning evolution overall. You don’t positively assert that you agree with science in this area.

  • schlaflosig

    “if I know the child and prayed for protection of that child in a way that brings glory and honor to Christ, then I may bring to God a reason for altering events by His providence so that the child lives”
    This implies that you care more than God about that child. And that God cares more about his glory and honor than about that child.

  • schlaflosig,
    I can see that implication and on the surface I can see how that can be thought of as a negative thing. But on the first point, I don’t think I could ever care more about the child than God does. On the second point, what brings God glory and honor is that He has gotten me to care enough to bring it to Him and join Him in the concern, to have compassion, and to desire the best. At the same time, what I want may not be the best. I have limited insight to what is going on. Yet, if the people who call Him Lord are to be transformed into His likeness, they need to come to have greater concern and care than is natural and limited of human beings. Prayer is one means by which that happens. The prayer may bring about an action of God, But it can also be seen that the action of God brings about my prayer (gives reason for me to pray, not that His action after the fact has some sort of direct time reversed causal relationship) and my own compassion to see God at work. If I wasn’t involved in the prayer, I might be oblivious to God’s hand which limits the witness of His glory. If only we would care in our human nature as much as God does.

  • schlaflosig

    Thank you for your response. It’s not easy to understand, but I certainly appreciate your explanation and your perspective.

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