Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Unchanging God Who Repents

How can God be described as unchanging when Scripture speaks of Him as repenting, regretting and experiencing pain? This question is at the forefront of the current debate with those who refer to themselves as “open theists”. Open theists such as Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Gregory Boyd, and others believe God does not exercise complete foreknowledge. This process theology derivative holds that God is forever changing and adapting to the free-will choices made by man. He “knows” some future events based on His complete understanding of present circumstances and psychological and sociological factors. In their view, God is in indecision until man chooses a certain path. He then reacts to man’s choice and waits to react again. The root of the open theist’s heresy is a failure to answer properly the question of evil. In their quest to absolve God of responsibility, they have reduced Him to a figure that is much less than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While they scarcely address the root question, they proof-text Genesis 6:6 and other passages as evidence of God’s changeability.

As with most instances of proof-texting, context is the key to refuting improper hermeneutics. Some scholars attribute Scripture speaking of God as repenting and regretting as either anthropomorphisms, dispensational changes, or the fact that man in relation to God changed. I draw my analysis from Millard Erickson’s discussion of the subject in his book, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The question behind the open theist’s argument is, can a person know what is going to happen and at the same time experience remorse for the inevitable? It would stand to reason that if an example of this existed in our temporal world that it would be possible for it to be a part of God’s realm of existence. When a man and a woman unite in marriage, the traditional vows they affirm acknowledge the fact that one of them will die. When each partner promises, “till death do us part,” they are in a sense telling gathered friends and family they understand that nothing short of death will sever the earthly bonds of their marriage. By making that statement, the happy couple realizes that death is inevitable. The inevitability of death, however, does not remove the pain felt years later when the wife lies on the brink of death. Using the errant logic of the open theists, it would follow that the grieving husband should feel no pain because he knew it was coming all along. After all, he understood death to be the inevitable end to marriage years before at his wedding. This, of course, is completely absurd. When God spoke of His regret or repentance in Genesis 6:6, He was not taken aback at what He saw. To put it simply, He saw it coming. God, in His foreknowledge, knows the end from the beginning. Of course, “end” and “beginning” really have no meaning when one speaks of eternity, but in order for the finite mind to begin to grasp the infinite, God has “put the cookies low enough on the shelf for us to reach.” Because God knows and has foreordained the future in its entirety does not remove the pain and remorse associated with man’s rejection of Him. If one asks the mother of a handicapped child if she regrets having the child, she will say, “No,” despite the pain and hardship associated with it.

God’s experience of pain and remorse does not lie in opposition to His foreknowledge. Rather, God’s absolute foreknowledge speaks of His abundant grace. I have often asked the question, “If you knew before you had a child, that child would grow up to curse you, reject you, separate you from your own parents, beat you, and even kill you, would you still have gotten pregnant?” Virtually all couples (who are not giving the “Sunday School” answer) say they would have practiced birth control instead. If God has no foreknowledge, He can only claim to love us after the fact. He can only claim that things did not go quite as He planned and He has to come up with new and creative ways to get things to work out right. But the God of the Bible is so much more. He knew me before He created Adam. He knew I would rebel, yet He still created me – but there was even more. He knew the only way He could have a relationship with me was for His Son to be separated from Him and die. He knew that would be required before He laid the foundations of the world – from eternity past – yet He still created me. He did not need me, He existed in perfect triune relationship with the Holy Spirit and His Son – the Son He would have to forsake on the cross to atone for my willful and inherited rebellion – yet He still created me. That is the true meaning of grace. In an attempt to recuse God from the responsibility of foreknowledge, the open theists have made Him something less than God. Their god is one who only bestows mercy as an act of pitiful reaction rather than love. He only loves me based on my choices or current events – after he learns who I am. That kind of god is not the God of hope and assurance. He could not be my refuge or strength. Conversely, as the Psalmist declared in Psalm 139, the unchanging, immutable God of the Bible knew from eternity past where I will be in eternity future. It brings to mind the words of the song, “What a mighty God we serve!”


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