Prayers in the Western Wall, Jerusalem

Do our prayers change God’s mind on outcomes?

There are many who believe that prayer can change God’s mind and usually cite Exodus 32:7-14 and Isaiah 38:1-6.

But how can an omniscient and immutable [1] God change his mind?

In Exodus 32:7-14, God is ready to consume Israel and fulfill his promise through Moses.  However, after Moses prays, God relents from destroying the people.

This narrative is consistent with the rest of scripture that expresses God’s omniscience and immutability.  Because God knew what the outcome would be and knew what Moses would pray it is consistent that God did not change his mind.  Moses came into agreement with God’s will when he prayed.  The text does display a God who is personable and approachable but not fickle or indecisive.

Isaiah 38:1-6 is a narrative about Hezekiah, who after being told by Isaiah that he would die, prayed, and the Lord heard his prayer and saw his tears, gave him another fifteen years to live.

Did Hezekiah gain fifteen years of life because he prayed?  Did he gain these years because he cried with his prayer?

Again this passage indicates God as a personable and compassionate God but not a God that lacks control and is changing his mind according to the pleading of his people.

Oliver Crisp refers to similar instances in scripture as he writes, “This is just anthropomorphism, a way in which God accommodates himself to our limitations in revealing himself in Scripture.”[2]

God does not change his mind but allows events like Isaiah’s prophecy to draw us closer to him.  Moses and Hezekiah both gained a greater level of intimacy with God but God did not change his mind because of prayer.

Our perspective of life is much different than God’s perspective.

From his perspective he sees the beginning and the end.  He is in control and uses our prayers as a way to include humans in his divine plan.

From our perspective we do not know the future and we perceive life as full of choices because our perspective is bound by time.  We live moment by moment.

Therefore, God does not change his mind according to our prayer, but from our perspective it may seem that he did.  God does not intervene because of our prayers but knew what our prayers would be and implicated the prayers into his divine plan.

[2] Oliver D. Crisp, Divinity and Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 129.

does God change his mind?

by Mark Lafler time to read: 2 min