Let’s talk about prayer – specifically, the value and effect of petitioning God through prayer.
Here is the issue before us: if petitioning prayer affects how God operates and interacts with the world, then we are affecting the future as God knows it.
This is one of the most difficult and convincing arguments for openness theology – the view that God does not know the future. So, I’m going to just share a few, hideously underdeveloped thoughts on the issue.
It certainly does seem in the Bible (John 14:14, as well as other places), as well as in common sense, that our prayers actually affect the way God operates and interacts with the world. However, if God knows the future, then it seems that our prayers are not truly affecting what He does in any real sense.
However, as I tried to communicate in my article on omniscience vs. free will, The way I think about it is that God knows the future, but didn’t necessarily make it happen that way – this is hard for many to accept or understand, but it is a crucial distinction to be made – and this could apply to the way God interacts with the world as well (even though this concept is much harder for me to wrap my head around).
For instance, if we pray to God and ask him to save the life of a loved one who is dying, this may affect what God does in time, (in other words, He now is going to save the loved one). However, this does not mean that God did not know whether we were going to pray, and thus did not know whether or not He would save our loved one. It could be the case that if we asked God to save our loved one, He would, and if we did not ask Him to, He would let our loved one die; but God already knows whether or not we will ask Him to save our loved one, thus already knowing whether or not He is going to save our loved one. Simple example, but I hope you see where I’m coming from.
This does not seem to me to be a problem. Many people say that we then don’t have a free choice because we do not have the option of then “switching it up on God” and doing something different. But I think this is because people tend to think of God’s foreknowledge as though He were simply predicting the future, instead of seeing the real future. He says He “knows” what will happen, but really He just thinks He does and we can do something different at the last second and throw God off. Well, that doesn’t work… because the fact is that God actually knew exactly what you would do – the switch up and everything. It isn’t that God knows all possible futures, and is simply ready for anything like a good chess player. He knows what will happen because he sees what really happens. (You can read a good discussion on this blog about the issue in the comments here). People often feel as though they are trapped by God’s knowledge. I find it rather comforting though (Psalm 139:16).
If God is truly all-knowing, is not surprised by anything, is totally sovereign over all of life, then I have only to rest in His glory and sovereignty and trust in His unfathomable grace and love, knowing that He will supply all my needs (Matt. 10:29-31; Exodus 14:14; Psalm 46:10; Phil. 4:19).