Can Prayer Change the Future? Your Thoughts…

I haven’t done many posts on the blog in the past few months, but I want to ask a question that is both simple and has HUGE theological implications for how we understand God. Here is the question:

“Can our prayers change the future?”

Please answer the above question and give a thorough response to why you feel a certain way on this issue. If “no,” then why do we pray? If “yes,” is it possible for God to change his mind? In my opinion, your answer to this question (whether yes or no) opens up a theological “can of worms” so to speak…

Print Friendly

  • http://linnybest.com/ Linnybest

    O man, you’re right, it does open a can of worms…I’ve actually thought about this and I gotta say, it seems to through me around into circles…God knows the future, He wrote it, but we still have free will and the choice to pray what we want, He knows that we were going to pray and what would happen whether or not we said the prayer…on the otherhand, prayer is partly for us, it’s supposed to be constant conversation/awareness of God, reminding us that He is always, everywhere, and all-knowing; prayer helps us to keep Him in front of mind and to remind us who He is, it helps me to focus on what he wants me to focus on, so in that case, I think that prayer is for us more than it is for Him…

    …like I said, the concept makes me go around in circles! I don’t even think I actually answered your question…

  • http://wilkie89.blogspot.com/ eilidhw

    I’m pretty sure this is one of the biggest questions you can ask, because it doesn’t just have theological implications but genuine devotional implications.

    I find it interesting that you added the label “Foreknowledge” to this post. Is God’s knowledge of the future knowledge, as in He knows what’s going to happen, or is is because He has written the future? If God has written the future already then, as you suggest, what’s the point in praying?

    I was fortunate to be at a lunchtime service last week which addressed this issue, and I’d almost forgotten about it so thanks for this post simply for the reminder! The preacher was asking this question – if God knows the future then what’s the point of praying. His passage was the section in Acts 4 where the disciples pray for boldness. Basically, the point I want to bring out is this – if God is a sovereign God, and thus has already ordained the future, then there is more point in praying than if God wasn’t sovereign! I guess that’s not really answering your question… my answer would be that no, prayer can’t change the future because God has already written it. But we are commanded to pray. You’re also right about the can of worms, but for me the answer to this question can only be “no”. Anything else suggests that God isn’t sovereign. If the future can be changed then God has no authority over it, and for God to change the future doesn’t sit right with me because I believe in God’s immutability, that He can’t change.

    Really interesting topic to bring up which has so many sides and arguments. Looking forward to reading other peoples’ views!

    • tina

      I just had to reply on this one ‘If the future can be changed then God has no authority over it, and for God to change the future doesn’t sit right with me because I believe in God’s immutability, that He can’t change.’

      If God can’t change his mind or he can’t change then consequently,God is not allmighty at all. He is a slave of his prior decisions….He can’t change what he said will be. It’s like a father promising to a child that if he makes a misteke,he will be punished.The child makes a mistake and then pleads with his father to change his mind because now he knows where he did wrong,now he understand and now he knows why it was important to obey him. God answers prayers but he has to see if we learned anything from the situation.If our prayer is ego-driven or fear-driven,God will see us through.What he wants from us is to undergo a spiritual makeover,to walk in His truth,to open our eyes and make sure that what we ask for is for the higher good of everyone involved,not just us and our selfish desires.We can’t just ask God for things if we are not ready to look inside ourselves,this is what God wants from us.He will reveal his will to you,without a shadow of a doubt,and if your prayer is in accordance with his will (if it comes from the place of love and surrender and not from the place of ego and fear),he will answer your prayer.You really have to become love and grace and that is what you shall receive.If you suspect something is not God’s will (and you will suspect if you are spiritually awakened),then ask God to help you painlessly accept his will but make sure that before you do that, to consciously examine your conscience and make sure it is for everyone’s good and not just your own. He will not just deliver you,you have to change yourself first and if you’re honest with yourself,you’ll know just what to do.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com/ Dan Martin

    I’d have to answer your question with a qualified “yes,” Kurt. As you already know from my blog, I’ve come to a position of Open Theology, so I do NOT believe, as your previous two commenters have stated, that God has “written the future.” As I detailed in my own post on God’s sovereignty, I believe that God is both sufficient in authority and power to accomplish anything he purposes to do…so to the extent (but only to the extent) that he has determined something will/must happen, he knows the future because he has purposed to accomplish it. However I also believe that God has genuinely released a great deal into our hands, to do well or poorly. Both Old and New Testaments are filled with accounts of God interacting in space and time with his creation. I think the usual explanations that he dumbed down the reality so we could understand it, don’t hold as much water as the notion that God really does respond to his creation.

    Which means, certainly, that to the extent God takes our prayers into account and changes his actions accordingly, yes, our prayers can influence the future. However, this is the point where my own weak faith and strong cynicism take over, in that I have very little confidence that my prayers are, in fact, taken into account in any discernable way. I have to confess that as this sense has grown in me, my prayers and the confidence of those prayers has waned substantially. As I’m dubious of the efficacy of my prayers, I cope by asking infrequently and for not much.

    I still struggle with the notion of prayer as obedience. I wonder if perhaps the Muslims don’t have a clearer picture than we do; most Muslim prayer is merely the recitation of scripture. Maybe prayer is supposed to be an exercise in submission to God, and maybe I’m wrong to even wonder whether it should mean anything or “work” for me.

    Anyway, there are a few thoughts from your heretic buddy across the mountains!

  • ZP

    Yes, Big Mikes Dad. Enough said.

    • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt

      Dont have time to reply to everyone, so I will reply to ZP briefly. I think you are right that the situation with Mike’s dad and how prayer intervened and saved is life would be a great case for the “yes” side of things… Good brief thought!

      • ZP

        thanks.

  • Tucker

    I think it is important to be clear that the purpose of prayer is not primarily to “change the future”. Prayer is not making a wish. Prayer is communion with God, being formed through this communion into God’s likeness in the present moment. That experience of being formed in God’s likeness will involve voicing the longings of a heart that is united to Christ’s- crying out for justice, peace, comfort, hope, love, but speaking the longings of the heart is a consequence of a life centered in prayer, not itself the center of prayer.

    As to the question itself- I would have to answer “no”. You can’t change what doesn’t yet exist. The future is not a script written out ahead of time waiting for the players to fall into place. The future is determined in each new moment as God acts redemptively in the world, and the people of God recognize and respond to this work, or as they don’t. Prayer does, however, equip us to see and rejoice in God’s work, and to join in it. In this way t does shape the unfolding of the future.

  • Kurt Willems

    Linny… Good thoughts! You basically described a view of God’s foreknowledge called: “Simple Foreknowledge”

    Eilidh… I am glad that this post scratched a personal itch so to speak ;-) I would ask you this question: Is God’s sovereignty completely dependent on his ability to know and create the future? Could his sovereignty be the reality that he has a plan for how “HE” will act in the future, but perhaps it is all contingent on responding to human choices that have not yet been made? I am simply asking questions not attacking the view you expounded :-)

    Dan… You would take the Open view here! :-) You believe that the future has yet to take place, so that God is not the author of it… because it hasn’t happened yet. I think your qualified “yes” is appropriate considering the Open view. I think any answer to this question would indeed need to be “qualified” in this way.

    Tucker… you make the same point that Dan does… yet, ironically you answer with a “no” compared to his yes. You also hold to an Open view that the future has yet to be written. I like your comments on God acting redemptively in the world as the future unfolds moment by moment. Thanks!

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Actually, I think Tucker’s and my comments differ only in semantics. If the future does not actually exist yet, then I guess it can’t be “changed.” Tucker’s more careful phrasing is actually a more accurate representation of the future in an open view…in which case the correct question would be “does prayer INFLUENCE the future (or God’s action in the future)?”

    I wish I could say that I’ve ever experienced what Tucker describes as the communion aspect of prayer. But that, as they say, is where the rubber meets the road, and when we move from the theoretical to the experiential I must confess I come up pretty dry. I do agree, though, that part of prayer may be the effect it has, not on God, but on us as we seek to align our will with his.

  • Tucker

    Hi Dan. I would agree that we are on the same page. I didn’t mean my own post to be a counterpoint; I just recently found Kurt’s blog and so I have responded to some of his posts directly without first reading the other comments.

    As for prayer as communion with God, I’d like to point you twoard a good friend and mentor of mine who blogs about prayer. Check out chriserdman.com. I have also found that there is a huge wealth of tradition and resource outside of the West, and love to read Easter Orthodox contemplatives’ writings on prayer. I too hope that you can experience communion with Christ. Peace and blessings to you.

    • Kurt Willems

      U guys were totally saying the same thing! Hahaha. Dan, I am going to pray that u experience the Holy Spirit in a fresh charismatic/contemplative way!

  • Tucker

    I can’t believe I wrote “Easter Orthodox”…how embarrassing. I meant “Eastern”.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Ha Ha, Tucker, I hope & pray we’re ALL “Easter Orthodox,” regardless of our denominational affiliation. He is, after all, risen! ;{)

  • Jän van Oosten

    First of all, God is eternal which means non-temporal. Classic orthodoxy from the time of Augustine and Boethius holds that all time is available to God simultaneously and at once. This is the definition of eternality which is different than everlasting. This is not incompatible with contingent events. God knows necessary events as necessary and contingent events as contingent. Secondarily, God does not have to access knowledge of events outside Himself. God is not dependent upon anything outside Himself—even knowledge of real events. From this perspective then, the future is fully known by God. Just as I know that there is a newspaper in front of me, God knows all future real events (He also has middle knowledge). Yet, there does not need to be a direct causal relationship between future events and God’s knowledge of those events (even though He is the ultimate cause of all things in that He gives “being” and the dignity of causality to creatures). Consequently, the “free” prayers of the righteous are the means to the end of those things that fall within God’s will. Just as walking is the means by which I reach my front door in order to go outside; righteous prayer is the means that God uses to accomplish His will. Just as I need to get up and walk to the door; likewise, the faithful need to pray as the means by which God’s will falls out in time. In short, the prayers of the righteous are truly effective from a temporal perspective; yet, from an eternal perspective they do not change what God knows as the real future.

  • http://www.lifeaccess.nl Daniel

    i don’t think prayer changes future necessarily.. Things might happen.. However though.. For certain prayer changes us.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    First of all, God is eternal which means non-temporal. Classic orthodoxy from the time of Augustine and Boethius holds that all time is available to God simultaneously and at once.

    You are making some heavy (though not unusual) extrabiblical assumptions here. First of all, eternal is not synonymous with non-temporal at all. God can have existed from eternity past, and continue to exist into eternity future, while still experiencing time. The two concepts are independent, and either can be true or false irrespective of the truth of the other. There is a clear biblical case for God’s eternality; there is no such case for non-temporality.

    Second, you mention “classical orthodoxy” from Augustine on. . .as you probably know, Augustine was heavily influenced by Greek philosophers from the Golden Age–Aristotle, Plato and the like–who clearly felt that a perfect deity had to be non-temporal and immutable. The God portrayed in the Judaic and Christian scriptures is nothing like the immutable, inaccessible being of Plato and Aristotle (and Augustine, for that matter), but rather a highly dynamic and interactive being.

    Christian theologians have tried to reconcile these two competing concepts by painting God as extra-temporal, and passing off the interactive accounts as being God’s way of dumbing-down his existence to be comprehensible to us limited creatures. A far more biblical perspective is to acknowledge that when God said he changed his mind, or responded to someone’s prayer, he actually meant just what he said. Funny how the Biblical literalists seem to collapse at this point. . .

  • Jän van Oosten

    Dan wrote: “Second, you mention ‘classical orthodoxy’ from Augustine on. . .as you probably know, Augustine was heavily influenced by Greek philosophers from the Golden Age–Aristotle, Plato and the like–who clearly felt that a perfect deity had to be non-temporal and immutable. The God portrayed in the Judaic and Christian scriptures is nothing like the immutable, inaccessible being of Plato and Aristotle (and Augustine, for that matter), but rather a highly dynamic and interactive being… Christian theologians have tried to reconcile these two competing concepts by painting God as extra-temporal, and passing off the interactive accounts as being God’s way of dumbing-down his existence to be comprehensible to us limited creatures.”

    If God exists in a temporal way, please explain how he can exist without a beginning and also traverse an infinite regress. While you are at it, please explain how God can be infinite and exist in temporality.

    Secondly, it does not follow that because God is immutable He is therefore inaccessible. No classical orthodox theologian held such position.

    Thirdly, because Greek philosophers held certain views does not mean that they were per se wrong (note Acts 17:27-28). Such a notion is also a non sequitur. This is simply a logical fallacy—guilt by association, or an attempt to discredit an idea based upon disfavored people or groups associated with it.

    Fourthly, it is simply your opinion that “The God portrayed in the Judaic and Christian scriptures is nothing like the immutable” God of Greek philosophers. Augustine, for instance, was a great expositor and exegete of Scripture. Additionally, if your statement is true, then Paul was clearly wrong in Acts 17.

    Fifthly, orthodox theologians do not hold that God can be dumbed-down to be “comprehensible.” And, in fact, creatures and humans are “limited.” Perhaps you believe humans are not limited and can comprehend God.

  • http://nailtothedoor.blogspot.com Dan Martin

    Jan, I wanted to get back to this sooner but got slammed with other demands. Thanks for your answers – a few responses:

    If God exists in a temporal way, please explain how he can exist without a beginning and also traverse an infinite regress. While you are at it, please explain how God can be infinite and exist in temporality.

    I guess my first answer would be “who are you (or me, or anyone), o man, to think you can explain or understand God?” By this I mean, if it is scriptural to state that God is eternal–and we both agree it is–and if further, it is scriptural to speak of a God truly responding to and reacting in time, which I maintain it is (cf. Gen. 6:6, Ex. 32:14, Jonah 3:10 and elsewhere); if these things are both scriptural, then if my concept of truth has trouble containing those two thoughts, my concept is too limited.

    But more to your direct question, why is it logically impossible for God to have no beginning, and still experience time? Those are two separate questions, and I do not see why they must logically be linked. I can’t explain how anything–God included–can be infinite, because I am most definitely finite. But I would ask first of all whether the concept of infinity as we define it today, would even have computed to the minds of biblical authors. God is portrayed as limitless in ability and power throughout the Bible. . .but that does not necessarily translate into infinity as we use that word in 21st-century English. So before I address “how God can be infinite and exist in temporality,” I would challenge you to explain where in scripture those concepts are portrayed in such a manner as to set up the contradiction you imply.

    You also mentioned about God “traversing an infinite regress.” I’m not sure what you mean by this phrase, so I would ask you (1) to define it, and (2) to ground your application of that definition to God, in scripture.

    As to God’s immutability/inaccessibility, I grant that I wrongly implied the two are synonymous. I maintain both are unbiblical, but they are not the same concept.

    To your third point, I do not state that because the Greeks said something, it must be wrong. What I am saying is that if Augustine got a concept from the Greeks and not from scripture, it may or may not be right, but it may not be accorded the authority of a scripturally-derived doctrine. In other words, only that which scripture says about God is firm; the rest may be true or false, but we dare not hang our hats on it.

    For your fourth point, you appeal to Augustine and Acts. I presume you refer to Acts 17:24-25, which does not at all say God is immutable, but rather since he is the source of all things he doesn’t need temples, services, or sacrifices. I have no quarrel with Paul on that point, but it certainly is no defense for immutability. As to your appeal to Augustine, I presume you believe the biblical canon to have been closed with Revelation–certainly at the canonical councils–so however solid an exegete Augustine may have been, his writings (however enlightened) merit respect accorded to a godly man, but do not command scriptural authority.

    I’m a little startled by your fifth point, as the close of your first point asked me to explain God’s nature. Either he’s comprehensible by finite humans or he isn’t. . .I opt for “isn’t”. . .which is why I don’t find a problem with potential cognitive dissonnance introduced by the notions of God being both responsive in time, and yet eternal.

    Finally, however, I noticed in both your posts that you appealed to Augustine and classical theologians in your defense. There seems to be a strong current in some Christian circles, to ascribe canonical authority to a great deal of thought that was never expressed in Biblical times, but has enjoyed some level of support since. Just as I said above regarding the Greek sages, it is also true of classical “orthodox” theologians: They may have been right, they may have been wrong, but they are not authoritative on a Biblical, doctrinal level. Human exegetes have succeeded at times, failed at others, throughout history. Their perspectives may be helpful, but they do not form a valid basis for Christian dogma, and their exegeses must be tested and re-tested against the source material to determine whether or not they got it right.

    Peace,

    Dan

  • http://playlist.com/jesmar tamol

    I have fallen in love to someone which is oviously not the right one for me, we are too different from each other, every time I look at her I can tell that we are too imposible to be together, but I LOVE Her. Every night I’ve been praying to GOD, praying to change the right one for me and make her the such one. Until now my prayers didn’t get any answer, for almost 1 1/2 months of going to church every night praying for such thing. Its just getting worst from time to time, I felt like something is pulling us apart. even though the scene is just llike that, this is what I always say to GOD “I will be waiting for your answer even if I spend my whole life to it, because I LOVE HER..,” “I know you understnd me more than I understand my self, but I hope someday that the way I undestand my self today would be the best way of how you understand me..”

    I will never give up until GOD will personaly tell me that this is crazy….

    “we are allowed to pray, becuase GOD gave us the ability to think what is good for us…” just continue praying for something, as long as it is not only for our own interest, but also for the benefit of evry body….

  • tina

    i don’t know why you think that you’re not right for eachother.So what if you’re different.Embrace the differences,love the differences….I don’t know your story but pray in a way that you allow God’s will to prevail and pray that your will is his will.I not,pray God to change your mind.You must feel it inside and be sincere about it.I love my ex too and a good psychic told me we will never be together again but then so what.I listen to God and what he has to tell me.His is the last word!!!! I know I will accapt whatever he wants but I still pray for us and believe we have a future….Nothing is set in stone and future is ever changing.Each breath you take is a hopeful one.No doubt about it.Don’t give up but don’t wait for things to fall from the sky for you.Make an efford.First-you MUST be happy because life is beautiful and God is looking after you no matter what you may think right now.Second-you must find which lesson you need to learn (pray about this an listen what comes up?,you are kind of desperate and despair has its root in fear not love,get rid of this.Third-pray but go about your business and be happy ’cause eth will be allright.YOU MUST BE HAPPY! IT’S CRUCIAL!!!! You will be happier than you think,with or without her.I know,you want it to be her.I do too.But stop sending these desperate vibes.They reach her.Take it one step at the time and you’ll find your answers

  • http://www.playlist.com/jesmar tamol

    @tina..
    thank you..
    yes im trying 2 be haapy now, with or without her, but still im praying for her. for the reason that i really love the girl, i just lend it to the hands of the father if we are really for each other…

  • Cj Moffett

    I think it is more accurate to say that prayer ‘impacts’ the future, as opposed to changing it. Personally, I believe that the future is not yet a reality, only a potential/possible reality. It may be semantics, but can you change something that does not yet exist? While the bible does record the story of Hezekiah’s prayer and how this prayer did seem to alter God’s ‘plan’ so to speak, was the future truly changed? But then again, I am an Open Theist, so that paradigm might explain a little from where I come. Just my 2 cents.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X