Recently a member of the church posed a classic question. A relative was ill and she wanted her brother to join the rest in praying for healing. He did not see what good that would do because God already had an outcome in mind. Did I know how to persuade him to join in their prayers?
I felt inadequate that I had only a simple answer. Jesus invites all to ask, seek and knock for what we want. He would not do that unless God was willing to respond to our request in a way different from what he would have done had we not prayed.
My sense of inadequacy came because I know a lot about the underlying issue of God’s providence. What does God know and when does he know it? The answer gets into issues of God’s providential foreknowledge and predestination and the more pressing question of freedom of will. I have wrestled with it enough to know it is headache-inducing. I am glad to see an Evangelical theological movement called the Openness of God. God respects our personal future and is open to different futures depending on our requests and decisions.
The issue is expressed in the interpretation of Romans 8:28. In the King James it is rendered “All things work together for good to those who love God.” The NIV is “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him.” The earlier version implies the foreknowledge that all things that happen to me are for my good and God arranged for that to happen, including really bad things like an automobile crash. The better version is, Now that something bad has happened (the car crash), God is going to work through me to make something good out of it—good for me and good for others. Did God purpose that I would momentarily lose focus and crash into another car? That would seem cruel.
The God of the New Testament reveals himself to be full of love and grace. Keep that in mind when wrestling with questions about God and your future. That he predestined some to faith is basic to his relationship of grace. Otherwise, my faith is something I have generated, at least partially, and I need to worry about whether I have done my part sufficiently.
But what about the other side of this predestination? Has God predestined some to a lack of saving faith. Double predestination is hard for me to comprehend. It takes away any vestige of free will. This is a Lutheran looking at classic Reformed teaching. Never knowing for sure whether you are in or out of God’s grace seems grim. It has a logic, but there are limits to human logic in understanding God.
Sociologist Max Weber identified the Protestant Work Ethic as an explanation for how productive America has been. If you are not sure of your relationship with God, then look for signs of an individual’s election, or eternal salvation, by putting a high value on hard work, thrift, and efficiency in one’s worldly calling. That was his explanation for why this country, founded and led by Reformed Protestants, has been so much more productive than other New World countries with a Catholic heritage. But that outlook puts us back into grace-denying work righteousness.
Does God have your personal life all planned out in great detail? What a burden that would be. Then you would need to continually worry whether you are following God’s plan for your life. What if you make a wrong choice? If God has chosen the right life’s mate for you, what if you marry the wrong person? Worry, worry. Remember, God loves you. In all choices you make with your free will, he will work for your good.
The Protestant heritage typically leaves little room for the Holy Spirit to do his unpredictable work. The Spirit doesn’t fit into a rational scheme. His hall mark is freedom from man-made logical plans.
The God we worship wants us to enjoy his love, grace and the freedom he grants. He is open to whatever future emerges from our choices. Face that future with the confidence that he forgives sinful choices and wants to bless you richly in the future.
Do your prayers make any difference or does God have your life planned out in great detail? Leave a comment and let me know what you think!