Necessary World Theology: The Problem of Prayer and Foreknowledge

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An occasional complaint of critics relates to God and his seemingly temporal specific interactions with persons and events.

For instance, there is an account in Genesis 6:6 where it is said that God “regretted” that he had created humans.

The question becomes, if God is all knowing and can see the future, why would he not have foreseen the corruption of humans and why would he change his mind about his act of creation if he is immutable or unchanging?

A similar question has to do with prayer. Why would God insist upon people praying – as Jesus teaches in a number of his parables – if he already knows what he is going to do, or if he is immutable? How could the pleas of people possibly change his mind or persuade him?

Necessary World Theology [NWT] has a very interesting answer to this question.

Among the fundamental teachings of NWT is the eternality of God. Under NWT, the attribute of eternality is defined as existing external to time. Time is a mechanical aspect of the natural universe which God created, which he therefore transcends. Nevertheless, God interacts with time, as he does with any other aspect of the natural world.

This looks distinctly different than the intuitive understanding of God, who is going along from moment to moment like any other time-bound being, and feeling feelings and interacting with events as he goes along.

Rather, when God interacts with time, he does so holistically. God acts instantly within every moment across time, such that his nature is responding to what is happening at all points simultaneously.

Under this model of God’s nature and action, it makes a great deal more sense of these otherwise difficult questions. Because, God is reacting to what is happening in each moment at the same time as he is reacting to what is happening at every other moment.

Imagine, for instance, that a thousand people hurl objects at the stone face of a mountain. Each person is throwing a different object. One throws a tennis ball, one throws a glass vase, one throws a metal wrench and so forth. The nature of the stone is uniform throughout, but the effect it has upon each object is different due to the nature of the object. So it is with God.

At the moment he creates, his reaction to the creation is that it is good. At the moment human sin corrupts the society, his nature reacts with anger or regret. At the moment his people repent, his nature reacts with forgiveness. It is not God who changes, but rather the nature of the events occurring in time.

When people pray to God, the prayers are like the objects hurled at the mountain face. God’s response to the prayers is consistent with his unchanging nature, and each prayer receives a response specific to that prayer.

So far as “foreknowledge” goes, NWT asserts that it is a mischaracterization of God’s knowledge. God does not “look down the corridors of time” as a fortune teller might claim to do. Rather, God exists within the future even as he does in the present.

So God was regretting his creation of man even has he was creating him and even has he was redeeming him and re-creating the heaven and earth in the future.

And this is how God’s “regret” might best be understood. The actions of human beings in history are those things which actualize every aspect of God’s nature. Consider, once again, those objects being hurled at the cliff face. Imagine the cliff face was invisible to its assaulters. They could quickly discover the nature of the cliff face – not by how it looks, but by how the various objects interact with that face. Even so, the reaction of God to every action of humans across time: these are the events which allow God to express every aspect of his nature. In the vast panoply of time, events of every variety have occurred – and the more things which occur, the more of God’s nature is expressed.

This is possibly why Jesus encouraged his followers to “pray without ceasing.” The more prayers are directed at God, the more of his nature is expressed. This is ultimately for the benefit of the individual. Because every time an individual interacts with God, they have received the privilege of being instrumental in the ultimate cosmic plan: the full expression of God’s nature.