Does God's perfect knowledge of all outcomes of a situation mean that what He wills cannot be changed, that it is useless to ask God to change His mind?
“I the Lord do not change…” (Malachi 3:6)
Correctly understood, Malachi 3:6 is one of the most encouraging verses in the Bible. God’s love, forgiveness, patience, mercy, and other qualities are just not going to change. We can find great relief in that fact. God will work with us tomorrow just as He did yesterday and does today.
Incorrectly understood, Malachi 3:6 can limit us. We can discourage ourselves by thinking that God will never change His mind once he has determined something – so our prayers otherwise are futile and useless. This is especially true in areas where it looks as though God has allowed something to happen to us or to others that does not change for the better despite our prayers. In situations like that, is it possible to change God’s mind? And if God is all knowing and has perfect wisdom, why should we consider even trying to ask God to change a decision He has made?
Many situations recorded in the Bible show that God is willing to change His mind. We will look at only one example in the Old Testament and one in the New Testament. The first example is well known: in the Genesis account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), we see that although God did destroy those cities and had clearly decided to do so (Genesis 18:17-32), He nevertheless relented in at least sparing Lot and his family as a result of Abraham’s persistent intercession (see our article on Abraham’s request here).
The second example is less frequently remembered, but the New Testament account of the Syrophoencian woman who pleaded with Christ to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30) is a parallel. Jesus made it clear to the woman that he was not sent to the Gentiles and that he would not answer her pleas. Yet when the woman persisted, he relented and essentially made an exception to the rule he himself had explained regarding his not helping the Gentiles (see our article on the Syrophoenician woman’s faith here).
These examples point up something we should always remember. The fact that God is all-knowing and all-wise doesn’t mean a decision He makes is the only wise decision possible in a given circumstance. The truth is, by virtue of the fact that God is all-knowing and all-powerful, He can look at a situation and adjust things to make another outcome work just as well if He knows it will still be for the best.
I remember reading, many years ago, a short science-fiction story ("The Game of Blood and Dust" by Roger Zelazny) in which two unimaginably powerful alien beings played out a game of chess-like strategy on Earth by adjusting history through injecting the slightest little changes – the death of a great potential leader here, the support of a scientific genius somewhere else – until the whole of history was affected to the desired outcome. The story illustrated in an imaginative way how even the smallest changes could alter the way things work out.
God obviously has the power to do exactly that kind of changing, and asking God to change His mind by considering other outcomes is not disrespectful as long as we are willing to accept His answer - it just means we have a healthy understanding of how all-knowing and all-powerful God is. That is perhaps why we read that: “… Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1).