Tuesday 6 September 2005

Divine immutability and prayer

One of the most notorious concepts of classical theology is the idea of “divine immutability,” i.e., the idea that God cannot and does not change. The biblical and theological objections to this concept are well known. But there is another important objection to the concept of divine immutability: the reality of prayer. God hears prayer. He responds to prayer. He is moved by prayer.

The reality of prayer, I suggest, entirely rules out the classical notion of an unchanging and unchangeable God. Karl Barth thought so too. Here is his judgment:

“If ever there was a miserable anthropomorphism, it is the hallucination of a divine immutability which rules out the possibility that God can let himself be conditioned in this or that way by his creature. God is certainly immutable. But he is immutable as the living God and in the mercy in which he espouses the cause of the creature. In distinction from the immovability of a supreme idol, his majesty, the glory of his omnipotence and sovereignty, consists in the fact that he can give to the requests of this creature a place in his will.... God cannot be greater than he is in Jesus Christ, the Mediator between him and man.... For this God is not only occasionally but essentially, not only possibly and in extraordinary cases but always, the God who hears the prayers of his own.” (Church Dogmatics III/4, p. 109)

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