There is an apparent conflict between the historically prevalent Christian beliefs that ďprayer changes thingsĒ; with the immutability of Godís eternal plan, purpose and will. This has resulted in the misapplication of petitionary prayers that are practiced through the Christian beliefs that God changes things in direct response to the implorations of menís requests. In stark contrast, those who espouse the Doctrine of Godís Divine Immutability believe that He is absolutely immutable (unchangeable), that nothing about His divine essence does or could in fact change. Accordingly, an immutable God has an unchanging and unchangeable will. On the other hand, Christians of all persuasions have held to the predilection type practice of petitionary prayer or ďmaking of requests of GodĒ; behind which lays the belief that prayer has some causal significance.
This belief in the independent efficacy of prayer is supported by and no doubt gains its place of fundamental importance in the Christian tradition from the amalgamation of the divers covenant and administrative views of Old and New Testament Scriptures. In these practices, the most casual of readings turn up a plethora of instances of various requests being made to God and God hearing and affirmatively answering such (I Kings 18:1-45; II Chronicles 6:26-27). By the same token there is equal documentation declaring these same workings of God by decrees (Jeremiah 5:24; 10:13). But if for everything that God brings about in the world, His bringing it about is grounded in His unchanging will, can one plausibly maintain that God in any real sense responds to prayers?
The primary question to be considered is whether the immutability of Godís will is compatible with entreaty-like petitionary prayers? Is it even possible to state that whatever God wills to be brought about is eternal and unchanging but that God nonetheless brings about many things in the world because of or as the result of prayers offered to Him by individuals? More specifically, is there any Scriptural documentation in favor of a compatibility thesis on the basis of the traditional argument of the efficacy of induced causality (found for instance in accounts of appeals from Godís faithful servants)? In other words, do the contents of the Scriptures contend that these traditional accounts are strengthened by their notions of "complex intentions", influencing God to act in a manner other than His original inclinations? In effect, can God be persuaded to change His mind or are there even areas wherein He has not pre-determinately made up His mind thus leaving certain decisions to the determining faculties of mankind?
The question now arises as to the incompatibility of these two issues. In other words, does God immutably will to brings about something simply because He has pre-determinately decreed it or are there instances where He brings things about simply because individuals make certain requests of Him? These issues are absolutely not compatible. Note, If the divine will is immutable, then there can be no alteration of God's will by anything on the part of the creature. Nothing a person requests of God will make a difference in God. No prayer can change God's mind regarding what He has previously determined to bring about. This view adopts a particularly stringent conception of immutability that it is logically impossible for anything about the divine nature to change. This statement is compounded by questions, i.e., ďcan prayer have any causal significance? If the answer is yes, then any request made to God in prayer would, if answered affirmatively only in response to the petition; require Him to bring something about directly as a result of the individual's prayer.
But God has already pre-determined what things He will bring about and that determination is fixed. To be more precise, the difficulties of these issues are outlined with the following set of propositions:
(1) An individual prays at a certain time for God to bring about some specific request.
(2) God immutably has willed (in eternity before time) that the stated request will manifestly be expressed at the specified time.
(3) In essence, did God brings about the manifestation of the specified request at the specified time because the individual prayed for it to occur?
Note the examination of the aforementioned two propositions in consideration of the above referenced accounts in the Old testament. As we analyze the specific context of the occurrences recorded in I Kings 18:1-45, we immediately note its tie-in to the Law-Kingdom dispensational covenants, i.e., Abrahamic (Promise), Mosaic (Law) and New (Kingdom). It is very important to recognize these assignments as they establish both the position and domain from which the account of events are expressed.
The opening accounts of First Kings chapter eighteen depict the circumstances surrounding the curse OF NO RAIN FOR THREE YEARS that God had placed on king Ahab and the nation of Israel through the profit Elijah. This was six months after the king was told there would be neither dew nor rain; and from this period the three years in this passage are computed. As the account unfolds, There was a sore famine in Samaria that was pressing with intense severity on the capital. On the banks of rivulets, grass-tender shoots of grass under normal circumstances would naturally be expected but the water being dried up, the verdure would disappear. Through this ordeal, all the prophets of Baal are destroyed but the God of Israel is magnified and hence manifested through the test of fire (vs. 21-30). Subsequently we note that the rain returned and the nation was saved (vs. 45).
When this is viewed from the vantage-point of time and the plateau of the Earth, it conveys a picture of God reacting and responding to the actions of mankind, both good and evil. Thus the inference is that the persuasiveness of menís conduct is the deciding factor that determines the flow of events that transpire. Contrariwise, when this is viewed from the vantage-point of eternity and the plateau of the Heavenlies, it conveys a picture of God manifesting His decrees and plans according to His good pleasure. But the passage is recorded from the Earthly view as it is linked to the Earthly Covenants, thus there is insufficient information in the account to accommodate the Heavenlies view. For one to comprehend the correct analysis of the events that unfolded, one must have the advantage of a panoramic scene that is only available in a forum where there is more light or information.
Here it is very important for one to understand that a thorough comprehension from the Heavenlies vantage-point of God determining all things in eternity; can only be ascertained in light of information that is provided in the writings of THE MYSTERY, the volume of truth that was revealed to the Apostle Paul. One must dwell and abide in the INTELLIGENCE of the Grace Covenant in order to perceive the Heavenlies workings of Godís Divine Decrees that are immutably determined in eternity and manifested in the Earthly sphere of time. This information entails the facts that:
(1) All of Godís beloved were chosen (elected) in Christ before creation (Ephesians 1:4).
(2) The hope of the elect is confirmed by His immutable oath (Hebrews 6:17-18).
(3) God (independently) works all things after the counsel of His will according to His purpose (Ephesians 1:11).
Observe that in light of the data that is available in the Gospel of Grace, one has the advantage of understanding that everything that God ever has done, is doing and is going to do, have as their end His "eternal purpose". Thus if Godís purpose is an eternal one, then His "policy" is not being "shaped" day by day. Also, if God receives input from anyone outside of Himself, it would contradict Ephesians 1:11 which expressly declares that God is "working all things according to the determination of His will," therefore it follows that "Godís policy" is not being "shaped" by manís prayers. Any such statement to the contrary foist the will of the creature to be supreme, for if the prayers of humans are potent enough to shape Godís policy or determine His workings, then is the Most High God subordinate to the influence of earthly creation. The absurdity of such cogitation is expressed by the Apostle Paul, as he simply makes a statement in the form of a question, i.e., "For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has become His counselor?" (Romans 11:34).
Those who embrace the proposition of viewing things from the Earthly vantage-point foist the premise that the efficacy of prayer is the basis of SECONDARY CAUSATION. This has been accepted as a compromise of the issue, supposedly to authenticate the need to maintain simultaneously the immutability of God's decrees and the causal efficacy of the actions of human agents. This proposition has received prominent endorsement and a long tradition in Christian theology. Classical theologians have traditionally resorted to the distinction between so-called primary and secondary causes to achieve this goal. The Protestant scholastic Jerome Zanchius explains: "In consequence of God's immutable will and infallible foreknowledge, whatever things come to pass, come to pass necessarily, though with respect to second causes and us men, many things are contingent. . ." (Absolute Predestination, The Will of God, position 11).
In the Westminster Confession it reads: "God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established" (III.i). Others have been careful to avoid the two extremes of (a) affirming the necessity of human actions and (b) making the decree of providence mutable. Some, holding that all things come about by necessity (whether physical necessity or the immutability of God's decree), deny the usefulness of prayer; while others, affirming the usefulness of prayer and that human actions are ruled by providence (though without necessity), make the divine decree variable. Yet the prevalent proposition remains that stresses the importance of affirming human acts as true causes, while retaining the immutability of the divine will as expressed in the decree of providence. This position leads them to maintain that providence disposes both effects and the manner in which they will be brought about.
From the Earthly vantage-point, human acts are true causes and therefore men must perform certain actions, not in order to change divine providence, but in order to obtain certain effects in the manner determined by God. In this effect, what is perceived as being true of natural causes would also be true of prayer. . One does not (nor can) pray in order to change the decrees of divine providence, rather it is designed in order to impetrate those things which God has determined would be obtained, which includes the function of prayer. In other words, the prayers of the elect are aligned with the will of God to receive what the Almighty has decreed to give from all eternity. Human agents should never be construed to function as secondary causes even though their deeds may seem to genuinely effectuate an event; when actually their actions are willed by God. This should never be explained by stating that causes are the results of manís prayer, as it is not the efficient cause but only a tool that is utilized in the efficient disposition of the cause.
Thus if God has in eternity willed to bring about a certain occurrence, He has pre-determinately decreed it so by willing that it be manifested by some personís action, wherein this action may be the act of prayer and in this, the person does not actually have any causal effect on bringing about the occurrence. If one views this otherwise, it is to say that God couldn't have willed to bring such occurrence about without some human agency or that God can only will to bring about (some) things if human agents are involved in the causal process. Some may attempt to explicate the so-called causal relations that are perceived to be involved technically by the proposition that bringing-about relations functions as being both transitive and the preservation of the efficacy of the primary agent (God). In this view, if God decides to do something, it requires the employing of creatures to accomplish the task, i.e., human agents actually performed the action but God Himself is involved in the causal process. But the flaw is that even in view of the transitive relation notwithstanding, it is also true that God willed to bring about the human function as a manifestation of that which resulted in the occurrence. Thus all must be applied to the Divine Will of God, for even if human actions are functions of the cause, they are not determinants of the cause.