Why Prayer Works

April 20, 2006    By: Geoff J @ 5:22 pm   Category: Ostler Reading,Personal Revelation,Theology

Chapter two in Blake Ostler’s new book is titled “Prayer and Providence”. Although it is a full 50 pages I’ll try to cover it all in this post (and using my own words). The chapter mostly explains why many theological assumptions accepted by creedal Christianity make effective petitionary prayer impossible and why Mormon doctrines do allow for effective petitionary prayer if we are willing to accept them.

Last year after being granted a particularly important miracle I wrote a post titled “Twisting God’s Arm“. The point of that post and others surrounding it was the same as a major thrust of chapter 2 in Blake’s new book. The notions are:

1) The future cannot be fixed if petitionary prayer is effective.

If the future is fixed then no one – including God can change it (if God could change it it would not exactly be fixed now would it?) If the future is unfixed and open that means there can be no exhaustive foreknowledge. That is a subject we have covered at great length here in the past (so read those threads before bringing it up here again, please). But I will say that in my opinion this petitionary prayer issue is perhaps the most important reason to completely reject the notion of a fixed future (and thus exhaustive foreknowledge). Mormons, perhaps more than any other people in the world, ought to believe in the power of petitionary prayer. The restoration was instigated by a simple petitionary prayer of a 14 year old boy after all. Blake defends the idea of an open future masterfully in his first book and leans on that foundation in this chapter.

2) God cannot be impassible and immutable (unchangeable) if petitionary really works.

Some theologies hold that nothing can affect God emotionally or change his mind, will, and plans. But isn’t that the entire point of petitionary prayer? To affect the will of God and thus get his assistance in something we want or need? It is not uncommon to even hear Mormons say things like “The purpose of prayer is not to change God’s will, but rather to align our will to his.” (Such Mormons probably don’t realize they are essentially parroting Calvin and Aquinas in this position.) Sure, aligning our will to God’s is a part of praying, but another part is to convince him to do things for us that he otherwise would not have done! It is, in fact, to convince God to change his plans – very much akin to my children’s often cute but occasionally annoying petitions to me.

3) Prayer in Mormonism is very much about relationship.

We Mormons take this Parent/Child relationship with God very seriously and very literally – more so than any other religion that I am aware of. We consider humankind to be of the same species and kind as God after all. Therefore, my comparing the petitions that the little Johnston children make to Kristen and me (and believe me, there are a ton of them) can be very literally compared to the petitions we make to God. Sometimes our children prevail upon us; sometimes they don’t. This pattern is mirrored with our petitions to God. Just as our relationship of love with our children here matures and grows over time and through our granting and rejecting petitions (often with some form of explanation), so grows our relationship with God. Just as our children become more like us in this process, so we become more like God in our ongoing conversations with him. Further, just as we are changed by our children, so is God changed by being in relationships with us.

The upshot of this all is that I think once again Blake is spot on in his theology. By rejecting the creedal notions of an all-controlling and immutable God and embracing the theological assumptions that come so naturally to Mormonism (which are similar to the ideas Open Theists teach) we gain the most robust version of petitionary prayer that I know of.

34 Comments »

  1. Interesting. Having buried three children, my relationship to prayer is different than yours.

    But I would start by saying that God is not a black box.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 21, 2006 @ 4:40 am

  2. Geoff,

    My apologies if you’ve already addressed this elsewhere, but isn’t one possible answer to your questions here that God had foreknowledge of the prayers to be offered. If that were the case (and I’m not saying it is, but assume as much), then the two problems you raise aren’t really problems. As to #1, prayer is still effective, it is just that God knew all along that it was coming. Same for #2. You are still building a relationship with God based on your petitions to Him, and His responses back to you, but, again, God knew all of that was coming.

    In other words, it seems to me that you can reconcile the two issues you raise with complete foreknowledge.

    Comment by Randy B. — April 21, 2006 @ 5:45 am

  3. How so, Stephen? Extrapolate, I’m interested.

    Comment by annegb — April 21, 2006 @ 7:33 am

  4. These points were intended to be underlying principles or realities that help explain why petitionary prayer can work. So I suppose I am with annegb in her question, Stephen. Do you mean that we have received different answers to prayers (that makes sense) or that you view the underlying realities surrounding prayer differently?

    Randy – Your questions are at the heart of those several posts and long debates we have already had here on the questions of a fixed future and foreknowledge. You might be interested in checking those out. When you do you will see that the problem is that if the future is fixed then God’s responses and choices are fixed just like ours are. The problem is that a real relationship requires legitimately open choices and the ability to change one’s mind (whether it is God or us). A fixed future does not allow that kind of freedom for any of the actors involved.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 21, 2006 @ 9:01 am

  5. There are several incidents in the Old Testament that explicitly describe God changing his mind in response to petitionary prayer. The classic is God changing his mind about destroying the children of Israel for their wickedness and raising up a new people instead, in response to Moses’ petitions on the the subject.

    Now a Calvinist would say that the account doesn’t really reflect the Lord changing his mind at all – but rather something equivalent to the Lord playing a game with Moses. There are many other examples – the word “repent” is used in reference to God all the time, in the sense of God changing his mind (or refusing to change his mind) about something he previously intended to do.

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 21, 2006 @ 6:52 pm

  6. A more interesting question for LDS proponents of a fixed future, is precisely when or how did God have any discretion over any thing, in the sense of getting to choose one way or the other, if the future is fixed?

    Supposing that at some point he progressed to his current station, at what point did he move from the perception of having the ability to affect the future to the sure knowledge that the future was cast in stone before he was born? That neither he nor anyone else has any power to change the status quo? That none of his predecessors had any discretion over anything either? That there was no Author of the Plan of Salvation nor intelligent design in the universe, just static and unalterable evolution of seeds no one ever cast? That Godhood is a spectator sport and omnipotence the cruelest of jokes?

    Comment by Mark Butler — April 21, 2006 @ 7:15 pm

  7. How so, Stephen? Extrapolate, I’m interested.

    I can connect with the Spirit in prayer, but I have a much harder time seeking God’s intercession than I used to. The things he let happen, ouch.

    With Jessica we had a number of congregations praying for her (non-LDS) as well as the rest of us. Several hundred people making it a part of their lives, until she died, to pray for her. Obviously did not sway God’s mind.

    Of course the time of her death was between her and God, I found out I was just a by-stander, so to speak.

    In each case, with my children, we prayed, they died, it was extremely painful. In many ways I associate sincere prayer with that pain.

    It reminds me a lot of reading about alcoholics and prayer. They’ve prayed, a lot. They know it doesn’t work. Yet, with AA you are asking them to pray and expect a miracle. Which happens. I sent people to 12-step programs for years without knowing much about them other than the fact judges like it.

    I’ve recently started reading a lot of 12-step literature. I think I’ll do without the full experience (I’m too old to start drinking and I don’t have any alcoholic relatives to have the alternative experience), but I find the material interesting, especially the approach to prayer.

    I’ve also printed out the Church’s .pdf 12-step book and am reading through it.

    Anyway, Geoff J had a miracle. I had three — in reverse. I’ve seen the flip side as well (positive miracles and the sweet support of the Spirit). I’ve had a lot of friends who lost children (being a part of Compassionate Friends can do that …). He is sold on the thesis that we pray for God’s intercession and get results in line with what we want.

    That approach was easy when I prayed and things happened. Err, when good things happened. My mission had a lot of those. I’ve been a part of a number of them since. But prayer followed, over and over again, by bad things happening, that is a different perspective.

    But when you pray and bad things happen against the odds, just what did prayer do in the traditional sense of changing the mind of God?

    Not that I didn’t have warnings, though I did not appreciate them. Guess it would not have changed our decision to have Courtney knowing that the hardship that made that an optional choice, a decision God let us know we could opt out of, meant that having her as our child meant burying her in abou two years — and eleven months to the day after her older sister died.

    Anyway, God is not a black box (a black box is a theoretical construct — imagine a box that works like magic, you push a button and get a response. Kind of like saying that God is not a tame lion). But yet, we are supposed to seek more than acceptance.

    Hope that answers your questions, I’m still working on it. I pray, we feel the Spirit, we are comforted, but that isn’t classic prayer. My kids like it though (the ones who are with me). And God is often good to me, often with things fitting together in ways I did not expect. But outside of my prayers, limited as they are by my knowledge and expectations.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 21, 2006 @ 8:59 pm

  8. I’ll write more when I have more time. But Saturday I’ve a meeting at 7:00, class at the Legacy Chapel at 9:00 (Stake stuff), a Bishop’s storehouse assignment I’m helping with until 2:00, and a Ward activity from 3:00 to 9:00. Just finished baking five double batches of brownies tonight.

    Sorry I’m not more organized in my posting right now.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 21, 2006 @ 9:02 pm

  9. Stephen: Thanks for being vulnerable and for sharing. I value your perspective because I suspect that in your extremities you have learned more about prayer and life … and that ultimate perspective that is seen only in the shadow of the valley of death. Along with the learning and value of experience is the simple, aching cry: why or Lord, why? When my oldest daughter was severely anorexic and literally hours away from death — she didn’t die — I somehow knew it would work out. I don’t know how I knew; I just did. One of the things that I learned in these hours of dire prayer, reaching, pleading, bargaining, commiserating, agonizing, begging, negotiating, complaining, praising, thanking, arguing, shouting, crying, whispering, pondering, searching, … was that God was working it out with me, with her, with us, in that moment. Thanks again.

    Comment by Blake — April 21, 2006 @ 10:03 pm

  10. Blake, I actually took some time during class and wrote my next four blog posts which go over this subject.

    I’m hoping that by the time I’ve re-written them and put them up, I’ll have a fifth post finished that will say more, but I’ve thought more. The Bishop’s Storehouse had a record low turn-out of people in need and close to a record high number of volunteers, so they sent me home early (which is why I’m taking a quick stop at 1:30 p.m. to blog).

    Thanks for the feedback, both Blake and Annegb. And Blake, I’m so glad your daughter survived her anorexia. That is such a trial.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 22, 2006 @ 11:33 am

  11. I’m not sure how to reconcile my experiences with prayer, thus far.

    Some confusion has come to me when I have been counseled that blessing(s) await me and I needed only to pray for b/c/d and it would be so. In other words,that the Lord longed to bless me but would wait until I asked Him. This fits right in with what the LDS Bible dictionary talks about with prayer, but doesn’t seem to mesh overall with how prayer’s worked in my life. It raises more questions than answers for me right now.

    Does the concept of a blessing predicated on our asking for it ourselves fit in with petitionary prayer as you describe it?

    Comment by Téa — April 23, 2006 @ 1:35 am

  12. Ah, I’ll get to that, at least in my world view. It is part of how I resolve many of my thoughts.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 23, 2006 @ 5:26 am

  13. Thanks for the comments Stephen and all.

    Stephen said: He [Geoff] is sold on the thesis that we pray for God’s intercession and get results in line with what we want.

    It is true that I think we get what we want from God sometimes. But I also think we don’t get what we want other times. I think our relationship with God is just like the relationship my little children have with me. The fact is that they ask me for things all of the time and I say no far more often then I say yes. Usually we both know they are trivial things, but occasionally I have to say no to requests that mean a lot to my children too and they don’t always understand why it must be so.

    I think the dialogue is the important part of the relationship though. As they mature they begin to understand why I say yes or no to certain things and they get better and knowing what to ask for. They also get better at knowing what petitions they are likely to get “yes” answers to because they understand me better over time.

    So I hope this comparison applies to Tea’s question too. I believe we should petition God as if we are little children petitioning our loving parents for something. They can gauge our sincerity and desire but they also know some things we don’t know about consequences of granting such petitions. The true end we are working toward is a closer and more mature personal relationship with the parents. The granting or denying of petitions along the way is part of learning to understand and is the means to the ultimate end of Oneness. In the communication process both sides work at aligning our desires and goals and visions/paradigms with the other (even if the child is changing more than the parents along the way).

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2006 @ 10:36 am

  14. I’ve never posted here before, but I met Geoff J at the SMPT conference a couple of months ago (he told me to check out this site) and by coincidence, I have a paper in the current Dialogue dealing with atonement theory, so I have been following the discussions with interest over the last couple of weeks.

    I just recently got Blake’s book, and I’ve been waiting until I read up through the atonement theory chapters before chiming in. I am pretty much in agreement with Blake’s general approach to the problem of prayer, but I am still unclear on how he is solving the problem’s arising from foreknowledge.
    I think I remember from the first volume that Blake argued God knows all possible futures (without knowing which one will become actual), simply through His ability to calculate logical possibilities. However, doesn’t calculating all possible futures require God to consider all the things I might do, and also all the things He might do in response? This view seems to be open to the criticism on pg. 62 that “if God pre-decides all of his “pre-sponses” based upon his foreknowledge, then he does not interact with me but the mere possibility of me.”

    The second thing I am unsure on is how Blake is answering the claim that God actions must always be designed to actualize the best possible world. Joseph prayed asking that Martin Harris be allowed to show the manuscript, and God finally relented (seemingly against His better judgment). Blake asks why God would do that, and answers that Joseph learned from the experience that God is always right (pg. 60-61). Now, at the time God relented, He was either acting in accordance with what would bring about the best possible future or he was not. If he was, then are we not back to God acting in an impersonal way to bring about the best possible world based on his foreknowledge of possible futures? If he was not, then how do we account for God doing something which was not designed to bring about the best possible future? Hopefully Blake can help clear this up for me if any of that made sense (trying to make it brief, so it may be unintelligible).

    Comment by Jacob — April 23, 2006 @ 3:16 pm

  15. Jacob: The questions you have raised are good ones. First, to the question of how God insures his purposes. God’s purpose is to have all in his kingdom who freely choose to be in his kingdom. He will get that and it is assured. God hopes that we will all freely acccept relationship with him; but his plan is to honor our choices! There is no risk that that will not happen. So God’s plan cannot fail and neither could it proceed on any other principal if loving relationship with us is his purpose.

    When God looks at the possibilities that could arise, he doesn’t then decide his exact response but merely a range of possible responses depending on what we will actually decide. However, what could possibly make it so that all those who freely choose to enter into a relationship of unity would fail to have such a relationship? Absolutely nothing that I can see. So there is an entire range of responses to our prayers through which God will work with us and persuade us through loving persuasion if we are open to it. He waits on us to ask and enters into relationship with us only when we enter into relationship with him — and only at that moment is the value of the relationship realized. What he pre-decides thus must await the actual choices I make to make any final decisions.

    Take Joseph’s asking to allow Martin Harris to see the plates. You suggest that when God said no, either he was “acting in accordance with what would bring about the best possible future or he was not.” This is a false dichotomy and adopts a view that I beleive has no meaning. I reject this analysis of the situation because there is no “best possible future.” There is a range of acceptable futures through which God could persuade Joseph to more fully accept relationship with him and progress toward complete divinity. As it transpired, apparently God saw that Joseph had a lesson of trust to learn that could be facilitated after Joseph’s obstinate refusal to accept God’s answer to prayer, so he created in relationship with Joseph a new way of moving forward. It was an acceptable way of moving forward toward fuliflling Joseph’s mission to say No, and it was an acceptable way to say Yes after Joseph had demonstrated that he had something more to learn. God learned that Joseph had something important to learn in the very interaction. God saw it was among the possibilities, provided for it, and decided in that moment to pursue that path though it would create headaches for Joseph and those later reading the Book of Mormon. It was good enough — and no matter what God chooses, he is not choosing the best possible future because there just ain’t one!

    Good questions Jacob. Does that makes sense to you?

    Comment by Blake — April 23, 2006 @ 4:10 pm

  16. Blake, that does make sense and I’m much closer to understanding you. Specifically, I agree that the dichotomy I suggested is a false one. My own reason for rejecting it is that I think it is impossible for God to know one possible future in its entirety, let alone all possible futures. In your paper “The Mormon Concept of God” you point out that knowing all things is meaningless in the same way that knowing the “greatest possible integer” is meaningless. I agree with this arguement. If it goes on infinitely (like numbers and time do) you can’t ever get around the end of it. In the case of numbers, it means there is no greatest possible integer. In the case of futures, it seems to mean that there is no such thing as knowing a possible future entirely. This limitation prevents God from comparing possible futures to choose the “best” one, on my view.

    However, I had understood from your first book that you believe God knows all possible futures. It seems I must be misunderstanding what you meant by God knowing all possible futures. I assumed it was the kind of knowing that could get you into trouble on issues like this, but perhaps your view of what God knows is more limited than what I was thinking. Do you agree that if God knew all possible futures in their entirety (if that were possible), this knowledge would essentially dictate His actions based on the overall goodness of various futures (even if all futures allow “those who freely choose to enter into a relationship of unity” it seems that some futures would involve more overall suffering than others along the way, etc.). This seems to be at the heart of the traditional arguement over petitionary prayer, but I didn’t see you address this head on. For example, I didn’t notice any mention of God’s limited knowledge as part of your response to the problem of prayer, which seems to me like a key component of the Mormon response.
    Thanks for your response, I appreciate you indulging me, and I have wondered for a long time what you thought of this problem.

    Comment by Jacob — April 23, 2006 @ 5:55 pm

  17. It is true that I think we get what we want from God sometimes. But I also think we don’t get what we want other times. I think our relationship with God is just like the relationship my little children have with me. The fact is that they ask me for things all of the time and I say no far more often then I say yes. Usually we both know they are trivial things, but occasionally I have to say no to requests that mean a lot to my children too and they don’t always understand why it must be so.

    That is a more complete summary ;)

    Once you have a probabilistic God, you have merely reduced fore knowledge to a question of precision …

    With Martin Harris, God obviously was prepared for what happened (thus the small plates of Nephi being included in the work) and it all moved seamlessly. At that level of foreknowledge of probability, I’m not sure of the difference between “probability” and “reality.”

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 23, 2006 @ 7:16 pm

  18. (#7) Stephen, Oh, yeah, I’m there. That was the hardest thing after James died. I could accept David and Davey, but James, that was more than my share, and I had prayed my heart out.

    It took years in Al-Anon, 12 stepping to be able to turn my will over to that God. It’s still scary as heck, but I trust more now.

    I still have a deal with God to get me out of here the moment I am not needed. Which to me, seems yesterday. And I’m not looking for compliments, either. I’m just so weary and sad. It seems lately that I keep remembering such poignantly terrible moments.

    Comment by annegb — April 23, 2006 @ 8:20 pm

  19. No clue how that happened, but I wasn’t yelling, just typing calmly.

    (#13), Geoff, if your child had died, you would definitely be coming from a different place. I know people who have lost their child who don’t succumb to my bitterness or despair, but they definitey speak in a different way, I can’t explain it.

    Comment by annegb — April 23, 2006 @ 8:25 pm

  20. I’m sure you are right, anne.

    In this post I was mostly trying to discuss the underlying metaphysical assumptions that must be in place for any petitionary prayer to really work for anyone. I think Blake does a nice job in his books laying out what some of those assumptions are and why certain other assumptions (exhaustive foreknowledge, immutability, etc.) are at odds with the concepts of meaningful petitionary prayer or with a meaningful relationship between humans and God at all.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2006 @ 8:36 pm

  21. In this post I was mostly trying to discuss the underlying metaphysical assumptions that must be in place for any petitionary prayer to really work for anyone.

    Though if petitionary prayer is really about changing ourselves so that the shape of the universe should be different, then all petitionary prayer has nothing to do with the immutability of the future and everything to do with the mutability of self.

    I’m just so weary and sad. It seems lately that I keep remembering such poignantly terrible moments

    Often we have to finally relax and find joy before we can leave.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 23, 2006 @ 9:01 pm

  22. Yeah Stephen, that was part of the point I was trying to make in the post (and a point that Blake makes very well in chapter 2 in his book). Prayer is not only about changing ourselves — it is about developing a real relationship with a real person (God). And since God is not impassible and immutable he inevitably changes as part of the growing relationship we have with him as well.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2006 @ 9:07 pm

  23. Jacob said: “Do you agree that if God knew all possible futures in their entirety (if that were possible), this knowledge would essentially dictate His actions based on the overall goodness of various futures (even if all futures allow “those who freely choose to enter into a relationship of unity” it seems that some futures would involve more overall suffering than others along the way, etc.).”

    I follow Hartshorne on these issues. What God knows is the range of logical possibilities. He also knows given present tendencies, what the present probability is for the occurrence of any given event. However, there are truths for which there is no present probability (e.g., the probability that if I were in Siberia whether I would eat the local fish or not). For Harthsorne, the future is incohate and cannot be fully formulated.

    However, at least 1,600 years before it occurred, God foresaw the possibility that after Joseph Smith had finished traslating some portion of the Book of Mormon, Martin Harris would want to take it to show others, that Joseph Smith would would ask and after having been told “no” that he would keep asking, and that if he did, he would allow Joseph to take the ms. and Martin to take it to show others, and that possibly Martin Harris would lose the ms. because someone would take it from him. That takes a lot of foresight. It doesn’t require absolute foreknowledge, but it does require the ability to formulate scenarios with immense foresight of those possibilities and what it will take to compensate for the free choices made. The emergence of the the Book of Mormon was so important that God had apparently looked at a lot of possibilities that could frustrate its emergence. He apparently was prepared to lose 116 of the Book of Lehi, but not the entire project. That kind of foreplanning suggests that God is omniresourceful — and we can trust that he has provided to insure that his purposes will be realized despite our shortcomings.

    Comment by Blake — April 23, 2006 @ 9:26 pm

  24. Geoff, what is a metaphysical assumption. Really, I don’t understand the term. I know what assumption means, I think I know what the other one means. But I’m not following.

    Stephen, what are you saying??? I have to relax and find joy before God is taking me home? I will be like the Three Nephites or John the Beloved’s evil twin, then. I can have fun and enjoy some things, and find joyful moments, but not at this moment. I don’t think that’s enough, though. :) I think I’ll just start smoking pot.

    Geoff, one thing that rings true for me in your following post #13 is that as I have turned more to God, allowing His will, or at least saying the words, at least asking Him to help me accept His will, I see Him as a nicer guy. I see Him as more merciful and forgiving. That has taken my whole adult life to achieve. And not, never really, through Mormonism. Even though I believe. I think some of us find Him other ways.

    Which brings me back to this semi-private conversation Stephen and I are having, if He is nice, why doesn’t He take my pain so I can feel more joyful more often? Why am I constantly blindsided by terrible memories?

    Sometimes I yell at Him and say, “for Heaven’s sake, if you want me to serve you, could you bless me with some health, could you give me some extra sertonin, something to help me get through the next, uh, 26 and a half years, and do some good?”

    I’m tired and discouraged. Long day. Sorry guys.

    Comment by annegb — April 23, 2006 @ 9:43 pm

  25. Geoff, what is a metaphysical assumption.

    Good question. I debated on whether I would use that term — it comes off as pretty pretentious and leaves most people scratching their heads after all. But since it described what I meant so succinctly I used it anyway. So metaphysics is basically “The branch of philosophy that examines the nature of reality”. So when I mentioned the metaphysical assumptions that underlie effective prayer I meant the underlying assumptions about the nature of the universe and reality (and thus God). What I meant in that comment was that this post (and Blake’s chapter 2) is about what the realities of the universe logically can and can’t exist if effective petitionary prayer and relationships with God are possible.

    You bring up an interesting point about how our relationship with God can be frustrating. I think that tracks very well with the relationship of any child and parent. I am sure that I frustrate God as much or more than He frustrates me. But through the interaction we are growing closer to each other.

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2006 @ 10:18 pm

  26. Blake,

    Don’t you think God could have more efficient ways to dealing with the Martin Harris incident than all of the things you mentioned in #23? It seems to me that since Joseph could not actually read the plates to begin with (God directly told him what to write after all) that God would have all sorts of ancient records available in his own memory/archives to pass on to Joseph whether they were on actual plates in hand or not. (The Book of Moses is a fine example of this idea.) I’m not trying to be sacrilegious or anything but based on the situation that sort of scenario just seems much more likely to me…

    Comment by Geoff J — April 23, 2006 @ 10:24 pm

  27. I share Geoff’s skepticism. It just seems unbelievable (literally, I can’t make myself believe it) that Mormon’s “wise purpose” could been based on God’s consideration of logical possibilities calculated 1,600 years out. There are roughly 70 trillion possible games of chess after only 10 moves. How big does that number get after 1,600 years of life on earth?

    More to the point of my original question: I admit being ignorant of Hartshorne, but maybe you can clarify. It seems like a red herring to say the future is inchoate if God knows all logically possible futures with their accompanying probabilities (wherever those probabilities happen to exist). Certainly the actual future will be logically possible, which means that everything that happens in the real world was considered by God in its full and precise context (albeit only as a possibility), eons before it actually happens.

    So, while His pre-decisions must await your actual choices (as you said in #15) those actual choices of yours are only determining which of his pre-decisions becomes actual. Thus, I don’t see how your answer avoids my first concern from #14.

    Comment by Jacob — April 23, 2006 @ 11:45 pm

  28. Jacob: On Hartshorne’s model there isn’t yet a truth value to future contingent propositions because the future is incohate. There is nothing there for God to know. However, as the actual world unfolds, there are certain possibilities that come into being and probabilities emerge (and change from time to time) as various possibilities play themselves out.

    You see God acting on an “if A, then B” type of decision tree. So if I do A, then God has already decided to do B, and in this sense my act determines that God will do B. I deny that. My decision doesn’t predetermine God’s decision. I suggest that God assesses the options available to him in the moment as they have emerged from the incohate realm, among those possibilities are included those he provided for beforehand. The fact that you cannot believe that God is as resourceful as he is because it requires so much knowledge and competence isn’t an argument against such a view because God is that competent. Whether the number is 70 trillion or 70 googoplex doesn’t matter.

    Further, the notion that God could act in relation to a mere indexical possibility of the type “if Jacob were to A, then I will B” is impossible because Jacob always exists. So God acts in relation tot he actual Jacob, not merely to some indexical. Only the view of actually existing intelligences allows such actual relationship in every moment of God’s planning. That is enough to answer your argument.

    So God assesses beforehand and provides many scenarios. For example, maybe God wanted the plates of Nephi among the large plates of Mormon because he liked the plates of Nephi and wanted the option of having them included and if the 116 pages hadn’t been lost then we would have both. So when Martin lost the 116 pages God saw that he had the option of having only the small plates of Nephi and not the Book of Lehi. So yeah, God had all kinds of options, he chose this one because it was available to him. However, if he saw that the entire project of the Book of Mormon could be thwarted if he didn’t make provision, then he would make whatever provision was necessary to insure that the possibilities that would lead to its demise had been compensated for. He could have done it as Geoff suggests; but he is much, much wiser than Geoff and he chose not to do so.

    Comment by Blake — April 24, 2006 @ 6:53 am

  29. Jacob: I just wanted to add that I saw the same problem with my prior thinking that you have raised here while I was writing my second volume. I had been thinking in the “if a, then B” model of God dealing us and I realized while writing vol. 2 that view was way too impersonal and cold. I realized then that God never deals with mere indexical possibilities but always with holy Thous whose actual existence always enriches him and his existence always enriches us. So good catch. I’m impressed by the careful reading and thought that was required to see this conflict.

    Comment by Blake — April 24, 2006 @ 7:25 am

  30. (#25), so Geoff, then, is your term relative? Like there are all kinds of metaphysical assumptions? Are you saying that I, for instance, basing my metaphysical assumption that there is a God, that He is our father, the whole plan of salvation, that this this colors the way I approach Him? I mean my personal metaphysical assumption. Do we all have different ones, and you were discussing the LDS approach as a whole or us ad individuals.

    I can love big words, for instance, I adopted the word dichotomy when I heard Sylvester Stallone use it and I thought he wasn’t so stupid after all. I find some big words just succinct, as you say, or more totally descriptive. Perhaps Carl Sagan did also, but he used so many not very many people could understand him.

    Like paradigm shift, I love to throw that out in Sunday School because it makes me look smart and most people don’t know what it means, heh, heh, heh. So I wish Carl wouldn’t do it, but you can and so can I. Because he bothers me and we don’t bother me.

    Comment by annegb — April 24, 2006 @ 9:03 am

  31. Blake: Thanks for your admission in #29, that helps tremendously in understanding where you are coming from here. I like the description you have given of Hartshorne in #28 and I agree with it.

    By the way, you are quite right that my “70 trillion” argument does not point out any inconsistency in your view. It is merely a barrier to my own acceptance of the view, since, as I said, I can’t make myself believe it. I guess I have a limited imagination…

    Comment by Jacob — April 24, 2006 @ 10:01 am

  32. Stephen, what are you saying??? I have to relax and find joy before God is taking me home? I will be like the Three Nephites or John the Beloved’s evil twin, then. I can have fun and enjoy some things, and find joyful moments, but not at this moment. I don’t think that’s enough, though.

    More that it is a gift to find serenity in this life.

    I need to do a post on Hebrews 12, and on serenity, but the series on prayer needs to be finished first. I’m up to three posts in the series, and I’ll try to get part four up shortly.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 24, 2006 @ 5:37 pm

  33. Also, annegb, we feel pain and loss because we feel love. Part of regaining our love for others is resolving our pain at their loss. The memories return so that we can be healed, in preparation for being restored.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 25, 2006 @ 4:39 am

  34. I’ve finished putting the four part series up, finally.

    Now all I have to do is finish the afterword. I’ll probably get that done this weekend.

    Comment by Stephen M (Ethesis) — April 25, 2006 @ 7:43 pm

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