Thursday, December 14, 2006

Open Theism: Guidance

Implications on Prayer For Divine Guidance

Another crucial dimension of prayer is our requests for God’s wisdom and discernment of His will while making major decisions like a career choice or future life partner. More often than not, these critical choices in life also carry long-term consequences that may last an entire lifetime. It is important that a pastorally responsible model of God should encourage confident trust in divine guidance for our lives. At first glance, open theism seems to liberate us from the notion that God has in mind only one perfect and fixed blueprint for us. Sometimes, this popular idea of “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” may unintentionally produce paralyzing inaction and confusion as people worry too much about being inside God’s ‘perfect blueprint’ in every single detail. God’s dynamic and flexible will is for us to grow in Christ’s likeness and realize our full potential.

However, a closer inspection yields a different picture as Basinger honestly explained that “[s]ince God does not necessarily know exactly what will happen in the future, it is always possible that even that which God in his unparalleled wisdom believes to be the best course of action at any given time may not produce the anticipated results in the long run”. Knowing all relevant factors in past and present, God could guide us based on His best prediction at a given moment. Of course, the actual outcome may not always turn out in the way that He had anticipated. Uncertainty arises in proportion with the number of human choices involved. Therefore, there is no assurance that the best advice God could give now would achieve the results He intended as someone somewhere may surprisingly frustrate His plans later.

When the circumstances are difficult, an open theist would be particularly tempted to allow a paralyzing sense of doubt to set in and wonder, “What if God is wrong in guiding me here?” Bruce Ware pressed the point and observed that “perhaps in the midst of agonizing disappointment, given this paradigm of the relation between prayer and God’s fallibility with respect to the future, an earnest but troubled believer might even contemplate praying, “Father, I forgive You for You know not what You do”. The difficulty is further compounded when we consider long-distance decisions like seeking guidance for a marriage, university application or career plans. Open theist Basinger was straightforward when he wrote, “[W]e must acknowledge that divine guidance, from our perspective, cannot be considered a means of discovering exactly what will be best in the long run – as a means of discovering the very best long-term option. Divine guidance, rather, must be viewed primarily as a means of determining what is best for us now.”

In contrast, the God of classical theism provides us with guidance from the vantage point of certain foreknowledge and infallibly able to work out all things for our good. As such, we could rest in confident trust that God’s wisdom cannot be ultimately frustrated. “To say that God is pretty good at short-range guidance but can’t really handle long-range direction is to say that, concerning the weightiest decisions we make in our lives, God has little if any solid help to give. Surely this only discourages greatly what the Bible commends throughout: trusting God implicitly with all of our lives.” Instead of encouraging trust in God’s providence, the new model seems to pose negative pastoral effects on Christian living.

Even though nothing could happen apart from the permission of God, we do not make decisions by inquiring into the unsearchable, ‘decretive will’ of God. As such, we do not need to indulge in too much introspective, navel-gazing about whether we are inside God’s ‘decretive’ blueprint. Even when we made a mistake in our decisions after due diligence and consideration, God could still work through their results to accomplish his good purposes with infinite wisdom. Rather we choose on the basis of God’s ‘revealed will’ in the form of biblical principles, taking into account our God-given opportunities, common sense, talents and deepest desires to grow in Christ-like manner and extending His kingdom. In all our responsible planning, we live before the face of God, realizing that it is the Lord’s will that ultimately prevails (James 14:13-16).

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