Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Hezekiah and the Plans of God

"So...God actually changed his mind as a result of Hezekiah's prayer?"

That's what a friend of mine asked as we were discussing 2 Kings 20. I've written about this before, and it really is one of the most important passages in my understanding of prayer and how it interacts with God's plan.

So: Back to my friend's question. Did Hezekiah's prayer cause God to "change his mind"? During the initial conversation, I responded almost off-the-cuff, saying "I don't know if God necessarily had a mind to change." And after a lot of further reflection, I think that might just hold up.

I don't think it's correct to say that God planned for Hezekiah in particular to die from that particular illness at that particular time. I definitely think that God knew that Hezekiah would die with all those particulars. And I think that God had worked that event into his plans for the future. But I don't think that God planned the event itself: I don't think he designed it, or desired it to happen, or had so constructed the universe in such a way as to render it certain.

Instead, I think that Hezekiah was going to do of that particular illness, at that particular time, as a result of the natural laws that God put into place at the creation of the universe, and as a result of the free will of humanity interacting with those natural laws, and likely as a result of a bunch of other things that don't directly have to do with God explicitly planning that event.

I don't think that God "changed his mind" in healing Hezekiah. I don't think that in this particular situation, God had a mind to change. Hezekiah was going to die not because God planned it or caused it to happen, but because that's what happens in a fallen world where our bodies break down and fall prey to sickness and disease. It does not happen outside God's knowledge or control, but neither does it happen as a result of God's sovereign plan and active will.*

God's working and plan first becomes evident not in Hezekiah's disease, but in his response to Hezekiah's prayer. That is where God first takes action: That is where God steps into history and changes what is supposed to happen. He breaks the chain of natural cause-and-affect, and as a result, Hezekiah lives for another 15 years. And I actually think this is a pretty great way of understanding how our prayers can affect genuine change in the world: It's a time where God takes not just his own purposes into account, but also our own desires.

*Did God have a purpose in using Hezekiah's illness? Almost certainly - and in the same way, he also has a purpose in using our own illnesses and misfortunes. And sometimes, that purpose may be more active and deliberate, as is the case with Job. But I think it's wrong to say with certainty that any specific misfortune is "planned" by God....nothing happens without divine permission, but not all things happen by sovereign decree.


  1. I'm enjoying this whole series of thoughts.

    1. I'm glad, and thanks for telling me that! I've got at least one more in the works, with another couple possibilities after that...if you have any suggestions, let me know!