“We don’t always understand why God allows some things to happen,” wrote Billy Graham, but “we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Does God make mistakes? After all, “the Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled” (Genesis 6:6).
In the beginning, God made land, water, stars, plants, and creatures: They were good. The trouble started with people. They spread rebellion against God across the earth. The Lord saw “that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). He decided to wipe them out and start again.
“God also thought the people of Jeremiah’s day would repent and return to him, but they did not, to God’s dismay.” Proponents of Open Theism believe that Israel’s disobedience was not foreknown by God. In their eyes, God errs, learns from his mistakes, and adjusts his plans accordingly. Open Theism implies that God is not omniscient.
If Open Theists are correct, God is a slow learner. Jeremiah was the Lord’s prophet during the reign of Josiah, after whose death Judah fell into “political, social, financial, moral, and spiritual decay” (ESV Study Bible). This was not the first time God’s people had rebelled against him and rejected his commandments, yet he was still holding out for a better result.
If God learns, then he is not omniscient, which implies that “he could make a prediction that could fail. He might expect someone to repent who does not. [...] These would be mistakes on God’s part.” Open Theists do not like to say “that the God of the universe makes mistakes either in His sovereign predictions or in His expectations.”
They propose that God does not see the future with certainty, but he “is an extremely efficient predictor.” God “knows people and phenomena so well that He can extrapolate what the outcome of various situations will be.” In terms of Open Theism, God is merely “the consummate social scientist.”
Would the Open Theist say that Jesus was Plan B? If God could make mistakes, then there are two possibilities:
1. After years of enduring Israel’s faithlessness, God realized (learned) he would have to come up with an unexpected backup plan to save them.
2. God might not have had to send Jesus, but he was ready with the Savior just in case his people kept sinning.
God was disappointed in us, the Bible says so, but people have often been disgruntled with him too. Many people cannot believe God would knowingly allow a child to be born with Down’s Syndrome or cancer. In John 9, Jesus met a man born blind. Numerous people argue a good God cannot have foreseen the man’s calamity. Contemporaries of Jesus asked which parent had sinned to cause his blindness.
Some commentators argue that Jesus met the blind man unexpectedly and took advantage of the opportunity to restore his sight, displaying his glory. To imagine God designing a person to be blind conflicts with preferred ideas about God’s kindness. He must not have meant for him to be blind, although there was a positive outcome — eventually.
The Plan for Sin
One thing Scripture tells us is that the Lord does not change (Malachi 3:6). He does not adjust to our choices; he does not merely predict, he knows and pursues his “good, pleasing, and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). God is omniscient. The psalmist writes, “You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely” (Psalm 139:3-4).
The writer of Psalm 139:13 says to God, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Not a cell in our bodies escapes the Lord’s attention, and since his purposes are good, we know that even disability, defect, and disease must fit into that good purpose somehow.
Physical defects are more terrible to us than faithlessness and pride. To God, however, each person faces a disability — sin — and this is the disability he is most concerned with. Our problems are rooted in the brokenness emanating from original sin. The Lord’s original plan was Jesus, from before Adam and Eve first walked in the Garden.
Paul describes our Lord as “the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus” (Hebrews 13:20). The Lord plotted his story before we were created, and the outcome was established in eternity past. We cannot affect the plan with our sin; God saw that coming.
Why God permits suffering and evil is a mystery to us, but he knows. “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16). We can believe in our rock-solid God who follows his plan without distraction, to facilitate joy-filled, pain-free eternity in his presence for all believers.
When he says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper and not to harm,” (Jeremiah 29:11) we can believe him. There was no Plan B, only Jesus. As part of the Trinity, he knew we would need a Savior. “For us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). There can be no doubt: Jesus was no afterthought, and neither was a single life on earth.
Why Do We Think God Makes Mistakes?
1. “We cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sakes he should, in a certain sense, transform himself,” writes John Calvin. Scripture was designed for our limited understanding. Using a literary device called anthropopathism “human emotions are sometimes attributed to God.”
If we read that the Lord regretted creating man, this “is simply a symbolic way of asserting that man’s conduct did not meet the divine standard [...] from a human perspective.” “Nothing happens which is by [God] unexpected or unforeseen.” When the words suggest the Lord was less than content in himself, “the Spirit accommodates himself to our capacity,” Calvin explains.
2. If the Lord is omniscient; we cannot quite reach his level of understanding. Our arrogant nature supposes, like Adam and Eve, that we can know everything God knows. But God says “my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways [...]. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
3. We do not want to be responsible for sin. When we do something wrong, our conscience is eased if we can say “God made a mistake. He could have prevented this from happening.” Certainly, the victim of sexual violence is not to blame for her ordeal.
Parents do not cause their children to suffer genetic disease. We don’t help those people heal, however, by offering a small god; they can only rely on the Almighty God, Creator, and Upholder of the universe, omniscient and omnipotent.
Turn to God
“God planned for human sin before creation. He planned to save us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). God knew we would sin and be sinned against from the start. If a mistake has been made, “in the final analysis, the mistake will always be ours, due to our limited knowledge and wisdom.”
That mistake might be our choice of action or our choice of perception. Even the most devout believers have questioned God and continue to do so. We ask why a marriage is breaking down, a child has died, or a disaster has taken place. We turn to God and cry and question, but this is the critical part: We turn to God.
When God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham “did not foolishly charge God, or mock Him, or rebel against Him, or curse Him.” He turned to God with “some serious questions” and was forced to ask, “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” He was “very disturbed by this decision God had made.”
Abraham “had always believed that God was just. But this did not seem just to Abraham.” So, the Lord gave him a chance to see “the truth” — that not 10 righteous people could be found in the city. “We trust in our God to do what is right as we trust in Him for victory. God makes no mistakes.”
Our Response to Certainty
While the Lord is omniscient, “that doesn’t mean He is directly responsible for everything that happens in the world; evil is real, and some things happen in spite of God’s perfect will.” The Lord permits evil and he permits us to choose. We wonder how a good God could allow sex trafficking, tsunamis, and murder. But Scripture reveals a holy and righteous God who is never arbitrary and never wrong.
Doubting the Lord will not lighten one’s burden. Faithfulness, however, is an open door to receiving his peace and motivating action wherever appropriate, such as when we stand up for victims of abuse, support disaster relief, or help families dealing with difficult diagnoses. Whatever you do, however, take all doubts and questions directly to the Father. He is prepared to answer them all.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Sergei Chuyko
Candice Lucey loves Christ and writing about His promises brings her much pleasure. She lives in the mountains of BC, Canada with her family.