Does God Make Mistakes?
Ware alleges that because of God’s “expansive ignorance” and “innumerable mistaken beliefs” about the future, the God of open theism makes many mistakes he later regrets. Two points should be made.
First, Ware’s issue is with Scripture before it is with open theists, for like or not, the Bible depicts God as regretting the outcome of previous decisions he made (Gen. 6:6–7; 1 Sam. 15:11, 35). Ware wants to reduce all such language to anthropomorphisms (revealing what?), for it doesn’t square with his presupposition about what the wisdom of God must be like. But, aside from the fact that there’s nothing in the narrative of the text to suggest this language is anthropomorphic, a more humble approach might be to entertain the possibility that our presuppositions about what God’s wisdom must be like might be wrong and to allow the face value meaning of the biblical text to teach us something we perhaps didn’t expect. What if God really could be just like the author of Genesis and 1 Samuel suggest? What if God really could regret previous decisions?
Second, it is not difficult to imaginatively conceive of how God could regret previous decisions without implying that he previously made a wrong decision. The wisest decision can go awry if other agents make poor choices, and this doesn’t diminish the wisdom of the decision. An executive who chooses an accountant with a stellar record over an accountant with a poor record to watch over her most important account might regret her decision if her exemplar accountant chooses, quite out of character, to act irresponsibly. But this doesn’t mean her choice at the time was a bad one. It was the best one—but agents are free.
To turn the tables once again, if open theists face any difficulty over how God can regret wise decisions because agents are free, it seems less than what Ware must face in explaining how God can regret decisions which turned out exactly as he predestined them to turn out. If the executive came to regret placing her top accountant in charge of the account, yet foreknew (or predestined) that he would botch the job, we would not be inclined to judge her as supremely wise.
On this matter, Ware chides me for my advice to Suzanne, a woman who had abandoned the faith for a time because God told her to marry a man that turned out to be unfaithful and abusive. (4) The painful marriage ended in a divorce. Assuming that God foreknew what her husband would do, she concluded that God (if he existed) answered her lifelong prayer for a godly husband in a cruel fashion. In her words, “He set me up for a nightmare.”
Appealing to 1 Samuel 15:11 and 35, I counseled Suzanne that God didn’t set her up for the nightmare she endured. Rather, God’s guidance was the best guidance at the time she was considering marrying this man. But the man she married was a free moral agent who unfortunately chose to follow a path of sin. I encouraged her to see God as now grieving with her over how things turned out. The advice worked in bringing Suzanne back into the Christian faith.
Against this advice, however, Ware asks, “What assurances can [Suzanne] be given that God will do any better in his future leading than he has in the past?” My answer is that, where free agents are involved, there is no infallible guarantee that marriages will turn out as we hoped—and all of us, including Ware, already know this. But in the open view, when things go bad it is not about how good or bad God’s leading is. It’s about how good or bad people choose to be. This cannot be said of Ware’s own position, however. In his theology, it is always about God. So Ware needs to ask himself the question he asked me: What assurance can he give to Suzanne that God’s leading would bring better results in the future than it has in the past? And remember, it was Ware’s theology that brought Suzanne to despair and disbelief in the first place!