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What is the significance of Jeremiah 18:7–11?

The Lord states that “if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.” But if a nation which he has declared he will bless “does evil in my sight…I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.”

If the Lord exhaustively foreknows what will definitely transpire in the future, it is impossible for him to genuinely intend to curse or bless a nation and then later genuinely reverse his plan. In other words, it’s difficult to avoid denying the premise of this entire passage, and all passages like it. If the classical understanding of God’s foreknowledge is correct, God eternally knows exactly what he will and will not do and what every nation will and will not do. There can be no authentic reversal.

Yet the Bible depicts God’s willingness to change his mind as one of his attributes of greatness (Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:12–13). And, as we have seen, there are a wealth of biblical examples in which the Lord demonstrates this attribute. Dare we hold any view which requires us to conclude that such a magnificent aspect of the biblical portrait of God is merely anthropomorphic and not depicting God as he actually is?

We should also note that the fundamental error in the Israelites’ thinking which Jeremiah is confronting in this passage is their conclusion that since God has prophesied against them, “It is no use!” (vs. 12). Yet this is exactly the conclusion the classical view encourages. If the future is eternally unalterable and known by God as such, then it is appropriate to conclude when he tells us of something coming, “It is no use!” How could we possibly change what is already certain to God?

In contrast to this, if we agree with Scripture that this fatalistic attitude is wrong, then shouldn’t we conclude that the future is not exhaustively settled? Shouldn’t we conclude that it is, to some degree, open to our decisions as free agents? Shouldn’t we conclude that, to some extent, the future is not definitely this way or definitely that way, but rather possibly this way or possibly that way? And since God knows reality perfectly, shouldn’t we conclude that God knows the future as being, in part, a realm of possibilities, not only definite certainties?

Only when we accept this, I submit, can passages like Jeremiah 18:7–11 be cleared of any hint of disingenuousness. The verse speaks about God as he truly is: He plans, he responds, he changes.

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