The Greek philosophers were uncomfortable with the idea that God could change. In Plato’s reasoning, change means that you either get better or you get worse; you get stronger or you get weaker; you get smarter or you start slipping.  But if God is already perfect in every way, how could anyone say that He can become more perfect? And how could anyone suggest that He might in some way diminish?  Plato thus concluded that, “it is impossible that God should ever be willing to change; being, as it is supposed, the fairest and the best that is conceivable, every God remains absolutely and for ever in his own form.” (The Republic)  

In book 12 of his work Metaphysics, Aristotle presents God as the “unmoved mover,” the ultimate power that acts upon all things but is affected by nothing. He is unchangeable, unmovable, unpersuadable, and self-sufficient in all ways. God is pure activity, and everything that humanity perceives as reality is simply the projection of his thought.

God is the one who makes all things happen and nothing happens apart from Him. Every thought, every movement and every word proceeds from Him and is determined by Him. Thus, the Stoic philosopher Chrysippus could say that human history is an “unchangeable series and chain of things, rolling and unraveling itself through eternal sequences of cause and effect, of which it is composed and compounded . . . by fate (i.e. God) all things are forced and linked by a necessary and dominant reason.” (Stoics Reader, 110)

If all things are controlled and determined by God,  then we're left with the question: What is the role that we as humans play in the big scheme of things? The Stoics settled on the conclusion that in order get along in this world, you just have to go along. Nothing that we do can ever change the outcome of events.  Everything is predetermined and driven by God, and the only thing that we as humans have any control over is our attitude toward God's sovereignty. You can accept it and live with it, or you can try to resist it. But nothing you can do will ever change the course of history.

Thus the Stoics didn't think that their prayers could in any way influence God.  For them, prayer was simply an act of declaring God's supreme power.  The only thing they asked God to do was to help them in the act of surrender. Their worldview is seen clearly in a prayer which the poet Cleanthes wrote for Zeus. He calls him  “the leader of nature” the one who is “guiding everything with law.”  He then declares “This entire cosmos which revolves around the earth obeys you, wherever you might lead it, and is willingly ruled by you. . . . Nor does any deed occur on earth without you, god, neither in the aithereal divine heaven nor on the sea  . . . For thus you have fitted together all good things with the bad, so that there is one eternal rational principle for them all . . . Grant that they (i.e. all people) may achieve the wisdom with which you confidently guide all with justice.” (Stoics Reader,59)

Our prayers don't change anything but ourselves. All of God's activity is beyond our influence.  He cannot and will not change His form or His predetermined course of action. All we can ask for in prayer, according to the Stoics, is the wisdom to understand God's ways and serenity in accepting His absolute control over all things.  

We've thus seen that there is a significant difference between the Biblical perspective on God's ability to change (mutability) and that of various Greek philosophers. Yet this view of God as the “unmoved mover” who determines and controls all things in history eventually found its way into Christian teaching.  In the next post we look at how elements of the Greek worldview were particularly influential in the thinking of St. Augustine