Thursday, August 16, 2012


Now it's time we take a look at the second truth we have inadvertently exchanged for a lie.

Truth #2: God is a God that is changeless.

If you have been a part of a church circle, you have probably heard them discuss the idea that God is changeless. That is in fact a correct statement. Our God does not change! I can't refute the fact that Scripture informs us "[God] is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow." However, we have perverted this truth in such a way that we have succeeded, yet again, in creating a caricature of God. We have reduced him to a being we can relate to more easily. One we are more willing to accept. We have twisted this factual attribute of God to the point where God is unable to change what he does or how he responds; and heaven forbid he were to actually change his mind!

To gain some insight, it's imperative we turn to Scripture.

If you have a Bible handy turn to the sixth chapter of Genesis. There you will find a couple of interesting verses on this very subject. In verses 6 and 7, we discover "The LORD was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the LORD said, 'I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.'"

You likely noticed the first verse stated "God was sorry he had ever made [man]." Wait a minute, did that just say God was remorseful? Is this an instance in which God had second thoughts about his decision? Did God change his mind? At first glance, this seems to be the case. Just to make sure this isn't a remote instance, take a look elsewhere in Scripture. In Exodus 32:14, Jonah 3:10, Genesis 18:22-33, Numbers 16:20-35, and 2 Kings 20:1-7, we will find similar accounts of God seeming to change his mind. Since we know (or at least I hope we know) that Scripture doesn’t contradict itself, we have to deal with these issues and determine what is really meant by all of this.

The word of the day is 'anthropomorphism.' Drop this word in theological discussions with your friends and they will either think you are making up words, or it may just leave them speechless. Anthropomorphism is defined as ascribing human emotions and characteristics to God. The Biblical writers make use of this tool throughout all of Scripture. They talk about God 'desiring' a relationship with us. In some instances Scripture talks about God 'mourning.' We are told that our repentance brings 'joy' to God. The Bible even talks about his 'beauty.' The Biblical writers viewed it necessary to use this terminology in fear that the Bible would have otherwise lost all meaning to humanity. In other words, God, in his sovereignty had the writers dumb things down for our sake. Otherwise the Bible would have made even less sense than it might now. Furthermore, it would have likely made God seem too far removed from us. And I hope we realize that he is not. God is involved in our lives, if we only would allow him to be.

Now, for the nagging question at hand, is God changeless? Yes. Does God change his mind? Yes. Aren't those two statements contradictory? No! To understand why they aren't contradictory we need to realize first and foremost that God is God and we are not. If you can come to grips with that, then we can move on. While God does change his mind as Scripture points out, he doesn't do so in the way we might think. And definitely not in a manner similar to us, with the same motivation. God changes his mind out of sorrow and compassion, whereas we might change our mind out of hatred, anger or bitterness...and occasionally sorrow. I will have you note the Hebrew word we translate as God's “changing of his mind,” literally means to have compassion or to be sorrowful. The picture is God being so moved by his grace and mercy that he can't help but go a different direction.

Before we go any further in this discussion, I need to throw out 4 presumed truths to set the framework.

The first truth is that God cannot lie. The second truth is that God knows everything. Third, God is not bound by space or time. And lastly, God does in fact respond to prayer.

Let me make it clear what Scripture is not saying when it states that God does not change. It does not mean that God is static; that he never does anything or never says anything. Neither does it mean that God does not alter his "plans" in response to the choices we make based upon our free will. (Let me reiterate, God knows everything, so he knows how we will respond better than we do). The suggestion that God doesn't change does not mean our prayers are pointless. Furthermore, for God to change his mind does not make him out to be a liar, as some would have us believe. To hold these views is far too narrow an interpretation!

When the Bible talks about God changing his mind, it is first and foremost about things that Scripture doesn't set in stone. Anytime he changes his mind, there is usually some sort of action or response on the part of his creation. Often times, his change in mind was the result of humanity altering some sort of behavior...i.e. repentance. We see this throughout the book of Jonah. Here's how it goes: the city of Nineveh is sinful, God speaks of their impending judgment, through a series of circumstances Jonah heads to Nineveh, prophecies, and the city repents. Ultimately, God spares the judgment he first spoke of. Jonah's ticked, because in a round about way, he feels God didn't uphold his end of the deal. The problem with that is there was really no deal and Jonah only saw a very small piece of the grander puzzle.

The Scriptures that are interpreted as God seeming to change His mind are human attempts to explain the actions of God (refer to anthropomorphism). God was going to do something, but instead did something else. To us, that sounds like a change; and in reality it is. But to God, who is omniscient and sovereign, it is not a change. God always knew what he was going to do. God does what he needs to do to in order that humanity will fulfill his perfect plan. And that plan, in case you are wondering, is laid out in 1 Timothy 2:4, "[God] wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth." Understanding this is vital to our understanding of God!

Confused yet?

Bottom line, God is not altering the end result of anything. The only changes being made are slight variations along the path that leads there.

I think our limited view (not to mention the fact we can only know God and not understand him) has led us to improper conclusions about his character. This very topic has to keep in a constant tension both his sovereignty (the idea that God is ultimately in control) and his transcendence (the idea God is involved in our lives). There must be some sort of balance here. If God is completely and utterly transcendent, then there is no need to pray. Things are already set in stone. Everything is already predestined (this is quite a Calvinistic stance). On the other hand, because God has given us free will, he must constantly be “changing his mind” for in our indecisiveness. We are for God one day and against God the next (this is quite an Armenian stance). Perhaps the answer lies in the gray area--there are some instances in which God has no choice but to change his mind. And this leads right into the next truth we have twisted into a blatant lie!

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