|Series Theme: Difficult Questions|
Title: 8. Does God change His mind?
A series that helps consider difficult questions of the Christian faith
The Bible seems to indicate that God doesn't change His mind, yet there are situations where He does. How do you deal with this contradiction?
It's a fair question but one that can be answered simply by looking at Scripture as a whole, seeing what it teaches us about God and about how He deals with mankind.
1. The Unchanging Nature of God
Our starting premise is that God is an unchanging God. In Himself, in His personality, in the way He responds or works with His created world He is unchanging. That is why the Bible teaches that He is a “faithful” God because He will not change His ways.
This is why again and again we find the statement that God will not change His mind:
Num 23:19 / 1 Sam 15:29 / Psa 110:4
The sense or idea being conveyed here is that God is not like man who by whim or fancy may change his mind. When God makes a decision He makes it in the awareness of ALL the facts and in the light of His perfect wisdom and totally holy and pure nature. If the facts don't change, God will not change His decision.
2. The One Thing that makes God Change
Although God will not change if the facts of a situation remain unchanged, when man repents and changes, then God will also often change what He said previously, simply to fit the now, new prevailing facts.
In that sense REPENTANCE is the one thing that causes God to make a fresh statement that is contrary to His previous statement.
As one dictionary puts it, “ God is described as repenting (using Hebrew naham which always has the strong sense of changing mind in it), in the sense that he changed his attitude to a people because of a change within the people .”
An Example : Relenting in respect of destroying Israel
The circumstances here were that while Moses was on Mount Sinai , Aaron and the people had worshipped the golden calf. God then threatened to destroy them (32:10) but Moses interceded and gave Him reasons not to. The Lord then changed His mind.
We need to be quite clear about this: God made a statement, “Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them”.
The Lord indicates that if He was left to it, He would simply destroy Israel for what they have just done.
That is one option open to Him. We should not, therefore, see it as a direct statement of definite and unchangeable intent, although at first sight it appears that. What God is looking for, is Moses' response. He is hoping that Moses will respond in a righteous way.
When Moses, as the representative of this people, answers, he gives the right response.
As one commentator puts it, “We are not to think of Moses as altering God's purposes towards Israel by this prayer, but as carrying it out; Moses was never more like God than in such moments, for he shared God's mind and loving purpose”.
What we are saying here is that God makes a statement of intent which perhaps can be seen by the (careful) observer as being an option. It does not mean that He is definite in that intent, although the undiscerning observer may think that.
A General Principle
Ezek 33:13-15 (Also Ezek 18)
We should note various things here:
First, God may say something, but the opposite is then seen to happen, e.g. righteous will live, he then dies.
Second, we should observe why that happens. It is simply because the person has changed and his change brings about a change in response in God.
The originally righteous man can incur the wrath of God, when he has turned from his righteousness, and the originally wicked man can be spared the declared wrath of God when he has repented.
The Principle Stated Again
Here it is again: God may declare a word of destruction but if the people repent, then the Lord will change that word and not act against them.
A Second Example : Grieving Over Saul
1 Sam 15:10,11 / 1 Sam 15:23
The circumstances here are that God had chosen Saul, Saul had been disobedient and God rejected him.
Again we must be quite clear about this for it raises another significant point about how God moves.
First, God chose Saul ( 1 Sam 9:16 ,17 ).
Second, God knows everything, even the future, yet when He speaks He speaks as in the present, as if He only knows the present.
If we had heard the prophecy, we might have thought this was God only decreeing good for Saul, but He simply said that Saul will deliver Israel and rule over them. He did not say he would do it successfully until the end of his life.
The lesson is that we need to listen carefully to prophecy and not go beyond what God has said.
The third thing to note is that the reason for God rejecting Saul (going back on his appointing), was that Saul had not lived up to the responsibilities of that office and thus disqualified himself.
A Third Example: The overturning of Nineveh
Jonah 3:4 / Jonah 3:10
The verses are quite clear. God proclaimed destruction for Nineveh. That was the simple and straight forward word that came, they would be destroyed.
But then the king speaks, “Who knows, God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish”. And that is what happened, God “changed his mind” and did not destroy them.
Why? Because the people repented. They changed and therefore God changed what would happen.
Note again and again here, that when God speaks He speaks in the present, to address the situation as it is, “Nineveh will be overturned”.
We can try to spiritualise “overturned” and make it mean morally but both Jonah (the prophet!) and the people believed it meant physical destruction, for surely that was what God would have done if they had not repented.
3. Various Other Examples
There are various other examples where God relents, or changes his mind, in response to change in his people:
Note here that God who knows all things, must have known what would happen and therefore you would think this wouldn't come as a surprise to Him as it seems to do. Again, it is a case of God who lives in the present, “I AM”
2 Sam 24:16
Here God intervenes after He has sent out the destroying angel and withdraws the command to stop it going any further. Also 1Chron 21:15
Their cry affected His heart and he relented.
The intent was that the word would bring conviction, the people would repent, and God would thus not need to bring judgement.
Again the Lord offers to change His judgement if they change their mind
We have here a sense of prophetic intent, and it is only when the prophet pleads that the Lord relents and says He won't do it.
Declaration of intent - but a way out. God will change His mind, if…….
4. Examples of Those who failed to repent & received the judgment
For harshly and with self-centredness, Moses struck the rock instead of commanding it, and thus forfeited his right to enter the promised land.
Surely he could have sought God for forgiveness, but didn't. Thus he died on a mountain.
Yet see that he didn't forfeit his right to a place in heaven, for he appears on the mount of transfiguration with Jesus.
Judges 11:30 -39
Jephthah made a foolish vow. When his daughter appeared he could have sought God's forgiveness for it (and received it) or he could have offered his life instead (as Moses did on the mountain) and received God's commendation.
Instead he foolishly went ahead and took the life of his daughter. As God said elsewhere he is not blessed by the death of a person.
1 Kings 13
The young prophet allowed himself to be led astray by an older prophet. When he was told what would happen, he did not repent and turn to God for forgiveness. Thus he was killed by a lion.
5. Examples of those who DID repent and live
He took Abraham's wife and was told by God, “You are as good as dead” v.3 and warned that if he did not return her he would die, v.7. He repented and lived.
The Lord was “about to kill” Moses when his wife intervened and did for him what he ought to have done (i.e. be circumcised) When this was done the Lord didn't kill him.
1 Kings 13:4-6
The king stretched out his hand against the prophet and it became leprous. When he cried out in repentance and the prophet prayed for him his hand was healed.
2 Kings 20:1-6
God clearly decreed “You are going to die, you will not recover”. Hezekiah repented and God brought the word that He would extend his life by 15 years.