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Does God Change His Mind?

Classical theologians usually argue that texts that attribute change to God describe how he appears to us; they do not depict God as he really is. It looks like God changed his mind, but he really didn’t.

Unfortunately for the classical interpretation, there are many texts that do not say, or remotely imply, that it looks like the Lord intended something and then changed his mind. Rather, the Lord himself tells us in the plainest terms possible that he intended one thing and then changed his mind and did something else.

Here are some examples:

  • 1 Chron 21:15—God said that he would destroy Jerusalem, but then he relented.
  • 2 Kings 10:1-6—King Hezekiah was told through an inspired prophet that he would not recover from sickness. But after Hezekiah pleaded with God, the Lord told him “I will add fifteen years to your life.”
  • Ex 32:14—Because of Moses’ intercessory prayer, “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster he planned to bring on this people.”
  • Ex 33:1-3, 14—In the light of Moses’ pleading, the Lord reversed his plan not to go with the Israelites into the promised land.
  • Deut 9:13-29—The Lord “intended to destroy” the Israelites, and was even ready to destroy Aaron. Moses’ 40-day intercession altered God’s intention.
  • 1 Kings 21:21-29—The Lord says that he will bring disaster because of Ahab’s sins. But when Ahab repents, he says that he will not bring disaster.
  • 2 Chron 12:5-8—The Lord was going to allow the Israelites to be conquered because of King Reheboam’s rebellion. The king and his officers repent, so the Lord changes his plan.
  • Jer 26:2-3—The Lord tells Jeremiah to prophesy to Israel that they should repent, saying, “I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on [Israel] because of their evil doings.”
  • Ez 4:9-15—God tells Ezekiel to act out a prophesy with human dung, but Ezekiel objects. God then allows Ezekiel to act it out with cow dung.
  • Amos 7:1-6—The Lord revealed two judgments and two times Amos intercedes. Twice the Scriptures say, “The Lord relented concerning this …”
  • Jonah 3:10—God “changed his mind” about the destruction he planned to carry out on Nineveh.

 

This list could be expanded (More are provided in the appendix of God of the Possible). Clearly, the motif that God changes his mind is not an incidental one in Scripture. It runs throughout the biblical narrative and is even exalted as one of his praiseworthy attributes. It is very difficult to see how passages such as these can be fairly interpreted if we assume that the future is exhaustively settled and known by God as such.

If we simply free ourselves from the Hellenistic philosophical assumptions that God must be unchanging in every respect and that time is an illusion, we will be able to embrace the plain meaning of these texts along with the glorious picture of divine sovereignty and openness that they engender.

God is not only the God of future certainties; he’s the God of future possibilities.

—Adapted from God of the Possible, pages 77-85

Image by Nanagyei via Flickr

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