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5 Observations about God Changing His Mind
One of the most significant passages that supports the open view of the future is found in Jeremiah 18. This is one of the numerous times where we find God changing his mind in response to events. By definition, one cannot change what is permanently fixed. Hence, every time the Bible teaches us that God changes his mind it is teaching us that God’s mind is not permanently fixed. In Jeremiah 18:7-10 we read:
At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but 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. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. (NRSV)
This passage comes after the Lord led to Jeremiah to the potter’s house to watch a potter at work. “The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him” (v. 4). Then the Lord said to Jeremiah, “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as the potter as done? …”
Let me make five observations about this passage:
- The first point is quite clear: Just as the potter was willing to revise his vessel once the first plan was “spoiled,” so also God is willing to revise his initial plan when circumstances call for it. He is not a unilaterally controlling God; he is graciously flexible. The “clay” he works with is not lifeless but has a mind and will of its own, to which he responds appropriately.
- If the future were exhaustively fixed, could the Lord genuinely intend to bring something about and then genuinely change his mind and not bring it about? How can someone sincerely intend to do something they are certain they will never do? Or can they truly change their mind if their mind is eternally made up? We must take the words “change my mind” seriously.
- Many have used this passage to argue that such texts about God changing his mind are not really about him changing his mind. It only “appears” so. But the text does not even remotely come close to supporting this argument. 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. How can God’s stated intention be explained as an appearance? There is simply no reason to interpret language about changeable aspects of God less literally than language about unchangeable aspects of God.
- When a person is in a genuine relationship with another, willingness to adjust to them is always considered a virtue. Whey should this apply to people and not to God? Since God is the epitome of everything we deem praiseworthy, and since we ordinarily consider responsiveness to be praiseworthy, should we not be inclined to view God as the most responsive being imaginable? He never changes his perfect character, of course, for this would not be praiseworthy. But he is willing and able to adjust his plans and emotions as his relationship with us calls for it.
- What about passages where we read about how God will not change his mind, specifically 1 Samuel 15:29 and Numbers 23:19. Many take these verses literally while claiming that the passages that speak to God changing his mind are only figurative or how things appear. On the surface this looks contradictory. But this is not the case. These passages about God not changing his mind, if read in context, speak to how who God is in those situations. God’s mind is unchanging in every way that it is virtuous to be unchanging but open to change in every way that it is virtuous to be open. It’s not that God couldn’t change his mind, only that in these instances he wouldn’t change it. No contradiction needs to be resolved.
The only thing required is that we see how the future is partly open as well as partly settled. Thus God is not only the God of what will certainly occur but also the God of all possibilities.
—Adaped from God of the Possible, pages 75-81
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