Sunday, August 25, 2013

Does God Change His Mind? - The Immutability Question

Recently the issue of whether or not our God changes came up in conversation. In thinking and studying through this issue, I have a few thoughts.

First to deal with this question, we must look outside of ourselves and rely on an objective source of truth to examine this.  Besides the narratives that help us understand the nature of God in this area; very pointedly the scripture says in Numbers 23:19 - "God is not man, that He should lie, or a son of man, that He should change His mind.  Has He said, and He will not do it?  Or has He spoken, and will He not fulfill it?" (Num. 23:19 ESV)

Clearly, the immutability of God is clearly seen in the sufficiency and stridency of the Holy Scriptures.   In the Old and New Testament canon we have revealed to us a God who is as merciful as He is just. This idea that God is ‘angry’ in the Old Testament, but sort of ‘comes around’ in the New by giving us His Son is irresponsibly presented and forwarded in some so-called Christian circles.

Fortunately, for us the unchangeableness in the One, who is eternally existent, is clearly seen in the constancy of how He relates to His creation from the beginning. His unchangeableness is apparent in that the scriptures detail for us a ‘transcendent’ God (Who stands outside of time) ever drawing near to His creation in acts of mercy and judgment.  

His plan of redemption (As revealed in the immanent act of God the Son descending to earth in the person of Jesus Christ) is the overarching piece that governs how God relates to us; Romans 5:8 “but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)  What great news!  This was God’s plan all along, and as New Testament believers we understand this.

So how do we deal with this question of God's immutability from the Old Testament? 

Let's consider the passage of scripture in Genesis 18:17-33 (A cursory glance would suggest God changes His mind here) as this passage details a conversation between God and Abraham where Abraham contends with God and is pleading for mercy for the inhabitants of Sodom. 

If we consider the text in context, verses 17-21 speaks immediately to the immutable mercies of God as much as it informs us of His plans for judgment (Verses 22-33.)

Genesis 18:17-33 – Points to God’s mercy in several ways:

1.     First, His love for Abraham as expressed in the covenantal manner in which He approached the situation. “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing...?”  God in His kindness brought Abraham into covenant with Himself, and this episode isn’t about God changing His mind, but rather honoring His covenant and indeed pointing to the ‘Father of Faith’ (Abraham) as model for this ‘great and mighty nation’ and proving the manner in which all nations ‘shall be blessed in him.’ That being their faith.  (For more on this see Romans 4.)

2.     Secondly, His mercy in proving how long suffering He is. God is revealing Himself to Abraham here as a God who is long suffering and willing to allow the actions of these men to be vetted against His law and standard. Are we to believe that God somehow did not know the number of righteousness people in Sodom...? If that is to be believed, then it is possible that we will also continually question the sovereignty and omniscience of God.  

This passage isn’t about God changing His mind at all. Certainly, it was Abraham who was unsure.

God’s pronouncement of judgment was and is certain. With God this has not changed (As seen in the scriptures.)  We are both chastised as His children (In the now) and we will be judged eternally (In the future) in the way of the eventual Day of Judgment. However, before a Day of Judgment, our merciful God has related to us in countless and merciful ways (Which is consummated with the life of Christ.)  He is the Righteous Judge who has drawn near to His creation in mercy.

Consider these:

  • His righteous acts of judgment as a warning
  • His moral law given (Which acts as a guardian - Gal. 3:24)
  • His prophets foretelling the coming of the Messiah
  • The Messiah (Jesus) coming to earth as the Incarnate Son of God
  • The substitutionary death of Jesus to atone for the sin of the world
  • Christ’s resurrection/ascension; proving His Deity
  • The promised Holy Spirit, which CONVICTS the world of sin, righteousness and the judgment to come
  • The right proclamation of the Gospel

God’s pronouncement of judgment was/is certain, and despite of this, Abraham pleaded for the lives of the inhabitants of Sodom. If we think of this as Christological, we don’t see the immutability of God being challenged, but rather what we are witnessing is the mediation of a faithful and righteous servant of God, which as a type and shadow in the Old Testament, points us to Christ. What we see is the immutability of God being strengthened (If we see God as a merciful but righteous judge.)

His immutability is clear... He doesn’t change His mind; but rather we change our minds when the Holy Spirit descends upon our hearts in a convicting way, and we respond the only way we should; by repenting from our sins and trusting in Christ for salvation. When this happens, we see that  He indeed is unchanging in that He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

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