Thursday, October 01, 2009

Does God Change His Mind?

This exegetical discussion has some relevance to the debate surrounding open theism.

Does God change His mind? It all depends. If He has decreed

a certain course of action or outcome, then He will not retract a

statement or relent from a declared course of action. Verses stat-

ing or illustrating this truth must not be overextended, however.

Statements about God not changing His mind serve to mark spe-

cific declarations as decrees. They should not be used as proof

texts of God’s immutability, nor should they be applied generally

to every divine forward-looking statement. If God has not de-

creed a course of action, then He may very well retract an an-

nouncement of blessing or judgment. In these cases the human

response to His announcement determines what He will do. Pas-

sages declaring that God typically changes His mind as an ex-

pression of His love and mercy demonstrate that statements de-

scribing God as relenting should not be dismissed as anthropo-

morphic. At the same time such passages should not be overex-

tended. God can and often does decree a course of action.26


Mike Darus said...

It seems there should be some discussion of God's use of a warning or threat in the context of communication through a prophet. By means of a warning, God could communicate that an action or lack of action will have forseeable consequences. By means of a threat, God could communicate that an action or lack of action could result in a specific punishment. This type of communication could be helpful for motivating a person or persons to act in a preferred way. These situations could result in a change of course that appears to be a change in God's mind when, in fact, the change occurs in the person or persons.

Anonymous said...

I think Greg Boyd's comments are helpful here to illustrate that change doesn't imply imperfection.

"Consider this illustration. When confronted with tragedy, a perfect human being would allow himself to be impacted by this and would respond by changing his otherwise happy disposition. If he refused or was unable to change in response to the changing circumstances, this would indicate that he was not perfect. Since God is a perfect personal being, and since humans are always changing, we must conceive of God as the most perfectly changing being. His character of course never changes, for he’s always perfect. But precisely because his character is unchanging and is pure love, his experience of the world is always changing."


J said...

Does Hell exist? So G*d, assuming He exists, thinks he made a mistake on a few great scoundrels, and puts in the work order to send 'em down a bit lower: hey, William Rehnquist: there was a mistake--you're Malebolge bound.

Seriously, Hell is a great concept

drwayman said...

Dr. Reppert - I'm glad that you brought up this issue. In my reading of Exodus 4:24-26, God is meeting Moses to kill him. There is no warning from God here and there is no "if-then" clause. However, Zipporah intervenes and circumcises their son, apparently because Moses had committed a sin of ommission by neglecting to follow through with the covenant with his own son. Therefore, God left Moses alone. It appears to me that this is an instance where God changes His mind. Do any of your readers have any theories about what happened here?

Mike Darus said...

Exodus 4:24 fits into the category of a warning. The Lord had just described to Moses his upcoming mission before Pharaoh so there is no decree that Moses must die. There is every intention that Moses will continue his mission after the required circumcision of his son is done. This account serves as an additional illustration of Moses' reticence to lead. Aaron, Jethro, and now Zipporah are key to his preparation. This account also contrasts to 4:23 where Pharoah's son is to be threatened.

drwayman said...

Mike - how does one discover that this story of God apparently changing His mind fits into a warning? Are you saying that due to context or are there other credible sources from where you are garnering your reasoning?

Mike Darus said...

From an footnote in the NIV, it is not clear whether Moses or his son was about to die. It is also not clear if the danger was in the form of an illness or direct communication. Moses' inaction may mean that the connection to his son's circumcision was not clear but that Zipporah had an insight. Zipporah's reaction seems to indicate a tension between her and Moses on this issue and up to this point, Moses had yielded to Zipporah's wish for their son no to be circumcised.

The context is very clear that God expected Moses to continue with his mission. In the previous verses, 4:21-23, God outlines what Moses will do. If Moses was the one near death, it was clearly just a warning since God had just outlined his future.

If Moses' son was near death, it still does not mean that God repented from a decree to kill him. There is no language indicating this kind of decision on God's part.

This fits the category of a warning since an anticipated course of action by God is changed by the corrective action of a human agent.

If you were looking for some scholarship with quotes from reliable authorities, I apologize.

drwayman said...

Mike - No, I wasn't really looking for "scholarship" or "reliable authorities." I believe that the Bible should interpret the Bible and that no one has a "corner on the market" when it comes to understanding God's Word. Thank you for your thoughtful and kind response.

You wrote, " anticipated course of action by God is changed by the corrective action of a human agent." Doesn't that statement imply that God changed His mind? Maybe I'm misunderstanding you.