Does God change his mind?

Photo credit: _Hadock_ / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: _Hadock_ / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Every broadcast of Southwest Ministries begins with Dr. Noah Hutchings declaring, “God is on the throne, and prayer changes things.”  It’s a great thing to remember as we strive to advance on our Christian journeys. But, it can cause confusion about God’s nature.

God never changes. Since he is perfect and holy, any alteration with regard to him or his actions would mean that there is a preferred outlook or state of being.  If there’s a better option, that must mean he has learned something or improved his outlook in some way.  Not possible.

What does this mean about our prayers?  We don’t always pray for God to do things, but it is a big part of our interaction with him. In James 5, prayer is regarded as the thing that can heal people (James 5:15).  Paul credits the prayers of the Corinthians as the reason he was saved from certain death (2nd Corinthians 1:11).  When his disciples were having trouble casting out a demon, Jesus said it could only happen through prayer (Mark 9:29).

Do these things indicate that God has changed his mind?  Though this may sound like a contradiction, based on these verses and much of Scripture that answer is obviously yes.  Even if his previous course of action had been to not intervene in those situations, then by doing something in response to the prayers of his people he changed his course.  The Exodus passage where Moses begs God to relent on punishing the nation of Israel for their rebellion by annihilating them is an example that sticks out, “Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened. (Exodus 32:14, NIV)”

The word “relented” means that God ended up not doing what he had been considering.  However, this Exodus passage isn’t claiming that God changed from a less righteous action to a better one in response to Moses, even though there can be no doubt that he altered his original course.

So it appears that the question about God changing his mind needs clarification.  Can God change his mind without changing his nature?  Does it make God less holy if he has several equally righteous actions to choose from and his decision is based on his interaction with the people that he holds dear?

I know I’ve been quoting Richard Foster a bit lately, but here goes again:

Through prayer we work to sort out what role we will play as secondary agents in God’s primary purposes.  Prayer is not telling God what we think, or simply thanking him for his provision of food and drink.  Rather it is our active, intentional effort to understand what God is doing and how we can join him. (Longing for God, Intervarsity Press, p. 97)

God’s plan of salvation for the world is as unchangeable as he is.  But he allows us to partner with him in making it happen.  In that Exodus story, if God would have destroyed the unfaithful Israelites that would have been right and good.  His plan of salvation through the line of Abraham would have been carried out through the line of Moses.  But the Almighty allowed Moses to play a role in a detail of the plan without changing his overall intention, and it gives us insight into the personality of God in the process.

You have the same ability!  The Almighty actually listens to you.  God is on the throne, and even though prayer cannot change a perfect and unchangeable King, he graciously allows you the privilege to get involved in his awesome plan.


7 thoughts on “Does God change his mind?

  1. Is it that God only does righteous things? Or are things declared righteous just because God does them?

    So either our God-given (Devil tainted?) understanding of kindness and mortality is messed up, or sometimes the God of the Old Testament was a big jerk. I know “God works in mysterious ways” / “as the stars are above the sands so are God’s ways above ours” can theoretically cover a lot of ground, but man.

    The humor might be a little harsh for you, but “The Last Testament: A Memoir” goes into some of these concerns. (Also Karen Armstrong’s “The Case for God” was eye-opening for me, in thinking about how the different flavors of man’s understanding of the supernatural and divine has gone through different phases and kind of merged in the case of the Christian God, from untouchable, unknowable “Sky God” to a more personal and comprehensible personified entity.)

    • Nice distinction, Kirk. God only does righteous things because he in incapable of doing anything else. This isn’t an issue of “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” People declare things righteous because we learn that from our relationship with God.

      Yep, everything God ever did was right. Even the things in the Old Testament that seem harsh to us. But, his divine justice is as equally as right as his immeasurable mercy. Yes, our understanding of God has been marred by our sin. We can’t know him fully until we get to heaven and see him as he really is.

      I haven’t read either, but I may check one out at the library. Our understanding of God does go through phases. I’m curious to see how different understandings of the supernatural has merged into the Christian God.

      Thanks Kirk.

  2. Tough question, make my head hurt, make me confused and hungry …
    Hah. I’ve heard this preached on several times, in different ways, and it’s still a tough one. I lean towards what you’re saying.

    • Confusion about Scripture makes you hungry? Maybe THAT’S been my problem all these years!

      BTW, this morning I was preparing for a Bible Study that will happen tonight on Jonah 3. Funny enough, God changed his mind there too! Interestingly, the main theme of the book is the Sovereignty of God. He can do whatever he wants to. His even stated that his actions with regard to the Ninevites was conditional, and he altered his own course because of their response.

      Thanks JS, and enjoy a burger to alleviate your confusion. I would, but I’m on a stupid diet (that’s working quite well actually).

  3. Things that “seem harsh to us”? You’ve got to be kidding. Killing all the first-born males in Egypt doesn’t “seem harsh.” It is vicious, vindictive and arbitrary, and utterly unjust, if our understanding of justice is to have any meaning whatsoever. If it doesn’t, all bets are off, as, ironically, actually seems to be the case, judging from the actions of religious people. So you fall back on “God moves in mysterious ways.” I’ll say!

    You’ll have to do better than that.. “Don’t ask” is not an acceptable answer.

    BTW, your equivocal footwork in the prayer question says a lot about you, nothing about God. You seem to be willing to commit whatever logical errors are necessary to maintain your inherently untenable position, that God is immutable, yet answers our prayers (is mutable).

    • God is pure and just. That means that any sin separates us from him and is punishable by death. That’s info that difficult to swallow. But it gives insight into how far off the mark we all are and what a fantastic gift forgiveness of that penalty is through Jesus Christ. Clearly, justice has meaning, but it’s not about everybody getting what they want, as if we’re all gods. There is only one God, and his definition of justice is the only one that counts.

      Killing Egyptian children was not vindictive because it was the final of TEN plagues. They had plenty of warning of God’s power and continued to disobey. It wasn’t arbitrary because, let’s face it, the death of the first born son and the Passover concept fits God’s plan of salvation pretty well. It certainly wasn’t an afterthought.

      I will agree with you that actions of religious people throughout history, including contemporaries, has not been based on God’s definition of justice.

      I don’t remember saying “Don’t ask,” as a response to what God is doing in the world. God wants us to participate with his plan of salvation for the world. How can we do that if we’re not engaged with what is going on? Of course, that doesn’t mean he has to answer how and when we want him to.

      I don’t see my logical error in this piece. It is quite logical to suggest that somebody (or God) can change their mind without changing their nature if there are multiple options that fit that nature. For instance, if I’m a vegetarian (ha ha!) and decide to have corn for lunch, but my wife suggests that I try the string beans, changing my mind wouldn’t make me less of a vegetarian because both choices fit that nature. I’ve changed my mind, but I haven’t changed anything about me. (Sorry, that’s the best example I could come up with quickly).

      Thanks for reading my blog, Mikels. Sorry for getting back so late. I just got back from building homes for poor people in Mexico.

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