God Is Changeable

August 17, 2008 — 8 Comments

Studying Exodus 32-34 recently (the record of the golden calf incident and its aftermath), it became clear to me how un-God-like God is at times. He is strikingly changeable, emotional, and downright human on occasions. — Jamie Kiley

Something struck me as horribly wrong as I read those words from Jamie Kiley the other day. I saw what she was saying. She mentioned that in the story of the golden calf that God burns with anger and wants to destroy the Israelites, but four verses later he supposedly “changes His mind” in response to the pleas of Moses.

Jamie mentions that in chapter 33 God tells Moses to go into the promised land, “but says he will not go along, ‘because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.’” In 33:5, “God indicates His uncertainty about what to do with his people, telling them to ‘put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you.’”

She concludes that “God appears strikingly mutable.” Jamie believes that God “changes his mind, regrets past actions, is subject to anger, and argues with his people.” Obviously, her statement that “these might not fit neatly into our western conceptions of God” is dead on. From the looks of things, God doesn’t always have it all together.

But in one paragraph of Jamie’s post, I believe she dismisses a very important hermeneutical error. When we read passages of Scripture, such as these in Exodus, we have to understand the big picture. We really need a bird’s eye view to properly interpret the text. Jamie says that “we should not dismiss it on the basis of what we ‘know’ God to be like.”

I disagree. It’s true that we should not dismiss it, but we must understand that Scripture does not contradict itself. If Scripture has said that God is immutable (unchanging), then he cannot be mutable (changing) in another passage.

I believe in this context that God is sovereign. He is not changing his mind. He knows all along what he is doing. Notice in 32:14 that God is only threatening, not making a sworn decree. Gotquestions.org answered the question “does God change his mind” by answering that:

“The Scriptures that describe God apparently “changing His mind” are human attempts to explain the actions of God. God was going to do something, but instead did something else. To us, that sounds like a change. But to God, who is omniscient and sovereign, it is not a change. God always knew what He was going to do.”

So when Jamie quotes Terry Muck as saying “Too often, it seems to me, despite our biblical literacy, we think of how God ought to be rather than how he has actually portrayed himself,” we can answer very clearly: God does not change. We must think of God how he has portrayed himself – not how man portrays him.

It’s dangerous to simply stop and “consider” these things by just reading one blog post and not evaluating the context. I want to put this out there: we need to know how to read our Bibles and not stop with reading a blog post or article. Otherwise, we’ll come across a passage and believe that God is somehow changeable and very human-like. Before we know it we’re crossing the line for bad hermeneutics to heresy. We cannot allow that to happen. Learn how to properly interpret the text.

Tim Sweetman

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Tim Sweetman is a young writer, blogger, and student who lives near our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. He has been much more widely known by his “code-name,” Agent Tim. This name also served as the name of his popular blog, which received over 750,000 visits between 2005 to 2007. In 2005, he quickly rose to become a leading teenage spokesperson and cultural critic within the booming blogosphere, taking on issues such as MySpace, alcohol, homeschooling, pride, racism, tolerance, and other topics relating to our culture today. His blog has come to the attention of people such as Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Alex and Brett Harris, and La Shawn Barber. Tim’s written work has appeared in Lifeway’s Living With Teenagers (February 2012), Lookout Magazine, FUSION Magazine, The Brink Online, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Virtue Magazine, Regenerate Our Culture Online Magazine, and on many other blogs and websites across the internet like Marry Well and the Lies Young Women Believe Blog. He has also been featured in WORLD Magazine, The Towers Magazine, and Maryland Newsline. He is scheduled to have an article appear in Veritas Magazine this December. Most recently, his work can be found on Focus on the Family’s Boundless Webzine. His personal interests include writing (surprise!) and sports, both watching and playing. He is a die-hard Washington Redskins fan.

8 responses to God Is Changeable

  1. Hey Tim!

    It is so very interesting that you posted this now because I was just reading up on predestination and this was one concept I was very deeply considering.

    First of all, I just want to note that I also have noticed a tendency to find oneself logically believing false doctrine (when I only use my mind) because of a limited perspective of God and the “big picture.” It’s kind of strange, actually. I was reading something the other day and I thought to myself, “Well, that makes sense…” but then later that night after I had sort of mentally stepped back from the topic and began to talk to God about it, He brought several verses to my mind and I was like, “Whoa… that totally contradicts such and such that was said in Scripture.” I couldn’t believe how I had followed someone else’s thought-pattern into an idea that was completely false. It caused me to realize the need to pray… you know, to not just think. God gave us minds to reason with, but since we oftentimes have such a limited view from down here on earth (and from this moment in time — as opposed to from eternity), we truly need His Holy Spirit (not earthly mentors also using their minds) to Guide our thoughts and to conntinually teach us that we just don’t know (and can’t on our own fully understand) everything. We need to live life by the Spirit and ask Him to reveal to us the Mind of Christ, rather than relying primarily on human intellect as we so often tend towards.

    Anyway, back on the topic I especially wanted to respond to; I was thinking about this passage, when Moses stood in the gap for the people, and also about when Jonah was called by God to speak to the people of Nineveh regarding God’s Judgement against them. There’s an unusual question I’m considering…

    It says in Jonah chapter 3, verse 4, that, “On the day Jonah entered the city, he shouted to the crowds: ‘Forty days from now Nineveh will be destroyed!’” In response, we see that the people genuinely repented and very earnestly prayed, and then we read, in verse 10, “When God saw that they had put a stop to their evil ways, He had mercy on them and didn’t carry out the destruction He had threatened.”

    I wholeheartedly believe that God is unchanging, as Scripture says, and that everything has been predestined from the beginning. But I’m wondering if when He says, “I will…” if there is sometimes an (unspoken) ‘unless’ or an ‘if’ after it (i.e. He will punish a people… UNLESS they repent and turn from their evil ways; or, He will bless a people… IF they continue to obey His Commands). We know that God’s Character is certain (He Loves Justice and He hates injustice, He punishes sin and rewards righteousness, etc.). That never changes. We also know that God knows the end from the beginning — and that He has planned it so that everything works together for the good of those who love Him. And we know that He is Sovereign. But I’m kind of wondering if “free will” brings an ‘unless’ or an ‘if’ to what He says (or even BEGINS to do). He doesn’t change, the truth doesn’t change, and what He has spoken or intended isn’t any less true; but something changes (such as our hearts, actions, etc.) so that we go down a different path than His Words revealed to us that we were presently headed down…

    In other words, His ‘I will’ statement does not change (it is a certain path), but seems to merely have apparently not included ‘unless’ or ‘if’ and the path our free will might take us within His certain laws if our hearts turn this way or that. What God will do unless we repent is punish us. But if we do genuinely repent, He won’t. What God will do if we follow His Ways is bless is. But if we don’t, we will miss out. Because of the immutability of His Character this is certain, this is law, this has been decreed. Because of the mutability of us (our will, our choices, our hearts, etc.) what happens seems to change (although, I feel I should probably mention that even that outcome is foreknown by Him). God is Sovereign over what happens (and knows everything that will end up happening), but we are allowed free will within the laws of Justice and the world He has created… and although He doesn’t change, I believe He does react to our choices (our choices and His Reaction both being according to His foreordained plan)…

    I have so much more to say and I feel like I should explain more, but this is already getting long… What do you think, Tim?

  2. Hi there, I found out about your blog from The Rebelution. You have exceptional writing skills; may your blog have much future success!

    Soli Deo Gloria, Ahlaischa

  3. Well, Nicole, I honestly have to say it’s really a mystery. I don’t fully understand how free will and God’s sovereignty work. Why put the tree that Adam and Eve could not eat from in the garden?

    I think I mentioned that God knows what he’s doing. In my class today we were talking about how God puts desires in our hearts that he wants to fill. In other words, we choose, but only after God initiates and puts that desire in our heart. It could apply to the situations you are talking about.

    I’m not really sure about the “unless” or “if” statements. That may be reading into the text a little too far. Check out the “Got Questions” article in full. It may help clear things up a little bit more.

  4. Hey Tim,

    I just read the “Got Questions” article and it seemed to be saying a few of the same things I was trying to express (such as that the reason God spared the people of Nineveh when they repented was because He is unchanging, rather than it being a “change of mind”). I think the ‘unless’ and ‘if’ concept further explains why He would say something and yet not do it although what He said still holds true. I think that what He says and chooses is in line with His Character so it is unchanging (no changes of mind, still truth), but as we change we will hear what’s going to happen accordingly as He reveals His unchanging Character to us responding to our choices (as He must — since He is unchanging).

    I do love that many things are still a mystery regarding the Bible and the way things work. As Hudson Taylor once said, I believe it further witnesses of divine inspiration that we would truly need divine intelligence to fully comprehend it.

    You absolutely did mention that God knew what He was doing all along — if it seemed like I was disagreeing with you or trying to clarify, I’m sorry; I was actually trying to emphasize that I did agree with you so there wouldn’t be any mistake as to my perspective as you read my comment. Sometimes I get a little bit enthusiastic when describing something. =)

    In regards to what you said in your comment; I’ve really considered those two issues in the past. First of all, I do believe that God has placed desires in our hearts that He wants to fill — that only He can fully satisfy. He is the Bridegroom and He created us, ultimately, to be His Bride. I also believe that we cannot desire or choose anything good without Him first working within us “both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

    But I was just recently considering this in relation to predestination and those who have not been chosen (or the mistakes those He has chosen make in our rebellion) and I discovered that this concept revealed something else: Everything God created was good and everything He gives us, causes to happen, or allows to happen is for our good (including the desires of our hearts). In light of that; isn’t it an amazing witness of how GOOD God is that even the seemingly “bad” things in our lives (hardship, tragedy, weaknesses, unfulfilled needs or desires, free will) were intended by Him for our eternal good, had we in the past or should we in the future respond to them in obedience to His Laws? But on the other hand; doesn’t it also prove what horrible, sinful creatures we are that we could take something that was intended for good and turn it against Him and use it to destroy ourselves and, worst of all, to bring Him pain? And then this brings me to the next point you brought up…

    I believe that the reason God put the tree in the Garden of which Adam and Eve should not eat was because it was part of giving mankind the freedom to choose — free will. And I think the reason He gave us free will was because we could not voluntarily love Him without the freedom to choose either way. I think that He gives us the Gift of His Love and that in order for it to return to Him as a gift, it has to be a choice to give that is made in freedom… I do think that in order to be made in His Image we need free will (and that is how He desired His Bride to be); but still, we are the creature and He is the Creator.

    I don’t understand any of this completely either, but it was fun discussing it with you. Thank you. =)

    Are you enjoying college? I’ve been praying for you. =)

  5. Yes! College has been great. This post was kind of started after I began reading a book assigned in one of my classes. I’m doing constant reading, and lots of writing. It’s not always easy juggling the blog, school, work, and other writing jobs. But God continues to give me grace!

  6. I’ve been doing constant reading and a ton of writing, as well. On top of that, I really need to apply myself more to writing in Spanish, understanding French, and working on a few important projects. It is totally not always easy… but, “Do Hard Things,” right? Boy, is that phrase going to get worn out this year! =)

  7. Open Theism is heresy, plain and simple. Thanks for calling it like it is.

    Regarding the will and God’s sovereignty, I might recommend looking into the compatibilist position, which I think was pretty well articulated by Jonathan Edwards in his work On the Freedom of the Will, and defended by John Piper.

    The work is available in its entirety online, for free. It’s a tough read (very philosophical language), but definitely worthwhile.

  8. Hey Tim,

    I’m a little late in reacting, but I just now saw your post.

    I appreciate your critique of my ideas; you point out some things that I hadn’t really thought about.

    Just want to comment on this line from your post: “God does not change. We must think of God how he has portrayed himself – not how man portrays him.”

    Your second sentence sums up exactly what I was arguing in my own post. We can’t just assume we know what God is like; we need to understand what he says about himself.

    When I say that God changes his mind, repents, etc., I am not saying something unbiblical; this is God’s own depiction of himself.

    Now, I I realize the Bible says God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and that’s important truth. But Exodus 32-34 is also important biblical truth.

    Therefore, when the Bible says God is sovereign and unchanging, those statements out to be qualified and interpreted in light of passages like Exodus 32. If the Bible is not to contradict itself, then we have to let Exodus shape our understanding of what “sovereignty” and “immutability” mean.

    Granted, as you said, we need a bird’s eye view to properly interpret individual passages of Scripture. That’s valid. What’s not valid is to allow a human conception of divine sovereignty to impose on God a kind of immutability that would contradict his own representations of himself.

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