Does God Change God’s Mind? The Bible Appears Confused…

Does God Change God’s Mind? The Bible Appears Confused… May 22, 2024

We like to think that God doesn’t change. Malachi has God saying, “I the Lord do not change.” This sounds good—until God changes God’s Mind.

Black and white image of man turning his head, with after image
Photo by Vijay Sadasivuni on Pexels

It’s comforting to believe that God is the same, yesterday today, and forever. When the world feels unstable, it helps to believe in the One Supreme Being who’s in charge of it all. We love to sing hymns about God’s unchangeable nature because we enjoy the sense of permanence and stability. But what happens when it appears that God changes?

 

The Story of Jonah

In the Book of Jonah, readers recognize the repentance of Ninevah. But Jonah’s story reveals three characters who change their minds.

  1. Jonah decides to run from God’s command to evangelize Ninevah. Swallowed by a whale, he changes his mind, prays, and experiences a deliverance that allows him to spread the news about impending destruction.
  2. Ninevah (functioning as a single character in the story) repents when it hears Jonah’s warning. The citizens change their minds about their evil ways and beg God’s forgiveness. Apparently, it isn’t just lip service because the threatened calamity never arrives.
  3. God repents of the destruction planned for the wicked city. According to the narrative, God changes God’s mind regarding divine wrath and deals differently with Ninevah than originally planned.

For those raised to believe that God never changes, it’s mind-blowing to read Jonah 3:10, which says, “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them, and he did not do it.” How could God repent? How could God change the divine mind?

 

Scriptural Examples of God’s Mind Changing

The Book of Jonah isn’t the only case of God changing God’s mind. Below are examples of God’s mind-changing, though this list is not exhaustive:

  1. Exodus 32:14And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.
  2. Jeremiah 26:19Did King Hezekiah of Judah and all Judah actually put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and did not the Lord change his mind about the disaster that he had pronounced against them? But we are about to bring great disaster on ourselves!
  3. Joel 2:13Rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from punishment.
  4. Amos 7:1-6This is what the Lord God showed me: he was forming locusts at the time the latter growth began to sprout (it was the latter growth after the king’s mowings). When they had finished eating the grass of the land, I said,

“O Lord God, forgive, I beg you!

    How can Jacob stand?

    He is so small!”

The Lord relented concerning this;

    “It shall not be,” said the Lord.

This is what the Lord God showed me: the Lord God was calling for judgment by fire, and it devoured the great deep and was eating up the land. Then I said,

“O Lord God, cease, I beg you!

    How can Jacob stand?

    He is so small!”

The Lord relented concerning this;

    “This also shall not be,” said the Lord God.

5. Jeremiah 18:5-10Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?” says the Lord. “Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 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.”

 

Scriptural Examples of God’s Unchanging Nature

Yet, other verses would claim the opposite, that God doesn’t change God’s mind, or that God is always the same. Again, this list is not exhaustive:

  1. Numbers 23:19God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind.
  2. 1 Samuel 15:29Moreover, the Glory of Israel will not deceive or change his mind, for he is not a mortal, that he should change his mind.
  3. Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
  4. Malachi 3:6For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, have not perished.

 

When the Bible Appears Confused

Sometimes, the Bible appears confused. It would seem there are scriptures on both sides of this issue. When you encounter verses that say God doesn’t change, and others that say God does change, what’s a reader to do? How do you square these two opposite ideas? Small-minded theologians would say there is only one way to look at this. In reality, there are two options.

  1. Claim that the Bible is one unified book. This tends to be the position of conservatives who feel they must defend the integrity of scripture. They find it necessary to attempt to explain every contradiction and reconcile every disparity. If the Bible seems to disagree with itself, this threatens the faith of fundamentalists. This is because they believe the Bible to be “God’s love letter to Christians,” divinely inspired “without error or fault in all its teaching.” This notion that God is the univocal and supernatural Author of the Bible is bound to disappoint. The more you read the Bible, the more you hear the varying voices and opinions of the human writers.
  2. Recognize the Bible’s diversity. Many different people wrote the Bible. They lived in various countries and wrote in multiple languages over thousands of years. There is not one homogenous, monolithic message. The Bible, properly understood, isn’t even a single book. Instead, it’s a library containing diverse perspectives and experiences from people of faith. It spans multiple religions, containing Jewish and Christian writings, and even elements from other faiths. Sometimes, a single book within the Bible will disagree with itself (just as I will disagree with myself from time to time). Recognizing the Bible’s diversity means you don’t have to try to square opposite ideas. You accept them as differing voices from a diverse pool of writers.

 

Does God Change God’s Mind?

In my spiritual development, at first, I believed God could never change God’s mind. But then I changed my mind. When I learned about process theology, I became open to the idea that God, in a dynamic relationship with humanity and all of creation, must change as that relationship changes. If you were in a relationship where one person grows and changes but the other remains stagnant, that would be boring or even destructive. If the divine mind changes, this does not represent a personality defect. Instead, it reflects a God who can grow and develop, according to a shifting relationship with humanity. This is a better concept of God than one unaffected by the world’s condition.

 

Panentheism

Process theology makes great strides in understanding God beyond the static notion of an unchangeable divine person in the sky. Yet, it falls short if it stops at recognizing God only as a developing and dynamic person in the sky. Panentheism comes closer because it doesn’t separate God from humanity and all of creation. In Panentheism, God is present in, and exists within, all things. Rather than positing a Sky Daddy on a throne, Panentheism places all things within God, and God within all things. God is no longer a person, but a cosmic field of love, containing and filling everything. Can this kind of God change the divine mind? I don’t know—and I’m comfortable not knowing.

 

No Such Thing as Theology

Conservative religion fails when it claims that human beings can understand God at all. Healthy faith recognizes that there’s no such thing as theology. We can’t study God. God is too great for mere mortals to study, too mysterious to understand. The only thing we can study is people’s opinions about God. The question, “Can God change God’s mind?” presumes that we can understand God at all.

So, does God change God’s mind? In reality, we’re asking the wrong question. Numbers 23:19 comes closest when it says, “God is not a human being, that he should lie, or a mortal, that he should change his mind.” This is because humans have minds, but God is Universal Mind. We make a mistake when we anthropomorphize God as a heavenly person. If God were a divine person with a mind, we might question whether or not it could change. But if God is Universal Mind, the question of whether or not it can change remains unfathomable. And it’s only when we get comfortable with the mystery that we can move beyond the need to question.

 

For related reading, check out my other articles:

 

 

About Gregory T. Smith
I live in the beautiful Fraser Valley of British Columbia and work in northern Washington State as a behavioral health specialist with people experiencing homelessness and those who are overly involved in the criminal justice system. Before that, I spent over a quarter-century as lead pastor of several Virginia churches. My newspaper column, “Spirit and Truth” ran in Virginia newspapers for fifteen years. I am one of fourteen contributing authors of the Patheos/Quoir Publishing book “Sitting in the Shade of another Tree: What We Learn by Listening to Other Faiths.” I hold a degree in Religious Studies from Virginia Commonwealth University, and also studied at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. My wife Christina and I have seven children between us, and we are still collecting grandchildren. You can read more about the author here.
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