OUR UNCHANGING GOD

This is what I believe, but it is certainly not what many theologians believe. The God of the Bible, the God of Jesus Christ, the God of Christianity, is a God who voluntarily opens himself up to being affected by what happens in the world because his nature is love. In that process, however, God’s essential nature and character never change. God’s specific (consequent) will and ways change in relation to the world (us), but God’s overall character and purpose never change. This is “ethical immutability.”

Dr Bruce Ware (www.biblicaltraining.org) gives an excellent definition of divine immutability:

“To say that God is immutable I believe, biblically, means that God cannot change in his attributes, his essence, or his very being, that is, who God is as God. And secondly he cannot change in his ethical commitments that are an extension of his own moral nature. I call the first aspect of immutability “Ontological Immutability” because it is the very being of God. ”Ontos” is the word for being. The very being of God, his nature, his essence cannot change. God is holy; he cannot be unholy. God is love; he cannot be not loving. God is just; he cannot be unjust. God is omnipotent; he cannot lack power. Of all of the attributes that are true of God, he cannot be other than who he is as God, his very nature.”

Problems in Scripture: “What about passages in Scripture that talk about God changing his mind or repenting, as it is sometimes translated? There are 28 affirmations and 7 denials of God’s repentance in the Old Testament. Twenty-eight times it says God repented or changed his mind, and seven times it says God’s can’t or doesn’t change his mind or doesn’t repent. To get to the nub of this in a way that I think helps is to look at 1 Samuel 15:11,35. In verses 11 and 35 we read that God repented or he relented of the fact that he made Saul king.

1 Samuel 15:11I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not carried out my commands.” And Samuel was distressed and cried out to the Lord all night.

1 Sam 15:35Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

Here you have two uses of ”nacham”, this Hebrew word for relent or regret or change of mind. He changed his mind in regard to Saul being king. There is a third use of the word in this chapter in verse 29.

1 Sam 15:29Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man that he should change his mind.

In what sense can we say with verse 11 and 35 God repented or relented or regretted that he made Saul king and then with verse 29 the Glory of Israel “cannot change his mind.” Is it possible that verse 29 establishes an absolute rule that God cannot literally change his mind or relent from what he has said in the way that we do as human beings. My point will be this, when we read verses 11 and 35 we dare not think that God relents of something in a way that we do, namely that he learns something new and goes, “What a mess; if I had only known that Saul would be such a jerk I wouldn’t have done this, what a mistake; I wish I hadn’t made him king.” We dare not think that God relents in the way we do. How do we relent? We learn something that we didn’t know before; we see something that we didn’t see before. We think differently of it because of that. We dare not think that is how God repents. Because the Glory of Israel cannot lie, will not lie or change his mind for he is not a man that he should change his mind. Here is my argument on verse 29. The Glory of Israel will not lie or change his mind. Almost the same phrase is used in Numbers 23:19 in Balaam’s second oracle. This is God speaking through Balaam. An almost identical same language is used I that. So you have two places in the Bible where we are told God cannot lie or change his mind.

God, knowing what Saul had done, observing the history as it unfolds, watches Saul’s disobedience, watches his presumption of instead of sacrificing everything as God told him to, he saves the best to sacrifice to the Lord. But God told him to kill them not bring them back and he didn’t. This is the presumption of his false piety and God detests it. God observes this, and in his relationship with Saul, as God deals with this disobedient rebellious king of Israel, he wishes that the king of Israel were not this way. But don’t think for a moment this means that God didn’t expect it or didn’t anticipate it, that God learned something new because of it. He regretted that the king of Israel would do this. What did he do in its place? He takes the Spirit from Saul, gives the Spirit to David, and puts a new king who will be the prototype king; the Messiah will come as the son of David. I take that these statements of God’s change, like in verses 11 and 35, if you look at them strictly speaking, are anthropomorphic; that is, they cannot be true literally of God. What they are stating is some truth using this vehicle of what looks to us like God changing his mind. Just like in the book of Jonah when Nineveh repented it says God relented, and he forgave them. In the book of Jonah, do you really think that God didn’t anticipate the repentance of the Ninevites? If God didn’t anticipate this he missed an awfully good cue for Jonah who did anticipate it, and that is why he fled to Tarshish. Did you get the point of that in the story? Jonah knew they would repent; Jonah, the dumb prophet, knew this. Did you think that God anticipated this was going to happen? Absolutely. It is not like God went, “My goodness look at what happened; I’m going to change my plan.” No. This is all part of plan A; there isn’t a plan B. So when it says God repented and forgave them, what does it mean? Not that he learned something new, but he changed in relationship to them from what he had said earlier. What does that look like to us? He changed his mind. That is what it appears like, so he is using human ways of understanding to express something that is not literally true of God in that fashion.”

One thought on “OUR UNCHANGING GOD

  1. Excellent Bro Ron! This is a matter that can befuddle even the brightest and the best. And which can be thrown at Christians by those who know enough of the Bible to be ‘dangerous’.

    I’ll be storing this article in my ‘Bible Doctrine’ file.

    Your summation at the end is excellent:

    ‘Did you think that God anticipated this was going to happen? Absolutely. It is not like God went, “My goodness look at what happened; I’m going to change my plan.” No. This is all part of plan A; there isn’t a plan B. So when it says God repented and forgave them, what does it mean? Not that he learned something new, but he changed in relationship to them from what he had said earlier. What does that look like to us? He changed his mind. That is what it appears like, so he is using human ways of understanding to express something that is not literally true of God in that fashion.”‘

    Amen.

    Like

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