Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Does God change His mind?

I was recently face-to-face with this question during my personal reading time. I decided to consult a concordance and then a wiser Christian. Here's what I found. Feel free to add.

Dear wiser Christian (who shall remain nameless because I didn't ask his permission),

I came across a passage in Amos 7 that challenges my current understanding of God's omniscience. It's in verses 3 and 6 when Amos pleads with Him to withold His full wrath against Israel. The NASB says that He "changed His mind", while the NIV uses the word relented. Zondervan's concordance took it back to a Hebrew word naham, meaning the previously used words or to show sympathy or comfort. My question is: what does this imply about God's will and His omniscience? For Him to truly "change His mind" the way we as humans change our minds would imply there is information of which He was made aware that He previously did not know. I don't believe I can reconcile that with His omniscience. Was it just an act to grow Amos's faith? God doesn't lie, so it would be contrary to His essence for Him to proclaim all this judgment with no real intent on carrying it out, right? That's my dilemma in a nutshell. I was hoping you could shed some light on how to package this in my head.

Thank you so much for your time.

-- For His glory,

Lauren Webb
Isaiah 42:6

The response, which was extremely fast, I might add, is below.


You have raised an excellent question. This phrase occurs numeroustimes in the Old Testament where God is seen as "changing his mind."Based on other propositional statements about God's will, His decrees,His character, His constancy and faithfulness, I do not think that thesepassages could mean that he changed his mind on a whim based on some"new" information.

It seems best to me to understand this language in the passage in a waysimilar to what we have to do to several of God's statements to Hischildren as "theanthropic" language-that is it is God using human language to communicate to us in a waythat we can understand based on our limted experience, our limitedunderstanding and our finiteness--compared with His infinite attributesof omniscience and foreknowledge. John Calvin was fond of saying thatGod had to use "baby talk" with us for us to understand.

I think that the concept of "theanthropic language" is the best way tounderstand this concept and be faithful both to the language of the textand the theological propositions about God elsewhere in Scripture.I know that this brief response will not answer all of your questions,but I hope it will help a little bit. The idea of theanthropic language goes along for me to satisfy some of these very challenging sections ofthe OT.

- The Wiser Christian

I liked it. Let me know what comes to mind for you...


Mere said...

That's a good thought I'd never heard before about God using words we could understand....interesting. Maybe God already knows what He will really do, he just presents the opportunity for us to come to him for help. And a time to wrestle with Him. A place for us to grow.

Wayne said...


This is a great question that leads into much deeper questions. Another good passage to check out with considering all of this is 1 Samuel 15. All in this one chapter God says that he regrets making Saul king verse 11. It seems as though Saul didn't conduct himself in the manner that God intended. This would seem to me to indicate some error in the Calvinist mindset, but then right after this in verse 29 Samuel states one of the frequently quoted verses about God's omnicience and the fact that God does not change his mind.

Another Consideration would be when God tells Moses, He is going to kill all the Isrealites and then Moses appears to talk him out of it.

Also, if everything is absolutely set in stone no way around anything, exactly lined out the way that God in his omnicience says that it will take place, why would Jesus plead in the Garden for the cup to passed from him?

I don't have the answers. I am wrestling right alongside you. I think the truth lies in the fact that God's Omnicience is greater than we can comprehend. One way of saying it might be: if God does change his mind, wouldn't he know before hand that he was going to change his mind?

I think the simple fact of us thinking about it and discussing it brings glory and honor to God and that is what we are here for.

Warning. If you think about this too much, your head might explode.


J. Leraris said...

Lew, sappenen. I too was a little confused when God seemingly changed his mind at the request of Moses(Wayne's comment). I thought at first that this showed that God had doubts, making Him imperfect. But I think rather this shows that fortunately we have a merciful God. Also I feel that even though God knows all, He must still be coming up with new things in Heaven. Wouldn't he be bored otherwise. It seems that we are only happy when we challenge ourselves to try new things, and He created us in his image. So I guess I feel somehow God is both omnipitent and perfectly dynamic. Let me know if you think I'm way off base.