Does God change His mind?
At first glance this question seems ridiculously easy. Of course God does not change His mind. The Bible explicitly says He does not:
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” – Numbers 23:19
“And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” – 1 Samuel 15:29
There, that should settle the matter… but, not so fast. There is a school of false teaching that is creeping (and in some cases charging) into churches at an alarming rate known as Open Theism. Open Theism teaches that God does not know all things, is constantly learning, and is subject to changing His mind when presented with information He did not previously have.
Adrian Rogers, the late pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn., used to say, “Did it ever occur to you that nothing occurs to God?”
But Open Theism embraces the notion that things occur to God all the time. And, to be fair, there are verses in the Bible that support this claim. One of the more commonly used ones is:
“So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” – Exodus 32:14
So, what do we have here? Many people, upon reading these passages will say, “Aha! A contradiction in the Bible.” But what we really have here is a paradox. A paradox is an apparent contradiction that, upon further scrutiny, can be resolved. So how do we resolve this?
A key principle in biblical interpretation is that verses are to be interpreted in light of other verses. If one passage seems ambiguous then perhaps another verse speaks more clearly on the subject and can shed some light. Another principle is to pay careful attention to the language. Is it literal or figurative? The Bible makes use of several different figures of speech: similes, metaphors, personifications, euphemisms, hyperbole, irony, anthropomorphisms, and typology. We need to see if any of these are in use. It is these last two that I want to take a closer look at.
An anthropomorphism is just a really big word which means describing God in human terms. A good example is 2 Chronicles 16:9, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth.” We know from Scripture that God is a spirit and does not have actual eyes. This is just a description in human terms to help us understand that nothing escapes God’s notice.
Typology is a special kind of symbolism where a person or thing in the Old Testament foreshadows a person or thing in the New Testament. When we refer to something as a “type” of Christ we mean it does something which corresponds to Jesus’ actions or character. The brazen serpent in Numbers 21:8 is a “type” of crucifixion.
Now, as for the resolution of our paradox: The passages in Numbers and 1 Samuel are clearly intended as literal. There is no wiggle room there. The Bible says God does not change His mind nor does He repent. So, we are left with the passage in Exodus. What other possibilities exist there?
In Exodus 32 is God actually reacting to new information or is He acting in human terms for the benefit of our understanding (an anthropomorphism)? Let’s look at the whole passage in context: In verse 10 God said, “Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them, and that I may destroy them…” But Moses interceded, saying, “Turn from Thy burning anger and change Thy mind about doing harm to Thy people…” To which God responds in verse 14, “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”
First, God did not actually promise to destroy. He said “let me alone so that my anger may burn against them.” The condition of Israel’s destruction was Moses leaving God alone and God knew Moses wasn’t going to do that.
Second, God’s judgment of Israel comes after the law was given. Remember, the whole purpose of the law is to show us our need for grace. So, now the law is given and God is prepared to judge but He does not because of the actions of an intercessor. In this instance Moses is a “type” of Christ. God turns from judgment to grace in this case because of the work of Christ. In John 5:39 Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me.”
God did not change His mind concerning Israel. He gave us an example, a “type,” of how he would withhold His judgment on the basis of the redemptive work of a mediator, Christ. This passage, like all of the Old Testament, points ahead to the cross of Christ while all of the New Testament points back to it. Everyone in history who has ever been saved has been saved by God’s grace on the basis of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
Of course Open Theists argue against this and continue to cling to a false teaching. Ironically, many of them continue to claim they have wonderful assurance of salvation on the basis of God’s promises. Which brings to mind an old hymn…
“Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.”
My question is this: How can you trust you have eternal security if there is even the slightest chance God will one day be presented with new information that will compel Him to change His mind?
Let me answer. You can’t have assurance. The very best you can say, if you believe God doesn’t know everything and is subject to changing His mind, is this:
“I have eternal security, unless …”