Does God Change His Mind?

Theologian Roger Olson says God changes “in relation to creature’s prayers and needs. I have long believed that God does change- voluntarily and only in His experiences and intentions.” How can Christians understand the changeless God described in the Bible who is also revealed to have emotions and answer prayers by intervening in circumstances. Does God change? Does my sin create a new grief in God that was not there before I sinned? Does God start out on one course but change His plans when I pray? These are not easy questions, but understanding God’s relationship with humanity and the Christian’s relationship with God is important.

The Bible teaches that God does not change. In God is no variation or “shadow of turning.” (James 1:17) “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.” (1 Samuel 15:29)

The Bible also says that God repented. “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” (Genesis 6:6) “The Lord repented that He had made Saul king over Israel.” (1 Samuel 15:35) In Exodus 32 God told Moses to leave Him alone and He would destroy rebellious Israel. Moses pled with God to not destroy Israel, “And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people.” (Exodus 32:14)

How does the Christian make sense of this? Does God repent, or is He unchanging? Do my prayers cause God to change His mind? When the Old Testament says God “repents” the Hebrews word nacham, translated “repent” in English, reflects an emotional state. Depending on the context the same word is used for having pity on someone or for regretting an action. We can legitimately say, as the NASB translates it, “The Lord was sorry that He had made man.” (Genesis 6:6) God’s being “sorry” does not imply God erred. Instead, the repentance of God shows His tenderness and justice. God is moved with compassion by our need and moved with sorrow by our sin.

Examining the passages that describe God as “repenting” reveals that God Himself is not changing, only His dealings with man are. From the beginning of the Bible God is shown to change in the way He deals with men. He dealt with Adam differently afer sin than He did before man sinned. He dealt differently with Abraham than Moses, the apostles or Christians today. God acts in accord with His changeless character in all His interactions with man, but the expression of His unchanging nature does not always stay the same.

The ability of God to respond to the actions of man does not mean God is taking a new direction different from what He planned. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” Acts 15:18 says, “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” God knows all that He will do and He also legitimately and actually answers the prayers of people. He makes what appear to men to be changes in His plans, but in fact God knows all that He will do. Before He created the world, God knew He would destroy the earth in a flood. Before God called Saul to be king, He knew He would take the kingdom from Saul. Before Moses prayed for Israel’s protection, God knew He would not destroy the nation. God has always known all things He will do.

When the Bible says that God does not change it is emphasizing that God always does what He says. (Hebrews 6:17-19) God does not ever go back on His promises. His character, knowledge, nature and being are eternally unchanging. He is exactly the same God today that He was in the eternity before He created all things.

Does God know what decisions I will make before I make them?

God is all-knowing. He knows all the works of His hands (Acts 15:18). He named every star in heaven and knows everyone of their trillion trillion of names. (Isaiah 40:26). He knows the number of hairs on every human head at any given time. (Matthew 10:30) He knows all the creatures on earth and never forgets one, even the least of birds. (Luke 12:6) God’s knowledge is limitless. He knows all that is and all that has been. Does God know what will be? Specifically, does God know the decisions a man will make?

Not everyone believes in the limitless foreknowledge of God. Some say that if God knows everything that will happen then man does not have a will that is truly free. If God knows all that will happen, then man will always do what has already been known that he will do. Foreknowledge then becomes a form of Divine determinism in which every moment of life is preplanned and predetermined by God and all man can do is what has been decided he will do.

Foreknowledge does not necessarily mean predetermination. A fan of mystery novels may read a book and know exactly how the book is going to end. Such foreknowledge does not mean the reader determined the ending. A reader’s knowledge of the author and the literature allows him to understand the story and correctly foretell the ending. This knowledge does not imply the reader is also the author. Foreknowledge can exist without infringing upon the ability of individuals to freely choose.

The Bible says God knows everything that is, was, could be and will be. In Matthew 11:21 Jesus told the towns of Bethsaida and Chorazin that if Tyre and Sidon had seen His miracles they would have repented. He then declared to Capernaum that if Sodom had seen the mighty works He did then it would have turned from sin. Jesus’ words reveal a knowledge of what could have been. His words were not mere rhetoric. Jesus is God the Son. He spake the truth of what could have been because He knows all things, including what might be.

God knows everything about a person before that person knows anything about themselves. Psalm 139 describes the infinite, intimate knowledge of God. Psalm 139:2 says, “Thou understandest my thought afar off.” God knows every thought of man while it is still far from fully formed in the person’s mind. While man is still thinking, God knows all that he is going to think. Psalm 139:16 says that when the person is still in the womb, before he has even begun to form, God knows him. He knows all his days before his days have even begun. God knows what a person is going to do and what that person will be long before he makes any decisions. God knows all the possibilities and He knows the choices men will make. The God of the Bible is all-knowing. His knowledge is unlimited and entire, encompassing past, present, future, what will be, what could be and what might be.

How many days did God wait before He created the world?

This little question was asked by a girl at church yesterday. Her simple question raises deeper questions for which good answers are hard to find. What was God doing before the universe began? How long did God exist before He created the universe?

The Bible teaches that God is eternal. “From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.” (Psalm 90:2) God existed eternally before He created the universe. He did not spring into existence a day before creating everything. He has always been. He has no beginning. He existed in eternity before the universe began. This is simple to state, but hard to understand. Any serious attempt to understand the eternity before space, time, matter or energy were created is more than the mind can handle.

How long did God wait before creating? He waited all eternity and He waited no time at all. He did not wait any days, because days did not exist until He created Day on the First Day. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” (Genesis 1:5) He did not wait any time because time did not exist until God created it. Though He waited no time before creating, His eternal existence means He existed eternally before anything else existed.

This deceptively challenging question wrestles with the true nature of creation and eternity. Everything exists because God created it. Time exists only because God created it. God’s eternal existence cannot be understood by the finite mind of man. Eternity cannot be measured by the age of the universe. God always has been and always will be. He alone has no predecessor, no creator and no beginning. The Eternal Creator created Day, Night, Seasons and Years. He did so when He chose, and at His choosing time came into being.

With all the other gods in the world, how do we know the God of the Bible is the only true God?

A couple weeks ago a child asked a challenging question as she left the Sunday morning service. Here question was this, “Since many people worship many different gods, how do we know the God of the Bible is the only true God?” She is not alone. Many people struggling to understand the claims of the Bible ask the same question.

Some may be surprised to learn the Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God. Scripture assumes God exists and declares that only the foolish or willfully rebellious deny the existence of God. Though the Bible never offers proofs that God exists, it repeatedly argues that God is the only God and all other deities are fraudulent products of man’s wicked imagination.

The creation of the universe is the supreme proof given in the Old Testament that God alone is God. This author does not possess an exhaustive knowledge of all the gods worshiped in the history of the world, but after extensive research and study of many different religious traditions he is aware of only one other god who claims to have created everything out of nothing. Aside from Allah, no other god claims to have created everything. The great gods of Canaan- Baal, Molech or Dagon- were local deities who ruled over crops or regions. They were never seen as creators. The gods of Egypt were not credited with creating everything out of nothing. The great gods of western mythology- Zeus, Jupiter and Odin-never claimed to be creators. Only in the Old Testament do we find a Deity who claims to have made everything.

God’s uniqueness as Creator is used in passages like Jeremiah 10 to show the folly of worshiping the pagan gods. After a lengthy description of how the gods of the nations are carved by men out of wood, covered in gold, fastened down so they do not fall over and are incapable of seeing, hearing or doing anything at all, God is presented as the maker of all things. He is the only One who rules over all spiritual beings. He alone is uncreated and Creator of All. “Before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.” (Isaiah 43:21) All other gods are the creation of human imagination.

God’s claim to be the Creator was verified by His displays of power over creation. When God sent the plagues upon Egypt it was so the entire world would know He is God. (Exodus 9:16) When God drove the Canaanites before Israel it was prove He alone is God. (Joshua 3:10) God’s glory was present in the temple of Jerusalem as a testimony to the entire world He is God. (1 Kings 8:41-43)

Jesus is the greatest evidence that God is the only God. Jesus claimed to be God the Son and the God of the Old Testament. (John 8:58) The miracles of Jesus verified the truth of His claims (Acts 2:22). Finally, the resurrection declares Jesus is God the Son. (Romans 1:4) Since His mighty miracles and His resurrection from the dead verify the claims of Jesus, then all the claims of the God of the Old Testament must be true. Jesus is proof there is no other God.

What is the Shekinah Glory?

The Old Testament mentions many times the glory of which God appeared visibly to the nation of Israel. When the Israelites fled from Egypt, God’s presence was seen by the entire nation. He led them from Egypt to Mt. Sinai in the form a great cloud and a pillar of fire. At Mt. Sinai the glory of God covered the mountain in fire and smoke.

The shekinah glory is the visible manifestation of the presence of God. The phrase is not found in the Bible, but was coined by ancient Jewish teachers long before the birth of Christ. In the Shekinah Glory, God presence was made evident to His people. God told Moses that His glory can not be fully seen, “No man shall me and live.” (Exodus 33:20) Yet, in His mercy God gave a visible evidence of His presence with His people.

Once the tabernacle was built, God’s presence in Israel became directly connected with the tabernacle and the temple. Exodus 40 tells how God’s glory filled the completed tabernacle. When Israel committed idolatry God told Moses to move the tabernacle outside the camp because He would not be in the midst of a wicked people. Later, when King Solomon built the temple of God in Jerusalem the glory of God entered into the temple. God’s presence in the place of worship was a constant reminder that He was with His people. Much later the book of Ezekiel describes the glory of God leaving the temple because of the Jew’s continual disobedience against God. After the book of Ezekiel there are no other historical references to the glory of God visibly present with His people.

Several of the minor prophets promise that one day the glory of God will again be visibly present with His people. In Haggai God promises, “I will fill this house with glory, saith the Lord of Hosts” and in Zechariah He says, “For I, saith the LORD, will be unto (Jerusalem) a wall of fire round about, and will be the glory in the midst of her.” Habakkuk prophecies. “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” In the future, God’s glory will fill the earth. His Shekinah glory will be eternally present among His people.

God’s presence is not seen today, but He still dwells with His people. The Christian today is the temple of God. He dwells just as truly within Christians today as He did in the temple in Israel. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1Corinthians 3:16) “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (2 Corinthians 6:16) God’s glorious presence is still with His people today.

If God is real, why do terrible things happen to innocent people?

One of the great problems many people struggle to address is the presence of terrible evil in the world. Why does God allow tragedies to happen to innocent people? Why do so many evil people go unpunished through life? Why do little children in Africa starve while pedophiles die at a comfortable old age?

These kinds of questions are not contrary to the Bible. Scripture asks and answers them. In Psalm 73 the Psalmist wrestled with why the wicked prospered. He said, “For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no (pains) in their death: but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men; neither are they plagued like other men.” The Psalmist was tempted to think serving the Lord to be a waste of time, but he says, “then understood I their end.” The problem of evil cannot be answered without considering the future of wicked people. The prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent is very brief. This does not mean suffering is insignificant. This means the wicked will never get away with their wickedness. The time of evil is going to come to end. The time of judgment is coming. No one ever gets away with anything. The murderer who dies in his sleep at an old age does not get off the hook. He will be judged by God and will pay the full penalty of his heinous sins. God’s justice never fails. Every sin will be fully punished.

But why do evil things happen in the first place? Evil happens because man rebelled against God. Man sank so deeply and so thoroughly into sin that only 1,500 years after the first sin, God wiped the Earth clean with a huge flood. Noah’s flood shows the severity of the problem of sin, and also points to the problem of God’s judgment.

The holiness of God is not limited to hatred of the really bad sins like murder and rape. God hates all sin. Murder is no more deserving of judgment than lying. If God were to remove evil from the world today, all evil would have to be removed. Gossips and rapists, angry men and genocidal maniacs, drunkards and murderers, all will be judged. Which is also the reason God has not yet removed evil from the world.

Why doesn’t God just punish sin now? What is He waiting for? The answer given repeatedly in the Bible is that God will punish sin, but not yet. God delays judgment so some will have the chance to repent. When God judged the world in the flood, the waters did not just destroy the most violent. The flood took away all but the 8 on the ark. The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah did not spare those who were not as bad as the rest. God’s judgment will be upon all evil.

Most people do not actually want God to remove all evil from the world. They want Him to remove the really bad sorts of evils, but leave us with the evils we are comfortable with. Sin is not a minor a problem, like a sprained finger. Sin is a cancer that corrupts all creation. The terrible things that happen remind us that sin, all sin, is a horrible curse afflicting the world. God is not overlooking any sin. He will punish all.

Is God a Megalomaniac?

In a recent Everlasting Truths radio broadcast one of the pastor’s commented, “God is not ultimately for us, He is ultimately for Himself.” By that he meant God’s work in this world is to bring glory to Himself. Some see this and believe God must be a maniac who is psychotically bent on having everyone worship Him and on doing that which makes Himself looks better. Does the Bible teach that God is doing everything for His own glory? If it does, does that mean God is a self-centered jerk?

The Bible does teach that God is working in this world to bring glory to Himself. Revelation 4:11 says, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” Jesus told his disciples, “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” In Isaiah 48:11 God tells the Jews why He would rescue them from captivity and judgment, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? And I will not give my glory unto another.” God is working in the world for His own glory.

Since this is a Biblical idea, does it mean that God is a self-centered maniac? If a person acts this way he is considered to have a mental disorder. Brad Pitt could not accept God’s call to worship Him alone. He said, “I didn’t understand this idea of a God who says, ‘You have to acknowledge me. You have to say that I’m the best, and then I’ll give you eternal happiness. If you won’t, then you don’t get it!’ It seemed to be about ego. I can’t see God operating from ego, so it made no sense to me.” Michael Prowse, a writer for a London newspaper said, “We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?”

Statements like these suppose God’s desire for the exaltation of His own glory is a personality flaw that brings injury to others. When a maniac rules a nation for his own aggrandizement, it always bring suffering and ruin on that nation. Only when the unfortunate citizens of that land are freed from his tyranny is there a measure of good brought to them. Is this true of God? Does His rule result in our misery? Is our rebellion the only means to bring joy to mankind?

When God created humanity He designed men to know Him, to walk with Him and to love Him. The Bible gives a glimpse of the paradise that existed while man walked with God and obeyed Him fully. When man rebelled paradise was lost. Misery, death, sorrow and pain filled the world. When God calls men to worship Him He is calling them to return to the place we abandoned to venture into the desolation of sin. He is calling humanity to leave the things which bring condemnation and wrath upon the world to return to Him who gives goodness and joy. When God demands men worship Him it is for His glory and for our good. These two things cannot be separated: what exalts God is good for mankind.

God does not demand our worship as if he needed his ego soothed or his self-esteem bolstered. God does not need anything from man. Paul says in Acts 17, “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.” “For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:24-25, 28) God does not need our worship for His own sake. He commands our worship because it is due Him and it is good for us. God is ultimately concerned with Himself because He is infinitely concerned for us.

Was Jesus created?

A recent survey conducted by LifeWay Research indicated that over 3/4 of Americans believe “Jesus was the first and greatest being created by God the Father.” This finding is astounding because it shows that many Americans hold to a belief that contradicts one of the most significant tenets of Christianity. The doctrine of the deity is Jesus is shared by all Christian denominations except the Christian cults. From the very earliest days of Christianity, Christians have affirmed that Jesus is the eternal God.

The Athanasian Creed declares, “The Son is uncreated”, “The son is eternal” and “The Son was neither made nor created.” These statement are merely a reflection of the clear New Testament teaching that Jesus is God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3) The words of John 1:3 make it impossible for Jesus to be created by God. If nothing was made apart from Jesus making it, then Jesus Himself could not be a creation. He must have eternally existed, as John 1:1 teaches. He was in the beginning with God because He is eternally God.

Why then does Colossians 1:15 describe Jesus as “the firstborn of every creature?” The word “firstborn” in Colossians speaks to rank, not birth order. Paul is saying that Jesus is the chief over all creation. This becomes obvious in the next couple verses as Paul goes on to say, “By Him were all things created that are in heaven, and that are in earth . . . all things were created by Him, and for Him . . . that in all things He might have the preeminence.” Jesus is Creator and He is supreme over His creation. This great position is His so all will know He is most important.

Why then is Jesus called “the only begotten Son” of God? Jesus is the Son of God. He is God the Son, the second person of the Trinity. He is not the Son of God because in eternity past the Father caused the Son to come into existence. Jesus is the Son of God because that is the title given to Him in Scripture which describes the eternal relationship which exists between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus is the only begotten Son of God because He is God the Son who was begotten of God as a human being. The begottenness of Jesus is not a description of how the Son came to exist, but of how the Son became a man.

The New Testament consistently declares that Jesus is God, the Creator of all things and the Savior of men. He is “the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, which is, which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8) Jesus was not created by the Father. He had no beginning and will have no ending.

What is God’s “still small voice”?

When seeking the will of God, some Christians counsel that we should be listening for the still small voice of God. When we are at peace, prayed up and waiting on the Lord, then He will speak quietly to the soul to make His will known.

The phrase “still small voice” comes from 1 Kings 19:12. At Mount Carmel the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal to a test to see who was the true God. Though 400 prophets of Baal spent most of the day praying for their god to send fire heaven, their false god did not hear. Elijah offered a simple prayer to Jehovah and God sent fire from heaven that consumed Elijah’s sacrifice and the altar it was offered on. After this dramatic victory, the Queen Jezebel swore to put Elijah to death. In fear for his life, Elijah fled. Over six weeks later he was 300 miles away at Mount Sinai. There on Mount Sinai God spoke to Elijah.

While Elijah was camped in a cave, a strong wind blew that broke the rocks in pieces, but God was not in the wind. An earthquake shook the mountain, but God was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but God was not in the fire. After all those terrifying events there came a quiet gentle whisper, the sound of silence. When Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave and God spoke with Him.

The lesson many take from this passage is that God speaks to us quietly in a way that is often very hard to hear. If we will just listen carefully God will tell us His will. However, 1 Kings 19 has nothing to do with how Christians today find the will of God. Even if it did, the passage does not prove what is being asserted. God did not speak to Elijah in a still small voice. After Elijah heard the still small voice he went out of the cave. Then God spoke with Him. The conversation that Elijah had with God was clear and audible. God asked Elijah a question, Elijah answered and God gave Elijah specific instructions. When God began to speak with Elijah, there was no whispering involved. There was no gentle prompting of the heart. God spoke clearly.

If the still small voice is not God whispering to our soul, what is it? The still small voice was part of an object lesson to Elijah. Elijah was a fiery prophet who had just come from a great, dramatic victory. After the victory the people praised God, the prophets of Baal were put to death, God sent rain to end a 3 1/2 year drought. Things were going great, God’s power was on display and then Jezebel threatened Elijah’s life. In an incredible emotional reaction, Elijah fled to Mount Sinai.

At Mount Sinai Elijah saw the fire, felt the earthquake, heard the roaring wind, but God is not in them. God is not using those things to reveal Himself to His people. Instead, God was doing something else. God’s plan is not for a dramatic display of His power. God planned to do something even more effective- the quiet, almost unnoticed work. God was telling Elijah that He can and does work just as powerfully in the quiet as in the dramatic.

The still small voice of God is not the secret whisper of His will to your heart. The still small voice of God was an illustration to Elijah that God works in ways that are easy to overlook. God’s gentle goodness works powerfully to accomplish His perfect purposes. We do not need to listen for a still small voice in our hearts telling us God’s will. God speaks to men today just as clearly as He did to Elijah. His words are not audible, they are written down clearly for all to see and understand.

What are “idols of the heart?”

Idolatry is common around the world and has been for almost all of recorded history. Most civilizations have a long history of extensive idol worship. In America and most western cultures very few people bow to idols, make offerings to statues or worship carved images. However, the absence of outward trappings of idolatry does not mean Americans do not worship idols. Theologians have long warned of a hidden idolatry, the worship of “idols of the heart”. John Calvin said, “man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”

An idol is something that a person devote himself to or trusts in for ultimate satisfaction, security or salvation. An idol is anything that is loved more than God. Tim Keller says, “It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. … An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.”

The phrase “idols of the heart” comes from Ezekiel 14. In the third verse God says that certain elders of Israel had “set up idols in their heart.” Though they were maintaining the outward practices of true worship, in their heart they were worshiping false gods. In the next verse God warns, “Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart . . . I the Lord will will answer him . . . according to the multitude of his idols.” God evaluates idolatry based upon the attitudes of the heart, not just the actions of the individual. God views heart idolatry to be as severe a sin as external idolatry.

A person can maintain all the external features of faithful worship of God while harboring in his heart a pantheon of false gods. Jesus said, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” (Matthew 15:8) The greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. (Mark 12:30) Loving something more than God not only breaks the great commandment, it is idolatry. In Deuteronomy 11 God promised Israel He would bless them if they remembered His command to “to love your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and soul.” He then warned them of judgment if they “turn aside, and serve other gods, and worship them.” Breaking the great commandment breaks the first commandment. To love something more than God is to worship idols.

First John ends with the command, “Little children keep yourself from idols.” The first commandment forbids idolatry. “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3) Idolatry is so significant that Scripture repeatedly warns that those who practice idolatry without repentance show themselves not to be the children of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) Idolatry goes much deeper than bowing before carved statues of false gods. Idolatry is found in a heart that loves and desires something more than God.