Last week, someone asked me to clarify the question: “Does God change His mind?” Since the evidence I presented only covered 2 situations, they seem to think the answer needed amplification. So, over the next 2 weeks, I will try to give a more thorough treatment.
Malachi 3:6 declares, “I the LORD do not change.” Similarly, James 1:17 tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” Num. 23:19 is clear: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?”
Based on these verses, no, God does not change. God is unchanging and unchangeable. He is also all-wise. So, He cannot “change His mind” in the sense of realizing a mistake, backtracking and trying a new tack.
How then do we explain verses that seem to say that God does change His mind? Verses such as Gen. 6:6, “The LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” Ex. 32:14 proclaims, “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened.” The story in Jonah 3 also seem to indicate the Lord “repenting” or “relenting” of something and seem to contradict the doctrine of God’s immutability.
There are two important considerations involving the passages that say God changed His mind. According to www.gotanswers.org, First, we can say statements such as “the LORD was grieved that He had made man on the earth” (Gen. 6:6) are examples of anthropopathism (or anthropopatheia).
Anthropopathism is a figure of speech in which the feelings or thought processes of finite humanity are ascribed to the infinite God. It’s a way to help us understand God’s work from a human perspective. In Gen 6:6 specifically, we understand God’s sorrow over man’s sin. God obviously did not reverse His decision to create man. The fact that we are alive today is proof that God did not “change His mind” about the creation.
Second, we must make a distinction between conditional declarations of God and unconditional determinations of God. In other words, when God said, “I will destroy Nineveh in 40 days,” He was speaking conditionally upon the Assyrians’ response. We know this because the Assyrians repented, and God did not, in fact, carry out the judgment. God did not change His mind; rather, His message to Nineveh was a warning meant to provoke repentance, and His warning was successful.
An example of an unconditional declaration of God is the Lord’s promise to David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). There is no qualification expressed or implied in this declaration. No matter what David did or did not do, the word of the Lord would come to pass.
Next week, we will explore the cautionary nature of God’s declarations and how entirely consistent he is in his treatment of his creation.