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I was recently thinking about the passage in exodus that talks about how the Israelites fell into sin while Moses was up on the mountain. God said that he would destroy all the Israelites but Moses interceded for them and asked that God spare them and he did.

Can God change his mind about these things, especially when it comes to decisions of mercy?

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Welcome to the site. When you get a chance, you should read the FAQ and About pages, and meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1379/… As phrased, this is what's referred to as a "Truth" question, and may wind up getting closed. Various branches within Christianity tend to have different answers for questions, and we usually try to avoid "what is true" and focus on "what does denomination X teach". Accordingly, I tried to answer in a way that addresses your question from several perspectives. –  David Stratton May 9 '13 at 1:02
    
Also, this is very close to being a duplicate of christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/5220/does-god-change I think it's just different enough to stand on its own, but yo should check out the answers there as well. –  David Stratton May 9 '13 at 1:06
    
This is a bit of a truth question. It would perhaps be better to ask how one side of the issue justifies their position. –  Narnian May 9 '13 at 12:07
    
What you are asking about is the doctrine of impassability. Catholics & Protestants (not to mention other parts of the spectrum) have widely divergent views on the subject. Normally, I'm not a "Specify the denomination"-Nazi, but in this case, in order to get an answer, you need to specify. –  Affable Geek May 9 '13 at 12:37
    
While most Christians may believe that he cannot change his mind. IMHO, he can and does as seen in the bible (he is the "LIVING" God afterall - which implies change). With Jacob wrestling with God, with Abraham arguing with God, etc. While this can be explained as, "God knew all long that he will argue with him" it's really not practical or logical. I left this a comment as I'm sure it would have been down voted and I agree with Narnian that this is a truth question and one that cannot be answered definitively. alongthewaybybw.blogspot.com/2007/03/arguing-with-god.html –  The Freemason May 9 '13 at 16:35

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

According to most Christian traditions, God cannot change His mind.

There are those that teach that He can change His mind, a position inherent in Open Theism. However, this is seen as a heresy by most orthodox Christian traditions. It denies the omniscience of God.

From http://www.reformationtheology.com/2011/07/does_god_ever_change_his_mind.php

In recent years though a new movement has emerged called Open Theism. This movement has taken Arminianism to its logical intellectual conclusion. Knowing the "problem" that complete knowledge of the future means that the future is fixed, they have consciously taken the position that God does NOT know the future at all. They argue that because the future does not yet exist, even God does not know of it.

In layman's terms, if He were to change His mind, it would mean that He was mistaken in the first place. This flies in the face of the doctrines of Omniscience and infallibility.

There are several passages in Scripture where God appears to change His mind, for example, in cases where He has promised judgment and then "repents". In those cases, the people repent and turn toward God, and God spares them the judgment He had promised.

I these cases, He is not changing his mind. had they continued in their sins he would have carried out the promised judgment. However, since the people repented, He was able to show his mercy. Further, since God knows the beginning from the end, He knew in advance that they would repent. He knew that his judgment would not be necessary.

There's a fine article explaining this in further depth at Grace Online Library.

Excerpt:

The biblical narratives in which God appears to repent, or change His mind, are almost always narratives that deal with His threats of judgment and punishment. These threats are then followed by the repentance of the people or by the intercessory petitions of their leaders. God is not talked into “changing His mind.” Out of His gracious heart He only does what He has promised to do all along – not punish sinners who repent and turn from their evil ways. He chooses not to do what He has every right to do.

This is consistent with the Catholic teaching as well.

In hearing our prayer God does not change His will or action in our regard, but simply puts into effect what He had eternally decreed in view of our prayer. This He may do directly without the intervention of any secondary cause as when He imparts to us some supernatural gift, such as actual grace, or indirectly, when He bestows some natural gift. In this latter case He directs by His Providence the natural causes which contribute to the effect desired, whether they be moral or free agents, such as men; or some moral and others not, but physical and not free; or, again, when none of them is free. Finally, by miraculous intervention, and without employing any of these causes, He can produce the effect prayed for.

And Reformed Theology:

In reading certain narrative portions of Scripture, some have incorrectly concluded that God changes His mind. Yet the Bible is clear that not only does God not change in His essential nature (Mal. 3:6) but that He does not repent or change His mind. The Bible actually teaches this in a didactic portion. "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?" Numbers 23:19.

For the sake of argument though, lets try to imagine God literally changing His mind. I want to explain how this concept is inseparably linked with God's omniscience because for God to change His mind, He would need to make a decision and then be given new information He did not have before, so that He could either see the error of His ways, or choose a better course of action. It is important we see this.For God to change His mind, it would mean that God is learning new material as each day unfolds, and because you and I make that information known to God, or He sees that plan A is not working too well, because He is now armed with new information, He can make a better decision than the one He did previously. However, this idea would totally undermine God's exhaustive knowledge of future events (His omniscience) one of the very attributes of God. Such a thought is unthinkable. He would not be the all knowing God Scripture declares Him to be if indeed He ever learnt something. No, He has always had total, complete and infinite knowledge of all things from all eternity past.

Thus, the answer would appear to be "no" from the perspective of the major branches of Christianity.

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"but in all of those cases, it's speaking of an impending judgment from God." -- Really? What about Exodus 4, where God appears to change his mind, and agree to Moses' wishes to send Aaron? There's no impending judgment there. –  Flimzy May 9 '13 at 7:44
    
@Flimzy Good point. That was badly worded. In the passage you cite, however, God didn't change His mind and send Aaron instead of Moses, He tells Moses to take Aaron to speak for Moses, who in turn speaks for God. There's also no reason to assume God didn't know Moses would come up with excuses ahead of time. That would deny God's omniscience. It's reasonable to assume that God's plan was to send them both all along. He knew what Moses' objections would be before He laid the foundations of the earth, much less before Moses objected. He let Moses object, and steered Moses to His original plan. –  David Stratton May 9 '13 at 11:41
    
@DavidStratton Would you be open to editing in a mention of impassability? This is a good answer, but naming the doctrine would help it... –  Affable Geek May 9 '13 at 16:27
    
@AffableGeek - Edit away. –  David Stratton May 10 '13 at 0:32

Exodus 32:11-14 (NASB):

11 Then Moses entreated the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. 13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your [a]descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your [b]descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” 14 So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.

Moses appeals to God not to destroy the Israelites, and without any sign of the Israelites's actual repentance, God relents. Most translations actually use the word "repent", some say "changed His mind." Those are the facts of the case.

The passage shows the power of prayers for mercy in causing a loving God to "repent" or "change His mind" about the punishment of people who have not yet been successful in getting their act together, in choosing righteous behaviors. The passage does not say He is fickle, indecisive, of poor resolve, or capricious.

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When something is perfect, there is no need to change it. God is perfect. Therefore, He does not need to change His mind.

Malachi 3:6 (ESV) “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.

However, there are occasions in the Bible when God seems to change His mind. God, we find changes His mind in some instances like when He accomplishes His stated objective or when He accepts the necessary change/renewal (conversion of heart) from those who have gone astray from His commands or when He has some plan for His people but they refuse to trust Him and so on.

In Genesis 6, God says He is “grieved” that He had made humans and chooses to destroy all of them except Noah and his family. When Jonah preached to the people of Nineveh, God “repented” of what He was going to do, and the city was spared (Jonah 3:10).

When the Bible mentions God’s “sorrow” or the “changing of His mind,” it expresses in human terms the fact that sin bothers God. Because of sin, people deserve judgment, and sometimes judgment takes place (like with the Flood during Noah’s time). At other times, the sinners repent, and God responds with mercy instead of wrath.

God has many times changed His mind when it is necessary for Him to show mercy. This nature of God is revealed to us by Jesus through His teaching in the Parable of the Compassionate Father(Luke 15:11-32).

We also find that the punishment for wrong doing in Old Testament is different and much harsher than in New Testament. God gave perceptibly different kinds of laws in OT as compared to NT. In OT, God was sustaining and refining His chosen people like silver refined through fire, as they were living in a primitive age as a tribe, in a wild environment surrounded by ferocious people. Over the years, they were being changed into a more civilised society.

In OT we find that God commanded death penalty for many acts: Murder (Ex, 21.12), kidnapping (Ex. 21.16), bestiality (Ex. 22.19), Adultery (Lev. 20.10), homosexuality (Lev. 20.13), Being false prophet (Deu. 13.5) Prostitution and rape (Deu. 22.24) etc. These laws were commanded by God and were perfectly compatible only with that time. Same God later on keeping with time, taught non-violence, mercy, love and compassion through His Son Jesus (Matt. 5:38-39, 5:43-44 so on).

So all those instances where we find God change His mind is not because He is not Omniscience or infallible but because of the necessity of the time and conduct of His people.

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