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Historically, one of the attributes of God that provided the most comfort to many people was his unchanging nature - God is "the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow." (Hebrews 13:8) Additionally, Malachi 3:3 says, "I am the Lord, I do not change." and Numbers 23:19 reminds us that God is not a man, and thus does not "repent". This doctrine of God's immutability gave solace to those, frankly, frightened of a changing world.

On the other hand, there are places where God "changes his mind" (Exodus 32 / Numbers 16) and even "regrets" making humanity (Genesis 6:6 - translated repents in the KJV!) but fundamentally the question is this:

Does the God of the Bible change and grow, as say, a progressive theologian (or is that process theologian I forget!) would maintain, or is God's constancy his defining characteristic?

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Interesting; I'll be intrigued by the answers. In particular (not sure if it is what you had in mind), despite the oft-stated immutability, there is a notable difference in approach between OT and NT, both in terms of willingness to be a direct (rather than indirect) hand, and in the nature of the message (NT is undeniably less brutal). Even the "(infinite time)(then creates world)" is a change. Interesting topic. –  Marc Gravell Jan 5 '12 at 13:50
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I would appreciate references to passages that you think are contradicting. That would offer a precise starting point for answering. –  user1121 Jan 5 '12 at 13:52
    
related (from Catholic perspective): christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/4169/… –  Peter Turner Jan 5 '12 at 15:42
    
@PeterTurner good catch. This may be a duplicate :) –  Affable Geek Jan 5 '12 at 15:48
    
I wouldn't vote to close though, especially since I was looking for the reasoning behind an orthodox answer and you're posing the question directly. You may want to change the focus and just ask about the 'progressive' viewpoint though since the answers will probably yes and no depending on what you want to believe. –  Peter Turner Jan 5 '12 at 15:53
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Historical Christian teaching says that God is perfect. If he were to change, that would make him not perfect. Or else it would mean that he wasn't yet perfect, and had to change to become perfect. Therefore, if God changes, he is not perfect; if he is perfect, he does not change. It also implies time -- there was a time that he was something different than he is now.

References to God changing his mind have appeared to me to be a literary device, or a way of explaining things that we can understand. Change implies time, as Sam notes, and since we are in time, we can really only understand things within time. By describing God as changing his mind, it is describing him within time, but also in a way that we can understand. That is not because he does change, but because there is no way for us to understand what is really happening outside of time.

For another example of time based words for something outside of time, consider the concept of the Son proceeding from the Father, or the Father begatting the Son. Those words imply time, and yet are used to describe something eternal and outside of time.

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Doesn't this assume that change is always for better or worse, and that it's impossible to change between two equally good (or even perfect) states? I'm not sure that's a given. –  hammar Jan 5 '12 at 21:47
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This would also imply that we will not change in heaven, which to me seems strange since we won't grow. However, even Jesus (who was perfect) grew in wisdom. –  Wikis Jan 5 '12 at 21:52
    
Will we be perfect in heaven? Or just sinless? Jesus grew in wisdom, but was also fully man, and was at that time bound in time. Of course he changed as a person, since he had to grow from a baby to an adult. I don't think sinless and changeless are synonomous. –  thursdaysgeek Jan 5 '12 at 23:31
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Agree with @hammar. Perfection doesn't imply inability to change—in fact, inability to change is often (if not always) a flaw in itself. The outside of time argument is better, but as you note yourself, sometimes God puts himself into time (life of Christ, etc.). –  Muke Tever Jan 7 '12 at 17:15
    
The word 'change' implies time: I was this then, and am now that. Perhaps, with two equally good options, two perfect options, God is both. That isn't change, however. –  thursdaysgeek Jan 9 '12 at 23:25
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I think that the question of God's immutability must be considered as two distinct questions:

  • Is the shared concept of God which is acknowledged by religious people of a Christian tradition (or a Muslim, Jewish, or Samaritan tradition), at least those that tend to agree that they are talking about the same thing, one of an immutable thing?
  • Is God, as described in the Bible, the figure of Yahweh, an immutable character in His descriptions?

The two questions are not the same, since the Bible is only a finite collection of symbols, and it is impossible to capture an infinitely complex notion with a finite character string. I think the answer to the first question is "yes", because the notion of God is outside of space and time, as an abstract figure in an external realm.

An analogy might be made with the notion of "integer", or of "shape". Both of these are outside of space and time, they live in the world of mathematical objects. They are described in Euclid's elements, and in modern mathematical textbooks in different ways. Does this mean that the concept of "17" changed between ancient times and today? Not really. It simply reflects that the notion of integer is infinite and infinitely rich, and we discover new aspects of this notion with time, so that we describe them in a different way today. It does not invalidate Euclid to say that we now can conceive of a larger world of shape and integers than Euclid could.

Similarly, the notion of God has evolved. Within the Catholic tradition, people say the same thing by saying that revelation is gradual, that new aspects of God are revealed in time (see Gregory of Nazianzu's position on the gradual revelation of the Trinity, from revealing the Father in the old testament, to the Son in the Gospels, to the Holy Spirit active in individuals, which has the capacity to inform those in the Church of Divine opinion regarding new developments), so that the conception of God is gradually enriched. This means that things that were once considered the word of God, like the rules governing slaves and multiple wives, are replaced with different rules in context, like the rules of not permitting slavery and polygamy.

It is not clear to me that the concept of God in the old and new testaments, with its authoritarian tone of submission to state authority and its disrespect for pagan belief systems and their complex artwork, is optimal for the ethical concerns which are most pressing in our day. For example, when the Taliban wrecked those Buddhas of Baminyan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhas_of_Bamiyan), they claimed to be acting in God's service. But it's one thing to break an idol used for human sacrifice and another to shatter an image that reflects a deep meditative tradition.

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Ok, I just read what you wrote as, after the Bible the Catholic Church just started making up new things and calling them revelation (dogmas and visions and sacraments). Which I guess was one of C.S. Lewis's gripes with the Church. I'd think all Christians would say that the Holy Spirit is at work in individuals, whether He helps them establish a canon of scripture, choose a pope, heal a leper, cure a paralytic or discern who to marry. –  Peter Turner Jan 6 '12 at 15:24
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"it's one thing to break an idol used for human sacrifice and another to shatter an image that reflects a deep meditative tradition" - ignoring, for the moment, that the Taliban is an islamic government, and therefore not related to Christianity at all, the "deep meditative tradition" of Buddhism is as abhorrent in God's eyes as was the child sacrifices to Molech - they are equally evil since they do not worship the One True God, but something man has created. –  warren Jan 6 '12 at 15:47
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See my comment on your other answer but this is not a place for general philosophizing on a topic or discussing other religions. We are looking for verifiable (with links or quotes to doctrinal writings of specific Christian traditions given on request) answers about how Christianity views an issue. –  Caleb Jan 6 '12 at 16:49
    
<Obsolete and unconstructive comments removed.> –  El'endia Starman Jan 7 '12 at 6:12
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@warren as you know very well, Islam claims to worship the same Abrahmic God - the crossover with OT views on God is not unreasonable. –  Marc Gravell Jan 7 '12 at 10:18
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Open Theism says, "yes," as do a few other belief systems I can't recall.

I say, "no." If God were to change, then there would be some timeline (not necessarily the one we age through) that He was subject to and there would be some governing set of rules that governed God's mutability.

To view this problem from another angle, if God changes, then there is some element of creation that He either does not control or is unaware of. A knowledge that is beyond Him. He ceases to be all and is subject to either entirely to this other source of knowledge or the concept of God is now distributed between God and the other holder of knowledge.

I hope that's helpful. It's a bit more philosophy than exegesis. :)

As for that particular passages you're referring to, they are typically interpreted as God acting in human terms. When Moses or Abraham contend with God and He relents, it should be taken as the author intends it, to show God's condescension to His creation.

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It is more philosophy - for this reason: When people say 'God does not change' they refer to his character. But this character gets revealed in the bible only in pieces. The more is revealed, the better the picture. However: Just because an act of a character changes, that does not mean that the character behind it changes. You simply get to see more of the picture. –  user1121 Jan 5 '12 at 14:20
    
Well put. Thank you. –  sam Jan 5 '12 at 14:22
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Sorry, @sam, but your argumentation does not hold water. For example: What if it is His plan to change? You can't at the same time assume that He is almighty and yet unable to change. Hence, you have to argue that for some reson he does not want to change. But then you're pretending to know Gods plans .... –  Ingo Jan 5 '12 at 15:39
    
I'd be glad to walk you through the details, Ingo. Propose a change that you believe God can effect on Himself and remain God. –  sam Jan 5 '12 at 21:25
    
@sam The Bible shows God entering into covenants with men. If a covenant does not involve a change to act according to that covenant—whether promising to act as one was already acting or promising to act as one did not intend to act—then it is no covenant at all. –  Muke Tever Jan 7 '12 at 17:37
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Necessity is the mother of invention. Does God invent new things?

Man has now found out that the Universe is "expanding. Is God similarly becoming bigger, and is He growing in Wisdom?

Bible says that "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." That statement begs a question "In the beginning of what?" . But it clearly says that God did create something. which means it did not exist before. God created something because he felt a need for it, which means that he was not satisfied with the situation before the creation, which is why he decided to create something.

So there must have been a change in God before and after creation, because after each creation, he remarked " that it was good".

And later, God was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and said He was grieved in His heart. "I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them" (Gen. 6:6-7).

I [the Lord] regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands (1 Sam. 15:11).

So God's plans sometimes backfires, and he has to change his plans to correct them. But we believe that He will succeed in the end.

So God changing his character must be like how an actor can play double role in a movie, and maintain his true charachter outside the sets.

But then is God playing roles in this world?

Many people believe that this world is just a make-believe, and does not actually exist. It is just a toy God has made for his children to teach them values and truths.

Is the Bible that says "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." also a fairy story written by God for his children to teach them values and truths?

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