Does God change His mind?
The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. – Lamentations 3:22
1 Samuel 15:29 “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 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” (ESV)
1 Samuel 15:29 And he who is the Glory of Israel will not lie, nor will he change his mind, for he is not human that he should change his mind!” (NLT)
“I may be wrong regarding any or all of them; but holding it a sound maxim, that it is better to be only sometimes right, than at all times wrong, so soon as I discover my opinions to be erroneous, I shall be ready to renounce them” (Abraham Lincoln).
It is difficult to admit that we all make mistakes. Even the best of us, including the likes of Abraham Lincoln. But what of God the Father? Does He make mistakes? Does He find it necessary to change? And what about immutability? If God is immutable, what actually changes?
Immutability is an attribute of God. God is unchanging in His character, will, and covenant promises.” God does not change His being, perfections, purposes, or promises (Berkhof). The Westminster Shorter Catechism says that “[God] is a spirit, whose being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth are infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.” Those things do not change.
Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
What can change? We are often puzzled, if not perplexed, regarding this question.
The confusion has to do with the difference between the Father’s divine attributes and His characteristics as a person. The Father’s attributes never change. But in personal interactions with people, He reacts. He feels joy and sadness. He feels satisfaction but also regret.
Stop to think about it. The Father, the Lord God omnipotent, indeed interacts with mere humans in space and time. He is watching and paying attention. He is sensitive and aware of the smallest details. He cares. He becomes personally involved. The Father responds to us when we respond to Him. He chooses to be in a personal relationship with us. He reacts.
How can we possibly describe this interaction? The human intellect is limited and unable to comprehend it fully. Also, there is a paucity of the human language to describe it. We can only make feeble attempts to explain our limited understanding of the personality and characteristics of the Father and His interactions with us. But a place to start might be to think of Him as responding and reacting rather than repenting and changing His mind.
“God is no robot. We know him as a personal, living God, not a static principle, who while having transcendent purposes to be sure also engages intimately with his creation. Our God is incomparably affected by, even pained by, the sinner’s rebellion . . .. Rather, his feelings and actions toward men, such as judgment or forgiveness, are always inherently consistent with his essential person and just and gracious resolve (James 1:17)” (Constable).
REFLECT & PRAY
When we change, He responds.
Father thank You that You are always willing to receive me just as I am.
Several Scriptures refer to the Father changing His mind. He relents and often reveals a sense of regret (Genesis 6:5-6, Exodus 32:14, Jonah 3:10, 2 Samuel 24:16).
The English word rendered regret, repent, relent, and change one’s mind comes fromthe Hebrew nacham. Nacham is an onomatopoeia; it sounds like the action that connotes: drawing breath forcibly, panting, or groaning. Visualize a disappointing loud sigh. The term reflects and extends the idea of “breathing deeply,” hence the physical display of one’s feelings, usually sorrow, compassion, or comfort (TWOT).
The Hebrew term nacham signifies a state of sorrow or regret regarding a perceived wrong. Embedded within is the desire to change or cease a particular course of action.
It is a response, a change of heart, in reaction to the actions of others. It has the sense of changing one’s mind, being sorry, repenting, relenting, regretting, grieving, being moved to pity, or having compassion.
While nacham is typically translated as repent, relent, or change mind, and appropriate, but is somewhat wordy paraphrase might be:
The Father being sensitive and in a relationship with a man, interacts and responds.
Immutability has nothing to do with it.
It is like trying to compare apples and oranges. On the one hand, immutability has to do with the attributes of God and the promises He makes. His character and nature are immutable. While interacting and responding to people has to do with the personality of God.
In 1 Samuel 15, the Hebrew word nacḥamexpresses two contrasting, seemingly polar opposite sentiments.
1 Samuel 15:11 “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.”
1 Samuel 15:29 The Glory of Israel does not go back on his word or change his mind, for he is not a human being who changes his mind.”
When the Scriptures speak of the Father not changing His mind, the focus is on His integrity. He does not lie, nor does He go back on His word. He is consistent and can be trusted. Our faith in His promises rests upon this foundation.
Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?
Titus 1:2 This truth gives them confidence that they have eternal life, which God – who does not lie – promised them before the world began.
People are fickle and capricious. They flip-flop. The Father does not. He does not capriciously change His intentions or ways of acting. However, when people or circumstances change, the Father responds to the changes. As a result of Saul’s change in behavior, the Father expresses regret. Often the Father graciously responds to changes in people’s circumstances and conditions.
In the book of Jeremiah, when the people repent and change their ways, the Father repents and changes His mind in response (Jeremiah 8:6, Jeremiah 31:19). The same is true of human prayer. The Father responds to the pleas of Amos on behalf of Israel (Amos 7:3, 6).
Father has chosen to interact with people in the space-time continuum. He reacts to our decisions and prayers. How marvelous that the Father, the Almighty God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, the one who holds all creation together by the power of his will, desires close communion with His human creatures.
When the Scriptures refer to God repenting or changing His mind, it’s not because something unexpected happened and He was taken off guard. The Father knows all things all the time including every eventuality. The Father has infinite and complete knowledge. From eternity past, He knew exactly how everything was going to happen.
As people change their attitudes and actions, a different aspect of His character is more fitting. So it was with Nineveh. When they were in sin, the Father reacted out of justice and warned of coming destruction. He responded with loyal love, compassion, and mercy when they repented. He forgave them.
The Father delights in responding to our change of heart, our repentance. He interacts and responds.
Does prayer change the Father’s mind? No, emphatically no. It is just the opposite. The Father’s infinite, eternal mind works to change our prayers to conform with His will. Pause and consider that.
He richly pours out His love and forgiveness on the undeserving. It matters not what we have done or how many times we did it. He takes great pleasure in restoring the children of the King to close fellowship with Him. The Father is always willing to begin again. Do-overs are an ever-present reality from His loving heart.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father, without the burden
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changes not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.