Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Does God change?


Introduction

The apostle Paul affirms that Man everywhere know who God is because God has made it plain to them.[1] Even those who do not have special revelation as the Jews have some consciousness of God’s invincible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature but have suppressed the truth by their unrighteousness and failed to honour him as God. Born from this suppression is the endless form of idolatry of man’s supposed knowledge of who God is, manifesting itself in the Athenian inscription to the “unknown god”.[2] The apostle made clear the magnitude of their error and boldly proclaimed the truth and nature of who God is given the Athenians an opportunity to be saved. This essay will briefly highlight the essential nature of God as revealed in the bible and then discuss whether it can be argued from the bible whether God changes.

 Andrew S. Kulikovsky in his article[3] the Nature of God presents ten essential attributes which constitutes God’s nature. The ten attributes listed by Kulikovsky are also agreed on by other theologians such as Wayne Grudem presenting similar attributes in his Bible doctrine and A.W Pink in his classical work The attributes of God writes in agreement.[4] The Ten essential attributes of God’s nature according to Kulikovsky are:

Spiritual
Self existence and Eternal
Personal
Triune
Immanent and Transcendent
Finite and Infinite
Immutable
Omnipresent
Omniscient
Omnipotent

These attributes listed by Kulikovsky are founded upon biblical text as revealed in the bible. For example in John 4:24, Jesus declares that “God is Spirit” and therefore his worshipers must worship him in “spirit and in truth.” This predicate is clearly adjectival and indicates that God is essentially spiritual.[5] Thus, God does not have a physical body, nor is he made of any kind of matter like much of the rest of creation.

God’s self existence and eternality can be found in biblical texts such as Psalm 102:24-27 which states:

“O my God, I say, take me not away in the midst of my days -- you whose years endure throughout all generations! Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end”.

Moses tells us that God existed before there was any creation: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”[6] The grounds of God’s existence is himself, being from all eternity self-sufficient possessing no deficiencies or lacking in happiness. God is not dependent upon any part of creation for his existence or nature while the rest of creation are entirely dependant on him.

The doctrine of the triune God or trinity is used to summarise the teaching of scripture that God is three persons yet one God. The doctrine of the trinity may be defined as follows: God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God. This definition is based on numerous biblical texts such as Genesis 1:26, Isaiah 6:8, Psalm 45:6, John 1:1, Hebrews 1:8, Matthew 28:19, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 2Corinthians 13:14. Because God is triune He is therefore relational. This triune God creates humanity in his own image endowing humans with personality which demands a personal creator.

God’s Immanent and transcendence are rooted in the following biblical text Haggai 2:5, John 14-16, Isaiah 55:8-9 and Psalm 113:5-6. God’s Immanent is meant as God’s presence and activity within nature, human nature and history. God’s transcendence implies that God is separate from and independent of nature and humanity.[7]

The three Omni’s borrowed from the Latin term “all” are attributes which states that God is “all” present, has “all” knowledge and is “all” powerful. The Psalmist writes ‘where can I go from your Spirit (Omnipresent), Psalm 139:7, Elihu responding to Job declares ‘Do you know the balancing of the clouds, the wondrous works of him who is perfect in knowledge (Omniscient) Job 37:16 and Jeremiah says of God ‘that nothing is to hard for him,’ (Omnipotent) Jeremiah 32:17.

The scripture is abundantly clear that God does not change. The concept of a growing or evolving God who changes his eternal purposes is not to be found in the scriptures. “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob are not consumed,”[8] says Yahweh. God’s immutability does not imply that God is static or sterile but that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. God is unchanging in his knowledge and plans, neither does he have mood swings, nor do his affections and enthusiasm fade in intensity (James 1:170). The passages that indicates God changeableness will be looked at in the next section arguing that these passages are a case of anthropomorphisms. 




Does God change his mind and purposes

Orthodox theology has traditionally maintained the doctrine of divine immutability. By this it meant that although everything else in the universe  appears to undergo change. God does not. He is the unchanging eternal one. Wayne Grudem defines God’s immutability as the following: God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.[9] Not everyone agrees that God is unchangeable. The God of Open view theology is a changing God. God changes his mind and learns from our actions and reacts based upon those actions. 

Both classical theism (orthodox theology) and Open view theology support their views from the bible. I will now discuss whether it can be argued whether God changes from the bible by presenting the two verses that open theist love to champion as evidence of God’s changeableness.[10] By God’s changeableness classical theist or orthodox theology will agree that from a human perspective, God sometimes appear to change his plans, or his actions based on what people do but this is not so from God’s view point. While open view theology will argue the opposite that from God’s view point God actually changes because he repents and changes his mind therefore God’s plan can be thwarted.

Exodus 32:14 says “And the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.” John Sanders, an advocate of Open Theism, says this concerning Exodus 32:14:
Apparently, Moses has a relationship with God such that God values what Moses desires. If Moses interprets God’s intentions in an unfavorable way and God values his relationship with Moses, then God must either persuade Moses or concede his request.  It is unlikely that Moses presents God with new information.  The real basis for the change in God’s decision comes from a forceful presentation by one who is in a special relationship with God.  With Moses’ prayer, the decision-making situation is now altered for God.  Being in relationship with Moses, God is willing to allow him to influence the path he will take.  God permits human input into the divine future.  One of the most remarkable features in the Old Testament is that people can argue with God and win.[11]
Sanders main argument is that God can be persuaded to change his mind therefore God can change his purposes and plans and even relenting from purposes he had previously set to take place. Orthodox theologians respond to this suggested changeableness of God by appealing to a hermeneutical principle of anthropomorphism. John Calvin, a beloved theologian of the reformed tradition saw this as a case of anthropomorphism commenting on Genesis 6:6 which is another verse that open theist love to champion for God‘s changeableness,  “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart”. John Calvin writes:

The repentance which is here ascribed to God does not properly belong to him, but has reference to our understanding of him.  For since we cannot comprehend him as he is, it is necessary that, for our sake, he should, in a certain sense, transform himself. That repentance cannot take place in God, easily appears from this single consideration, that nothing happens which is by him unexpected or unforeseen.  The same reasoning, and remark, applies to what follows, that God was affected with grief.  Certainly God is not sorrowful or sad; but remains forever like himself in his celestial and happy repose: yet, because it could not otherwise be known how great is God’s hatred and detestation of sin, therefore the Spirit accommodates himself to our capacity.[12]

More text can be brought forward to support the hermeneutical principle of anthropomorphism for the biblical texts which seems to suggest that God changes his minds and purposes. For example Paul writes of God’s purposes before the creation of the world to save a people in 2 Timothy 1:9 “who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began”. And 1 Peter 1:20 declares that Jesus Christ “was made manifest in the last time for your sakes”. God had a plan and a purpose to save a people before the creation of the world and this plan and purposes was unchangeable as God his unchangeable, timely manifesting his purposes and plans in the last time for our sakes.


Conclusion

Scripture is abundantly clear that God cannot change, his nature and being is essentially the for all eternity. Although there is change in relationship for example his hatred towards sin nevertheless his being is the same as well as His purposes and plans. The passages in scripture which seems to indicate a changing God are cases of anthropomorphisms. As God himself declares “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob are not consumed.”[13]

K.Oni




[1] Romans 1:19
[2] Acts 17:23
[3] The Nature of God (2000) Andrew S. Kulikovsky
[4] Although Wayne Grudem and Pink uses different titles to describe the different attributes nevertheless they agree in the details.
[5] Ibid
[6] Psalm 90:2
[7] The Nature of God (2000) Andrew S. Kulikovsky
[8] MalachI 3:6
[9] Bible Doctrine (1999) Wayne Grudem
[10] The two passages are Genesis 6.6 and Exodus 32:14. Genesis 6.6 will be touched upon through John Calvin’s interpretation of the text.
[11] The God who risks: A theology of providence (1998). John Sanders
[12] Genesis, Calvin’s commentaries, vol 1, 248-249. John Calvin
[13] MalachI 3:6

1 comment:

  1. The main problem with the anthropomorphism argument is that they go against the natural reading of the text and that often the explanations given seem contrived. (Now sometimes one has to but one has to have a very strong reason for doing so).

    One should always ask - 'Anthropomorphism's of what?' What else is trying to be communicated when it says that God regretted making man? Why not just say God was upset? (though one wonders about how upset He could be as it was entirely predictable to Him as He knew about it (or even caused it - According to some brands of Calvinism).

    I feel Calvinists are locked into viewing scripture according to their world view. And it stems primarily from three things.

    1/ seeing time as a 'thing'. You can't go out and buy a bucket of time. It is merely a description of the succession of events - this happened, then that happened etc etc. Now if God didn't create it because it wasn't a thing. Then He isn't outside it. Then His acts and consciousness as in the flow of history also.

    2/ Having the view that the future is a totally fixed, specific, buttoned down thing. But if the future in fixed terms isn't real because it hasn't happened yet. Then God can't know it in specific terms because it isn't real in any sense. It is yet to be formed. God can't know the logically impossible. God can't know the colour of my daugheters hair. (Why? - because I don't have a daughter). Similarly God can't know the future in fixed terms. Why? Because the future hasn't happened yet and is open to the agents of free choice.

    3/ The immutability discussion which you have had above. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that God's experience isn't changing. In fact the wealth of versus emphasise the opposite.

    Now what's interesting is this. No where in any of the ancient creeds does it make an issue over God's knowledge of the future. Hence, this isn't a critical subject when it comes to someone's Christian identity. I do agree it has implications for how that faith is lived out on a daily basis. So you may disagree with my above comments. But does is it critical to one's salvation? I think not.

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