Dear Puzzled About God
God never changes His mind
July 1, 1994
I want to say again how much I appreciate your fellowship. I love gathering
with your family, and with Alan and Cindy's family. I hope, in this letter, to briefly answer your question about God intending
to wipe out Nineveh, and then relenting concerning it when the people there
repented. This is a difficult yet interesting study that will testify to the
sovereignty of God.
I hope this answer satisfy you. If it doesn't, please bring your questions
and arguments to the gathering Monday. This is one reason we gather-to sharpen
and challenge one another in the faith and in the Word of God, so that we can
arrive at a realization of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).
God is not a man
We have to keep in mind, first of all, that God is not a man. This seems
obvious, but we need to always remind ourselves of it, especially as God often
condescends in Scripture to speak of Himself in the terms of a man. Our first
"El (God) is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of humanity, that
He should feel regret; Does He say it and then not do it? Or speak, and then not
carry it out?" (Num. 23:19)
Having established this absolute truth early in Scripture, (absolute truth as
opposed to relative truth, that is, God's being as opposed to His methods),
God can now give Himself human attributes to help humans understand Him. This is a figure of speech known as
Condescension. When God is spoken of as if He were human, or were a part
of His creation, this is done in His condescension, so that He can reveal
Himself in terms within the range of human perception.
Examples of Divine Condescension
We know that God is absolutely invisible (Jn. 1:18, 1 Tim. 1:17), and that He
is not a man (Num. 23:19). Yet, in order for us to know Him, He condescends to
describe Himself as having a face (Mt. 18:10), eyes (Ps. 11:4), ears (Ps.
18:6), a mouth (Dt. 8:3), lips (Job 11:5), arms (Is. 62:8), hands (Ps. 8:6), and
feet (Is. 60:13). God neither literally nor absolutely has any of
these things. But he speaks of Himself as if He does, for the benefit of His
creatures, who cannot understand Him apart from human terms and perceptions.
For the sake of revelation, God also gives himself human feelings. He speaks
of Himself as troubled, grieving, happy, satisfied, angry, even as having hate.
Is God ruled by emotions, as we are? No, for God is not a man. Is His hate akin
to human hate? How could it be? He is God, and we are humans. Again,
these descriptions are God lowering Himself to a human level
(condescension), for human benefit, that humans might grasp something about Him.
We easily get off track when we confuse His condescension with His absolute
being. God is absolutely invisible and un-human. He condescends to
reveal Himself in terms of visible, human attributes. Don't confuse the two!
Where are you? What have you done?
Occasionally, God even condescends to ignorance. Consider Genesis 3:9, when
God asks Adam, "Where are you?" Did God really not know where
Adam was? Or consider Genesis 4:9,10 when God asks Cain, "Where is Abel
your brother?" and "What have you done?" Would we entertain for a
moment the idea that either sinful Adam or wicked Cain were able to inform the
Deity of something He didn't know? Heck no. This is God condescending to
reveal Himself within the sphere of His creatures' experience. In this case,
it was God employing condescension to bring both Adam and Cain to a stinging
awareness of their crimes. Of course God knew where Adam was. Of course
He knew where Abel was, and what had happened to him. Otherwise, He would
not be God. 1 John 3:20 says, "God knows everything." But He asked
these questions for the sake of His creatures.
Should anyone point to any of these passages to "prove" that God
didn't know where Adam or Abel were? I certainly wouldn't do it. I
would compare God's dealing with Adam and Cain to the parent asking the
frosting-faced child, "Have you been into the mixing bowl?" It is not
wrong for a parent to assume ignorance when child-training warrants it. Thus
also with God and His children.
God does not change His mind
We read absolute truth in 1Samuel 15:29:
"The Eminence of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a
man that He should change His mind."
The key part of this verse is, "He is not a man." Whenever God
disassociates Himself from humanity (and therefore is not apt to employ
condescension), we glimpse His absolute and ultimate nature. Absolutely and
ultimately, then (apart from His having to reveal Himself in the sensual realm),
God does not change His mind. Of this you can be assured. Let this truth
calm you and fill you with confidence in the sovereignty and wisdom and the
knowledge of God.
If ours was a God Who could be pulled this way or that by the whims of men,
what God would we have? No God! If ours was a God Who made mistakes, or said
hasty things He didn't mean, or abandoned Plan A for Plan B, or admitted to
error before the "wise" courts of humanity, how could we trust Him? We
couldn't! Can even Christians (wonderful, spiritual, all-knowing people that
they are) talk God into sending rain, for instance, a minute before He intends
to send it? No. Cripe, Sandi, what a horrifying universe it would be if the
diabolical Christian doctrine of "prayer changes things" were true.
Prayer and repentance never change God, thank God for that.
True prayer and repentance is that which conforms to the divine will-not
the other way around.
"And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that if we should be
requesting anything according to His will, He is hearing us" (1 Jn.
ACCORDING TO HIS WILL
What is the ultimate? Man's will, or God's?
God assumes change as a form of Condescension
Now we are able to read verses like Jeremiah 26:13 and Jonah 3:10 and
understand God's methods with man in the light of His ultimate nature apart
from him. Jeremiah 26:13 says, "Now therefore, amend your ways and your
deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will change His
mind about the misfortune which He has pronounced against you." Jonah 3:10
says, "When God saw their deeds, that they (the Ninevites) turned from
their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had
declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it."
In both these cases (as in the cases of Adam and Cain), God is dealing with
disobedient children, and is justified in speaking to them in the terms of
children, for their ultimate good. As far as the Israelites and the Ninevites
are concerned, God will change His mind if they do a certain thing. But as
far as God is concerned, God never changes His mind (1Sa 15:29).
One perception is from the viewpoint of men, the other from the divine
In condescending to the Ninevites, for example, (telling them through Jonah
the prophet, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown," Jo 3:4),
God causes their repentance, the very thing He had in mind all along. God never
did intend to overthrow Nineveh, but He is justified in assuming
the role of One Who would overthrow it, because this resulted in a
greater good, that is, in the repentance of the Ninevites. God is not playing
games, He is blessing His creatures. That God assumed the role of One Who would
overthrow Nineveh was the means to His will (that is, condescension; He
never willed to overthrow Nineveh), not His will itself (absolute; that the
Ninevites would repent).
A few more examples, then I will shut up
God did the same type of thing with the law. In Exodus 32:8, shortly after
the law came down from Sinai, God said concerning Israel, "They have
quickly turned aside from the way which I commanded them." In some places
in the Hebrew Scriptures, God actually comes across puzzled, surprised, and even
frustrated at the failure of His people to accomplish law. Could God ever be
frustrated? No. He only assumed these roles (condescension again), for
the sake of His people. It was absolutely essential to His
intention for Israel (and the world) that law fail, thus making room for
a Savior through Whom He would reveal His heart. For this to work effectively,
however, Israel had to honestly think and believe that they could do law.
For God's ultimate intention to work as well as it did (the intention
that Israel and a universe be saved by the might of His hand, by the blood of
His cross), it was essential that His people be ignorant of that very
plan-for a season.
We know through Paul in Romans 8:3 that the law was impossible to the
flesh. We know through Paul in Romans 8:20 that the law came that offense should
be increasing. We know through Paul in Galatians 2:16 that no flesh could be
justified by law even if it wanted to. Did not God know these things way
back at Sinai? Of course He did. Then why didn't He let on that He did?
It was for the sake of His ultimate goal. His plan for humanity was ironed out
before there was a humanity, for He is the One Who is "declaring the
end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done,
saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good
pleasure'" (Is 46:10). Can you see now how patient and
longsuffering God is in the gradual unfolding of His wise counsels?
Israel as a nation
Jesus said in Matthew 23:37, "Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How many times do
I want to assemble your children in the manner a hen is assembling her brood
under her wings-and you will not!"
This is our Lord condescending to the viewpoint of man. Had the people
received Him then, the kingdom would have come apart from His suffering and
death. This, of course, could not have been, seeing as He was "the Lambkin
slain from the foundation of the world" (Rv 13:8). And what blessings would
the nations have had, apart from Israel's apostasy? None (Rom. 11:12).
Jerusalem had to reject Him then, and He knew that. Yet He speaks from
the viewpoint of a man here (I believe Jesus is actually suffering, He actually
feels the pangs of rejection), yet for the benefit of man. Through this
saying, man sees his own faults and is moved to repentance. Have the ultimate
counsels of God been annulled? Never. Instead, THE ABSOLUTE COUNSELS OF GOD
STAND, and they are these:
1) "God gives them (Israel) a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be
observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day" (Ro 11:8).
2) "Callousness, in part, on Israel has come, until the complement of
the nations may be entering (Rom. 11:25).
3) "In their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to
jealousy" (Rom. 11:11).
4) "Now if their offense is the world's riches and their discomfiture
the nations' riches, how much rather that which fills them!" (Rom.
5) "For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world, what
will the taking back be if not life from among the dead?" (Rom. 11:15).
6) "And thus all Israel shall be saved, according as it is
written" (Rom. 11:25,26).
* * *
In conclusion, do not confuse God's means with His goals. Do not confuse
His condescension to men with His absolute nature apart from them. Do not
sacrifice His eternal sovereignty on the altar of His time-limited unveilings.
I hope I have been a help to you. It is the best I can do at this time. I
have to go downstairs and help Melody unpack the groceries now. Can we discuss
these things further at one of our meetings? I hope so.
May God be with you and your family, as He is.