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David Otten: Can God change his mind?

 
By David Otten
Contributing writer
updated: 10/26/2018 11:04 AM

Greetings from Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.

Does God change His mind? Can our actions or prayers be a factor in what God will do?

These are questions that have been asked many times in the past. There is a tension between Scriptural passages that proclaims God immutability and where he relents of an action.

Malachi 3:6 "I the Lord do not change," and Hebrews 13:8 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever," speak of God's immutability.

By contrast, in Genesis 18 (God's willingness to spare Sodom and Gomorrah), Exodus 32:7-14 (Moses begs for mercy on Israel's behalf and God relents destroying them), and 2 Kings 20:5-6 (God responds to King Hezekiah's prayer and does not take his life but promises him another 15 years to his life), we see where God is willing and does change His mind.

The great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas firmly stood on the side of God being immutable; that the appearance of change was just that, an appearance. Prayer does not change God's mind, but merely allows our mind to come around to where God is at.

I prefer to talk about a paradox, where both statements are true. One example is, I confess that Jesus is true God and true man. When I read of God's immutability, as in the passages above, they communicate to me that God is not unstable and He can be trusted with what He promises.

Then as I read of how He relented from acts of destruction or changes His mind in mercy, it communicates to me that God is not an unfeeling ironclad deity. God is ready and willing to change prior decisions in order to demonstrate His perfect love.

I believe that one needs to avoid an extreme view. Martin Luther rejected both extremes. He also ties this into his discussion of God being both hidden and revealed. To explore God as He is cloaked in His laws and foreknowledge, He is absolutely immutable. To approach Him as He reveals Himself in the love of Christ, who altered the curse God gave to mankind when Adam and Eve sinned, tells us God does change.

This enables me to truly believe that when I pray for a person's healing, a need of body and soul, or what is impossible with man, God can heal, provide and make it possible. Yet I must always pray, "Thy will be done."

I knew one man who refused to pray, for he believed that God had His mind made up and his prayers could not change anything. But James tells us, "The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working." (James 5:16)

Pray, God is listening.

• David Otten is pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Eldorado.