Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Our Unchanging, Flexible God


How Comforting That Ours Is An Unchanging God

  • “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Hebrews 13:8)
  • “For I, the Lord, do not change” (Malachi 3:6).
  • “God is not a man... that He should repent, has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)

Yet Our God At Times Changes His Mind

  • “And the Lord was sorry that He had made man” (Genesis 6:6)
  • “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people” (Exodus 32:14).

While some think that the above verses constitute a biblical contradiction, actually the second set of verses are necessary – if God is truly unchanging. Take for example the subject of mercy and forgiveness. God has made it very clear that part of His unchanging nature is that He desires that men would repent and that He continually stands ready to forgive (2 Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23). So in order to remain merciful, God needs to be flexible enough to “change” when the sinner repents, that is, His relationship with that person changes. In like manner, God has equally made it clear that sin will always be punished (Ezekiel 18:24; 2 Timothy 2:11-13). So God is equally flexible in acknowledging the truth that a formerly righteous man – may be no longer righteous. Thus God changes with the sinner, either recognizing that the sinner is now repentant and forgiven, or rebellious and lost. The same is true with nations. If a nation repents, He will bless them instead of punish, or if they go into sin, He will then punish them instead of continuing to bless them (Jeremiah 18:7-11). Thus, God’s nature does not change, and His will does not change, yet His relationships with nations and individuals can change.

1 Timothy 2:1-2: Prayer Matters

“First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, in order that we may lead of tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity”

From this passage it is obvious that prayer changes things, the future is not set in stone for God has not already decided every detail in advance.

Genesis 22:12: The Tests are Real

For centuries some commentators have been puzzled by God’s statement to Abraham in Genesis 22:12 “now I know that you fear God”. Some have thought, “Does this mean that God is not all-knowing?” Obviously God has omniscience from the fact that He predicted events centuries before their arrival (Daniel 2:36ff; Isaiah 53:1ff; Isaiah 45:1ff), and He was able to flawlessly bring about His plan for redemption in Jesus (Galatians 4:4). Yet here is what we learn about this particular situation with Abraham:

  • The tests that we experience in this life are real. None of this is a game with God, and Abraham’s free will not be compromised. The results of the test are not locked in or pre-determined. Abraham can pass or fail. God has a lot invested in Abraham, including the future salvation of all mankind (Genesis 12:3); God needs to know if He can count on Abraham, or if He must adjust His plans or work though His other options. In Genesis 15:8, Abraham asked God for assurance, then God in turn asked Abraham for assurance. God’s purpose requires a faithful and obedient Abraham (Genesis 18:19).
  • Thus, if we fail a test, we cannot simply say, “Well, I guess that was meant to be”. No! Sin was never meant to be. Neither can we say, “Well, if I flake out, God’s plan will still be accomplished”. Yes, His overall plan will succeed, but we – and often our families, will suffer. 
  • So next time we are tested, the question often being asked is, “Can I count on you?”

“God will work in the world but typically not apart from people of faith. Human faith and action make a difference to God in the fulfillment of His plans” (The God Who Risks, John Sanders, p. 53).

Exodus 32:9-14: The God Who May Be Prevailed Upon

“The worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32) constituted a grievous breach of the covenant. God’s speech beings and ends with His telling Moses to leave Him immediately (32:7, 10). Moreover, God proclaims that the Israelites are Moses’ people, thereby implying that they are not God’s. Finally, God informs Moses of a new plan of action. God will destroy the people and start over again with Moses. Moses, however, does not agree. He gives three reasons why God should not follow through on His threatened course of action (32:11-13). First, he says that the people belong to God, for God is the one who just delivered them. Second, the Egyptians may ascribe evil motives to God. Third, he reminds God of His promise to Abraham”(pp. 63-64). Obviously, to interpret this section as meaning that Moses was smarter than God or more merciful is the wrong point of view. Rather, God allows Moses to pour his heart’s desire out to Him.

First of all, God could have rebuked all of Moses’ reasons:

  • Yes, He delivered them, but because of their sin, He has no confidence in them and is under no moral obligation to keep them alive. In fact, in view of future rebellion (Numbers 13-14), this generation will die in the wilderness, and God’s plan to start over with Moses seems like the better plan when we see this event.
  • It really does not matter what the Egyptians think, God already had “healthy self-esteem”, and the Egyptians could equally learn that God judges sin even when it exists among His own people.
  • Finally, by making a great nation from Moses, God is still keeping His promise to Abraham.

Exodus 32:14 “So the Lord changed His mind”

God did not change His mind because His intentions were defective or His plan was flawed. Rather, God here permits human input concerning what the future holds. Thus, God honors Moses’ intercession and prayer, and views it as a “contribution to a conversation that has the capacity to change future directions for God’s people, and the world” (p. 64). We equally learn that God is patient, and often adjusts where He can to such prayers. “The picture of God presented to us throughout the Old Testament is that of a God who has chosen to work with, rather than just upon human beings, so that humans (in this case Moses) are given the chance, if they will accept the responsibility, to contribute to a future that will be different from what it would have been, had they remained passive” (p. 66).

Unchanging With Options

In this chapter (Exodus 32), whether God starts over with Moses or keeps the people alive, in both instances He is still faithful to His promise to Abraham and thus His goals of developing a people of faith and bringing about the Messiah are still unchanged. Yet God has different options available, and at times God allows human input. “God remains unchangeable in His commitment to this project of redemption but remains flexible regarding precisely when, where and how it is carried out” (p. 66).

2 Kings 20:1-6: Now Is Not A Good Time To Die

Hezekiah is told to set his house in order, for he will die and yet amazingly Hezekiah does not feel that Isaiah’s words imply a fixed future, for He prays to God, giving reasons why He should be allowed to live longer. God listens to the prayer and changes the options, and the future, giving Hezekiah 15 more years. Once again, we learn that God can be “open” to more than one option, that not all of the future is set in stone, and that He earnestly desires a real relationship with us. Clearly, He does not want to treat us like tools or puppets and this is not a game of cosmic chess with Him. He does not need our advice concerning morals, doctrine or truth, yet our input is welcome when it comes to things that contain alternatives. Before we move on, it is equally clear that not all options are open. David prays, yet his son still dies (2 Samuel 12:14, 22). God answers prayer – yet a “yes” answer is not always guaranteed.

James 4:2-3: Take Another Look At Your Prayer Life

“You do not have become you do not ask, you ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives”

From this verse is it clear that my prayers have not been predetermined and neither has every detail in my life. There are areas in which God may never respond – if they are never requested with the right motivation. Certain things may not happen – if we do not pray. Wow! Permit me to end this lesson with prayer!