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Does God Change His Mind?

This is a classic question to which finding a basic answer is actually not difficult. But since many confuse issues, this article will attempt to address the question.

Short Reply

Yes and No. It depends on what one means by “changing one’s mind”. God’s nature is unchanging but His external actions that influence creatures can change, including the possibility of changing His mind. It is the confusion of this key distinction that causes problems.

Salvator Mundi, 1519 (oil on poplar wood), Andrea Previtali
Salvator Mundi, 1519 (oil on poplar wood), Andrea Previtali

Long Reply

God is infinitely perfect and this includes always being perfect. In a sense, there is no “always” for Him since He must be eternal or atemporal—that is, outside of and not subject to time like we are. He simply is. If His nature changes, then this implies potentiality which therefore cannot be infinite perfection.

Scripture on God’s Eternal Nature

Many scriptural passages describe this attribute. Below are a few examples.

From epistle 2 Peter 3:8 which is presumably alluding to Psalm 89 (or 90):

But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.

From the story of Balaam as narrated in Numbers 23:19:

God is not a man, that he should lie, nor as the son of man, that he should be changed. Hath he said then, and will he not do? hath he spoken, and will he not fulfill?

From Malachias 3:6:

For I am the Lord, and I change not…

From epistle Hebrews 6:17–18:

Wherein God, meaning more abundantly to shew to the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, interposed an oath: That by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have the strongest comfort, who have fled for refuge to hold fast the hope set before us.

From Hebrews 13:8:

Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today; and the same for ever.

From epistle James 1:17–18:

Every best gift, and every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no change, nor shadow of alteration. For of his own will hath he begotten us by the word of truth, that we might be some beginning of his creatures.

Scripture on God Changing His Mind

On the other hand, there are a few examples of God changing His mind.

From Genesis 6, when God was about to command Noah to build the Ark in preparation for the Flood:

It repented Him that He had made man on the earth. And being touched inwardly with sorrow of heart, He said: I will destroy man, whom I have created, from the face of the earth, from man even to beasts, from the creeping thing even to the fowls of the air, for it repenteth Me that I have made them.

Genesis 18 tells of Abraham asking God to spare Sodom if fifty good people can be found in the city. God agreed and Abraham asked again and again, reducing the number in the hopes of changing the outcome, eventually settling on ten.

I beseech thee, saith he, be not angry, Lord, if I speak yet once more: What if ten should be found there? And He said: I will not destroy it for the sake of ten.

Some argue that God didn’t really change His mind since He knows the result will not change anyway. But that is a cheap way of reading it. It is true that Sodom was still destroyed, but Abraham asked God to change the conditions that trigger action which He agreed to.

In 4 Kings 20 (or 2 Kings 20), King Ezechias is told by the prophet Isaias that he is about to die. The former then prayed and wept.

And before Isaias was gone out of the middle of the court, the word of the Lord came to him, saying: Go back, and tell Ezechias the captain of my people: Thus saith the Lord the God of David thy father: I have heard thy prayer, and I have seen thy tears: and behold I have healed thee; on the third day thou shalt go up to the temple of the Lord.
And I will add to thy days fifteen years: and I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of the Assyrians, and I will protect this city for my own sake, and for David my servant’s sake.

A more significant example is found in John 2 which narrates Jesus Christ’s first public miracle at the wedding at Cana.

And the wine failing, the mother of Jesus saith to him: They have no wine. And Jesus saith to her: Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come. His mother saith to the waiters: Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.

Unlike Abraham and Ezechias who changed God’s mind to a degree, the Mother of God outright changed His mind as He proceeded to act as requested despite His initial explicit response of “my hour is not yet come”. (Mariology is another topic.)

There is admittedly a distinction between varying external actions because of (predetermined) conditions and changing one’s mind without them, but both demonstrate an openness to change.

God Acting in Time Does Not Contradict His Eternal Nature

There are apparently more verses supporting the view that God does not change His mind. However, playing the numbers game is silly as it does not actually argue the issue. This apparent contradiction can easily be resolved by making the commonsensical distinction between nature and external actions.

God’s external actions in relation to us who live in time mean that God acts in time even if He is not subject to it. This does not contradict His eternal nature, it requires it. The passage from James 1 hints that creatures that are temporal (have a beginning) ultimately require an eternal cause (has no beginning).

God can even enter into time if He so chooses without ceasing to be outside of it. Consider this analogy: A screenplay is subject to the writer-director, not the other way around. But the writer-director can write himself into the screenplay as a character and even play the role without ceasing to be the writer and director of the work.

Nature vs External Actions

The passage from Hebrews 6 hints that God’s nature is unchanging and that He cannot lie. Some translations have “unchanging nature of His purpose” instead of “immutability of His counsel”. So, God’s nature and His purpose (aim) are unchanging but the means to achieving that can. And changing one’s mind isn’t necessarily lying.

The verse from Hebrews 13 is more apparent. Jesus Christ clearly “changed” throughout His life: He was a child, then grew up and died, and yet He is “the same for ever”. Either Apostle St Paul is way off or he is referring to His eternal nature.

The following may better illustrate the distinction: What if there is a judge who makes the exact same decision for every case? Isn’t that odd?

Even if the judge always presides over the same type of case, one would expect the circumstances and the intent of the parties involved in each case to vary.

A judge who is consistently just (unchanging in his nature) would carefully examine all available information relevant to each case before coming to a decision. In other words, it is precisely because of the judge’s unchanging nature that his decisions are different since every case is different.

Practical Implications

No doubt God has a plan, that some things must occur and some things must not. But there is nothing to indicate that there is no so-called grey area.

There are multiple references that highlight the importance of prayer and there are generally four reasons for it: adoration, thanksgiving, imploring pardon and asking for favors. (All four can potentially be penitential.)

If God does not change His mind, then there would be no reason for the last type of prayer. Why pray for “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven” or “our daily bread” if God is going to do it or not do it anyway?

And even if something definitely has to happen (or not), there is still the question of the means and the degree.

Consider the following: Suppose an authentic prophecy states “there will be a war, blood will flow in the streets, millions will perish…” Whilst this is a made-up example, there are quite a few prophecies that read like that. Let’s also assume this prophecy is unconditional, that it has to come to pass.

It doesn’t state when or how exactly. It doesn’t state how many millions will perish. And which million? The millions here or those millions over there? And are you and your loved ones included in those millions?

How does one know that prayers will not mitigate the mayhem even if they do not entirely prevent it? Maybe if enough people turn to God and pray, it will be 2 million dead instead of 5 million dead. Maybe your prayers will make things easier for yourself.

Abraham, Ezechias and the Virgin Mary have set the example that it is possible to change God’s mind. The idea that God never changes His mind can lead to a fatalistic mentality and giving up. Either that or it’s the argument of a lazy pseudo-fundamentalist who pretends our actions don’t matter by using God’s eternal sovereignty to conveniently mean He never changes His mind as an excuse. Although there is such a thing as Christian resignation, there is a distinction between that and self-imposed stupidity.

Salvator Mundi, 1519 (oil on poplar wood), Andrea Previtali
Salvator Mundi, 1519 (oil on poplar wood), Andrea Previtali

In iconography and other Christian art, Christ is sometimes seen holding a globus cruciger, an orb with a cross on top of it or sometimes within it. The orb represents the world or created universe.

This image may be helpful to understanding God’s eternal nature, that He is not merely some being who hovers above the timeline with the ability to go back and forth at will. He is “bigger” than that. By depicting the entire created universe in His hand, it shows that He is all-encompassing, that is He is wholly and eternally present (in every moment of and across the entire timeline).


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