Can God change His mind if He can’t change?

Can God change His mind? Seems like an easy yes-or-no question, but sometimes people make things way more complicated than they need to be. One of the attributes of God is that He does not change. The theological term for this “immutable,” and no, that does not mean you can’t hit “mute” on your remote to get Him to stop talking. That doesn’t work on anyone; believe me, I tried. Usually they get louder and angrier when I try to mute them. Next time you point a remote at someone and they ask, “What are you doing with that remote?” do not say, “Trying to mute you.” Trust me, it will not go well.

Actually immutable means “unchangeable.” This is where most of the confusion comes in. The character of God has never and will never change. He will always be holy, just, all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful – just to name a few. God never changes. What can change is His relationship to us. That is at the heart of the message of Jesus. He died so we could live in a restored relationship with God. Our bad behavior and mistakes severed our relationship with Him; a sinless God can only stand as a judge over us. But Jesus came down to our level, walking among us and ultimately dying in our place, taking the death penalty for our crimes so we could have a relationship with God as sons and daughters rather than convicts.

The change happens when we change our minds and our behavior; God then responds by changing His mind about what He was planning to do with us. This might be a hard pill to swallow, but there are quite a few Scriptures to support this. In Jeremiah 18:8 God promises, “if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it.”

Conversely, in v. 10 God says if a nation “does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it.” God also commands Jeremiah in 26:3 to prophesy to the cities of Judah, hoping it would result in repentance. “It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster that I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings.”

In Jonah, after Jonah finally got around to warning the Ninevites that God was planning to destroy them in forty days, the Ninevites fasted and mourned, saying, “Who can tell? Perhaps even yet God will change his mind and hold back his fierce anger from destroying us.” (3:9) Much to Jonah’s chagrin, God responded in verse 10. “When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened.”

“Changed His mind” comes from a Hebrew word which has a lot of potential meanings including “repent,” “relent,” “changed his mind,” “be sorry,” and “rue.” According to the New International Dictionary of Old Testament theology and exegesis, it denotes “the personal relationship of God and people” and it “nuances the emotional dimension of remorse in making a change.” As with all words, the meaning is not clear without a context. Most translations do not say “God repented” since doing so would seem to make God a sinner. Many translations use “God relented,” but that gives a connotation that God is often angry and vengeful and the would-be victims of His wrath were lucky that He decided to reverse course. Jonah knew that was not true. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents (or changes His mind) from sending calamity.”

So what are God’s plans for you? Do you want God to change His mind about them? Certainly we all make mistakes, but are we truly sorry for our bad behavior or are we counting on God to change His mind about the definition of justice? He never promised that, but He made it clear that if we change our minds and behavior, He will change His mind about the punishment we deserve and give us grace instead.

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