Does God Change His Mind?
October 9, 2005
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
The Golden Calf
1 When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."
2 Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me." 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, "These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt."
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, "Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD." 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
7 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. 8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'
9 "I have seen these people," the LORD said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. 10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."
11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. "O LORD," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? 12 Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. 13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.' " 14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning.
I have a question I want to share with you today: Does God ever change His mind? What do you think?
Some would say, “God is omniscient. God knows everything. God knows how everything is going to turn out in the end. God knows every decision every person will make at all times. He wrote the book; he read the book. It’s all locked up. It’s all done.”
Well, that’s one answer. The problem with that is that if that is so, then our free will doesn’t really matter very much. They’re all sewn up. Great thinkers of the past have debated this issue. John Calvin and John Zwingli, two of the great Protestant reformers of the 16th century, would argue, “Yes, that is the way!” and it led to an interesting concept called predestination. Since God already knew how everything was going to turn out, some people were saved and some people were not. That was called the Doctrine of the Elect.
Another Protestant reformer said, “That’s not quite so.” He said, “Everyone is capable of being saved. Everyone can make a decision that will influence their destiny. No one is automatically condemned; no one is automatically saved. Every person gets the chance to make his own decision and come before God.” I’m happy to tell you that the name of that person was John Wesley, the founder of the United Methodist Church.
But let’s pursue the question: Does God, the infinite King, ever change His mind? There are four points I’d like to talk about today, my friends. The first one is simply this: God is God. When Moses asked Him His name, which in the Hebrew tradition always said a lot about the character of the person, God said, “My name is Yahweh.” Translated, that means “I will be whom I will be.” We must always respect that. God is the sovereign King of all the earth. What we say or do not say about Him does not change Him. God will be whom God will be. He is sovereign. He is the highest and the most.
And the second thing we can say about God is that God is omniscient. When I think of omniscience for God, I believe that God knows every possibility and every permutation of every possibility that can happen in every given set of circumstances. That’s a lot of possibilities. But I think that’s real omniscience.
God will be whom God will be. And the good news is that God has a plan. God has in His mind a plan for your life and for mine, a plan for every person in this church and for the life of every child in the Sunday School. God has a good plan. God’s will is good will.
Can I share with you one of my absolute favorite scriptures in all the Bible? It’s from Jeremiah, the 29th chapter, verse 11. Hear the word of the Lord:
“For I know the plans I have made for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” Isn’t that a beautiful verse? I absolutely treasure this. Jeremiah 29:11.
God is God, and God has wonderful plans for each of us… when we decide to follow Him. And the good news there is that even if we have not followed Him or have not followed Him well, at any point in time we can step into His plan and be led by it. God has ideas and dreams and hopes and plans for every one of us.
Third, does God change His mind? If we take the Bible seriously, I think we have to answer yes. He does change His mind about some things. Let listen to what happened in the Old Testament reading. Remember, Moses went up to the mountain to talk to God. That’s the way God was doing things then. He was talking directly to human beings. We have that recorded in the Bible. Up on that mountain, God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
But it seemed to the Israelites down below that Moses was taking a really long time. They said to his brother, Aaron, who was second in command, “Where is Moses? Where did he go, anyway? We haven’t seen him in a long time. Maybe he was eaten by a wild animal. Maybe he lost his way. We’re tired of waiting. Let’s go back to the old way. Let’s go back to the way it was before this Yahweh, Lord of heaven and earth, got into our lives. Let’s go back to the way it was in Egypt and Canaan. Remember, Aaron? We had a great time.”
Aaron said, “Okay, there are a lot of you out there. Bring me all your golden earrings and stuff like that, and we’ll go back to the old ways – we’ll make an idol.” Aaron made a calf, and they worshipped the calf and said, “This calf is what brought us out of Egypt.” They burned sacrifices to the calf. There was a great deal of sinning going on.
The Lord knew about it. And, we’re told, the Lord was furious; he was heartbroken; he was so upset. He said, “Look what I’ve done. I’ve created these people. I took a chance and gave them free will. And Moses, look what’s happening? They’re breaking my heart. I can’t stand it. They made a gold calf. They’re worshipping it. Have they forgotten about us completely? I tell you what, Moses. Leave me alone, okay? I’ll take care of you. You’ll still be the father of a great nation like I promised your ancestors. But I am going to smite them royally. I am going to deal really, really harshly with them.”
And Moses – this is a very interesting part of the story – appeals to Almighty God to remember His sense of compassion. Moses says, “Lord God, change Your mind. Don’t smite them. You brought them up. They’re your children, remember? You led them out of Egypt. What are the Egyptians going to say? ‘Aha, that Lord led them out of Egypt and now He’s annihilating them, see that?’ Remember Abraham; remember Isaac. Remember Israel-Jacob. Lord, You’ve come so far – don’t do it.” Moses stood at the brink of the breach between ‘created’ and ‘creator.’ And the scripture says this in verse 14: “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” God changed His mind. The answer is yes.
That’s good news. It means that we do not worship a God who is absolutely static. He is not a God who wrote the book, read the book, and then tossed it over His shoulder. It means that we worship a God who stands with us on the cutting edge of time. That’s very exciting. It means that we worship a God who is dynamic and who allows Himself to change and grow with us. What a thought! The Bible tells us so.
And if it is so, if God can change His mind, then He can forgive us! God can forgive the world and love it even though it’s breaking His heart. Have you ever had that experience, parents? You love your children so much, and you have such plans for them, but they’re breaking your heart? Do you stop loving them? Never! If they turn around and follow a good way, would you take them back? In a finger snap! Of course you would. If you were so ready to punish them because of the wrong they did, and turned and sad “I’m sorry”, would you take them back? Of course you would. So would our heavenly Father, God. Does God change His mind? Yes, in some things He does.
I personally find this a very comforting thought, because there are things about creation that I don’t understand at all. I’m not sure I understand some of the creatures of the sea and why they are the way they are. I’m not sure I understand why there are saber-tooth sharks. I’m not sure I understand the concept of carnivorous animals very much. I’m not sure I understand why there are mosquitoes. But if God was developing the world as He went, that might explain it.
I heard one of the most brilliant insights I have ever heard in our Disciple Bible study. One of the students suggested that maybe the very story of creation itself is the story of God blossoming. In the beginning, God said “Let there be light.” And there was light, and He saw that it was good. And He said, “I’ve got another idea! And another and another and another…” until the sixth day, when He created people and said, “That was very good,” and He rested from His work.
What a thought! God is with you and with me, on the cutting edge of time. He allows Himself to do that.
Does God change His mind? In the story of Moses, in the story of Lot, in the flooding of the world and the rainbow which says “I’ll never do that again” we see that the answer is yes.
Final point: Does God change His mind? In some things, no. God does not change His mind in some things. Look at today’s Psalm, number 106. “Praise the Lord! O Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” We have it from the Word. His steadfast love never changes. There was from the very start the diamond in the heart of God, which was Jesus Christ. His love for you, for me, for the world, for all His children in His creation, never changes.
“Thou changest not. Thy compassions they fail not. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.” Oh, you can count on it. When God created the beginning, people of the earth, when He created you, He had one thought in mind, and that was love for you, rock-solid, unchanging throughout all creation, as parents love their children, so He loves you as well.
Won’t you go home this week, my friends, knowing that our God is a dynamic God, who allows us to affect our own destiny, but whose love for us is the open-armed love of a father waiting for the return of the prodigal son. “He changeth not. His mercies they fail not. Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”
God loves you. I do, too. Have a blessed week. Amen.
© 2005 Anthony J. Godlefski