Posted on 30th August 2018 at 18:03 by Mark Herbert in Pastors’ Blog
Does God change his mind?
God will fulfil his purposes whatever choices we make. He is sovereign and in complete control: see Ephesians 1:11 - God works out all things in accordance with his will. See also 1 Peter 1:20 and Acts 2:23. This is a good thing as it gives us confidence that despite our waywardness, God's way will be worked out in our life.
It is also essential we remember verses like Malachi 3:6 and Numbers 23:19 that speak of God never changing. In theology, it is called the immutability of God. God does not change ... in the sense of backtracking as if he makes a mistake. Why? Because his way is perfect - Psalm 18:30.
Genesis 6:6 tells us that God was grieved that he had made the earth. And in Exodus 32:14, God relented and did not bring the destruction he promised. See also Jonah 3:10 where God relented in response to prayer.
The Genesis passage is a figure of speech - expressing God's heart. He was saddened by the state of the once perfect world that he created. Yet the Fall was always planned so that God could reveal the glory of his saving purposes in Christ (Romans 8:28-39).
The Exodus and Jonah passages are examples of conditional declarations – i.e. God threatens judgement UNLESS people repent. Look for the word 'if'. (Jeremiah 18:7-10 is a good example of this).
These examples show us God's consistency to his character. (God cannot deny his character - 2 Timothy 2:13). IF there was not repentance, judgement would have come. IF there was repentance, mercy would have been shown. Think of this in terms of your own salvation. Romans 6:23 - you and I were facing death. BUT, in Christ we become children of God (John 1:12). Had God changed his mind? Yes. But had he planned to? Yes!
These examples are different to the times that God makes UNCONDITIONAL declarations such as in 2 Samuel 7:6 where NOTHING would ever stop God building his kingdom, or in Hebrews 10:26-29, where NOTHING can be done to save a person who rejects Jesus as the only way to salvation.
So can persistent prayer change God?
The parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8 teaches us that God loves to hear persistent prayer and often responds. (See also Luke 11:5-13). By contrast, sometimes we do not get because we ask with wrong motives (James 4:3) or because God has a better plan (1 John 5:14).
So can we ask for mercy or blessing where God may not have given it? (in the sense that he knows the end from the beginning and is totally sovereign - see the verses we began with).
We never know what God in his wisdom knows is best for us and so we should ask, but always with the humility that God is a not a divine vending machine. So as an example, can we pray for healing? Of course, and we are told to (James 5:13-14). But God in his wisdom does not always heal this side of heaven. Does this mean prayer 'has not worked'? No - because prayer isn't about us getting our way but about seeking God's way (Luke 11:2). And because, as we seek God in earnest prayer, it changes us and teaches us humble dependence.
Unanswered prayer is probably the greatest mystery to us as Jesus' disciples and for me, is the single hardest thing about being a Christian. But my testimony is also that this frustration and pain is always met by the grace of God to sustain me, despite my prayers often not being answered.