Damascene Cosmology – Does God change his mind?

One charge that can be brought against the Christian God (from here on I’ll simply say “God” and assume the “Chrisitan God” when saying God, unless otherwise specified) is that he appears to change his mind in Scripture, which would indicate that he is not immutable. Aside from changing his mind, we see that God regrets certain things, meaning that it’s possible that he did not foresee an action coming and therefore is within time or at least subject to have to react to time, in which case he is not immutable.

The first passage that critics can bring up is Genesis 6:6, which states that the Lord repented (or regretted) making humans because of their sin. The critic would say that by not having such foreknowledge of humans, God was unable to see that his creation would turn against him in such a horrible way. Thus, he had to react to humans and deal with them in a different way. He had to change how he dealt with humans; rather than walking with them or trying to send a prophet, he sent a flood. The important part of the argument is that God supposedly had to change how he dealt with humans, which would indicate a change in God.

The second passage critics could turn to is Exodus 32:14. In this passage, God has caught Israel sinning and threatens to wipe them out and restart with Moses. Moses intercedes on behalf of the Hebrews and God changes his mind and decides to stick with his original plan. The critic will point out that we have God saying one thing and then being convinced to do another. The critic will point to this as proof that God is possible of change and therefore applies to the idea of an infinite regress.

Such arguments do have valid claims, especially if we take the Scriptures prima facie and believe that God can change. The Scriptures seem to clearly say that God changes. In fact, there are numerous Scriptures that would indicate that God changes his mind and that he gave up his foreknowledge when he created humans so that he could interact with humans. But I believe such interpretations are misguided.

While I agree that God can change his mind (though it is different from when we change our mind, but I shall get to that), in doing so he does not change who he is nor does he gain or lose anything of value in his being. If God changes his mind on something, but still maintains his will as the end point of his action, then what has changed in God? Has he gained or diminished in goodness? Has anything changed within his nature at all? The answer is no, in changing his mind, but maintaining his will; God did not change even if his action did.

If we imagine that someone is trying to get from A to B, but x, y, and z are all equally legitimate paths getting there. Though the three paths are different, all three are equally good and will lead to the same result with the same amount of goodness. Now, if God were to completely change his direction on B and find a better end or a better way that he was originally going to choose, then this would indicate a change in God. He would become aware of an end previously unknown to him and, by knowing it, would gain in knowledge of obtaining that end, which would indicate an increase in his knowledge. This would mean that God changed. If, however, A and B remain the same, whether God chooses x, y, or z is quite irrelevant; all paths are equally known to God and equally good and equally achieve the end of B, so if God chooses path x and then chooses path y, nothing has changed in God.

Likewise, we must not forget that God is working with imperfect creatures. Humans are imperfect both in nature and in morality. We are imperfect in nature in that we are not complete, that is, we are contingent beings. We are imperfect morally because we have chosen evil. This means our free will choices will not always align with God’s will and thus he must account for that. It is not beyond reason (in fact, it is actually very reasonable) to believe that God foresaw our actions and planned accordingly to our actions. In light of this, God opened up different paths and allowed for different approaches in accounting for human free will in order to achieve his end.[1] This allows for God to achieve his ends regardless of human free will (and actually use free will to his benefit). In all of this, he does not change.

A final example we can look to is to imagine we have a traveler named James. James is traveling from Cleveland to Miami to enjoy better weather and hopefully to have a more successful career. Now, James can take a plane, he can walk, or he can fly from Cleveland to Miami. In each case, there are different routes he can take, all of which will get him to Miami. Let’s say that James has to be in Miami by August and it’s the end of July. In that case, we know that he can’t walk. Thus, in moving from point A to point B, James cannot choose walking because it would not get him to point B under the conditions point B is to be arrived in. Both a car and a plan would work as well. In both cases, James is left with a limited number of routes to choose from. James looks and sees that while some routes take longer, all the routes that get him from Cleveland to Miami by August are equally good; each one helps him obtain his goal. No matter which route James chooses, he is not changed by that decision. If he chooses to drive one route, but then decides to fly another route, James as James is not changed nor is anything added or taken away from James.

The same holds true with God. Though God may say he will go one way and then opt for the other, it is not because the other way has just become apparent to him and he learned of the other way’s existence. Rather, he has always known about it, but has chosen a different path to account for human free will. In all of this, there is no reason to believe that God has changed in his nature by increasing or decreasing.

[1] While I don’t have time to discuss this theory of God’s foreknowledge, a good place is William Lane Craig’s explanation in is contribution to Divine Foreknowledge, Four Views. (William Lane Craig. “The Middle Knowledge View.” Divine Foreknowledge, Four Views. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001.)


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