Does God Repent or Change His Mind?
God does not change his mind
The Bible is clear on the answer and the answer is, No. God does not change. He is perfect and he will not deviate from His eternal plan before time even began. (Isaiah 46:10-11)
Malachi 3:6 declares, “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” Similarly, James 1:17 tells us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” The meaning of Numbers 23:19 is clear: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” The verses above assert that God is unchanging and unchangeable.
God changed his mind, repented and shows compassion instead of judgment
While the Bible is clear that God does not change His mind it is important for us to consider why the Bible also says….”So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” – Exodus 32:14 (NASB)
We see this specific verse referring to a time in history when Moses pleaded for mercy on behalf of the Israelites with whom God was angry. It seems God changed His mind. However, based on verse like Malachi 3:6; Does this mean that God actually changed His mind?
Other instances like Exodus 32:14 state that God repents and has compassion (Genesis 6:6; Jonah 3:10). Do such passages contradict the teaching that God who is immutable.
Reconciling the sections of scripture quoted above
There are two interpretation rules that we can use to reconcile these passages if they seem contradictory.
#1 Interpretation Rule- Recognize the genre of literature.
When we struggle with understanding portions of scripture it is important to remember some basic rules for interpretation. This is called Hermeneutics. In the above passages it helps us to interpret the scripture by understanding what genre or type of literature we are reading. When we understand the type of literature we are reading it helps us shape the way we should respond to it.
For example, the passages that suggest God is changing his mind are narrative passages. The passages that state that God does not Change his mind are theological truth statements. It is important to remember when we read the Bible, narrative stories are not primarily intended to give us absolute truths but instead provide a description of God interacting in History. Biblical Narratives are man’s point of view describing how God intervenes. However, theological truth statements are given to provide a framework for us to understand how God will work in history.
Therefore, the narrative passages share a story from humanity’s point of view as they see God at work. They are not primarily intended to shape theological truths.
#2 Interpretation Rule- Let theological statements declare truths that help frame your understanding of narrative stories.
When God’s attributes are theologically stated as “not changing”, this becomes a truth that helps us understand how we can depend upon God in all circumstances. His attributes remain the same. A theological statement helps us frame a narrative story. Then we can see how the Narrative passages of the Bible help illustrate truth, but they are not the primary platform to determine all truth.
Did you know that your Bible was broken up into genre of literature to help you better understand it. The bible is not in chronological order. The first 12 books of the Old Testament are history books that provide many of the Bibles narrative stories. The remaining books of the Old Testament contain narrative stories but primarily contain a heavy amount of eternal theological truths.
Explanation of the passages
We must remember that the Bible is written by humans who are seeking to describe the way an infinite God is revealing Himself in human history. This is especially true in narrative portions of Scripture. So, when the writers say that God “changed His mind”, what they are stating is that God is taking a course of action that is different from what they expected. In the story of Exodus 32:14, God may be perceived as “changing His mind” from a human standpoint. God is exhibiting His mercy on sinners rather than judgment. Though Man is finding that God is offering mercy instead of judgment, God is not acting different from the way God had already determined to act in history. Isaiah 46:10-11 tells us that God knew how he was going to respond to man before man existed. God knew how he would work out his will in our lives before we had life. God is not reactive but active. Since God is an active God and not a reactive God, this should provide us comfort. Why? Because it is telling us that God is big enough to oversee and control all of human history. Therefore, He will be able to fulfill all of his promises, and because he is a good God, we should trust Him (Romans 8:28). From man’s perspective anytime God determines not to bring his wrath upon us we may see it as God changing his mind, but God is not responding any different than the way he already knew he would act.
Therefore, Does God change His mind? No. He does not react but has determined how He will act. From a human standpoint it could appear to us that God changes his mind, but God already knows the beginning form the end. We will find that God expresses repentance and sorrow. This does not mean that God is changing his mind but rather God is grieved over our sin. Our sin doesn’t surprise him but he also grieves over it.