“I am the Lord Your God . . . I change not!” so declared Jehovah in Mal. 3:6, in the context of noting that because God remained faithful to his covenant to the children of Israel, the descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed.
Does our immutable God change his mind? Two apparent instances — and there are likely others — jump out from the biblical record.
The first: When the people of Nineveh responded to the reluctant prophet Jonah’s preaching — “When God saw that they had put a stop to their evil ways, he abandoned his plan to destroy them and didn’t carry it through” (Jonah 3:10). Even so, God first had to take drastic action — talk about your fish story — to get Jonah to go to Nineveh, and when the people repented, Jonah was displeased, even angry.
The second: When the Israelites grew tired of waiting for Moses to come down from Mt. Sinai and decided to throw a wild party complete with golden calf. God’s anger “burned against them” (Ex. 32:10) for their disobedience, telling Moses to leave his presence as he intended to destroy them all, adding: “I will make you, Moses, into a great nation instead of them.”
But Moses entreated the Lord to spare the people, recalling God’s leading his people out of bondage in Egypt “with great power and mighty miracles” and reminding him — as if a reminder was needed — “of your promise to your servants, Abraham, Isaac and Israel. For you swore by your own self, ‘I will multiply your posterity as the stars of heaven, and I will give them all of this land I have promised to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever’ ” (13).
And so, “The Lord changed his mind [relented] and spared them” (14), even though later he sent a plague upon the people because of their waywardness.
It seems apparent in both these cases that the Almighty’s “change of mind” was a result of people turning from their errant ways. In this regard, some things never change, then or now.
I’ve found that the older I get, the more difficult it’s become to change my mind. First off, I’ve always wrestled with change in and of itself — in being asked, or even forced, to change a way of doing something, to reorder a long-held belief or reverse my position on a societal issue, to adapt to the technology revolution. The old ways are the best ways — and especially the Bishop way — and so, I inquire, why mess with perfection?
God knows, long before we stop, look, listen and petition, what is best for us. Even in retirement and in gravitating into my 70s, my job is to seek first the Kingdom of God, which means adjusting or even getting rid of things, obstructions and attitudes that stand in the pathway, even if I don’t always understand God’s ways or timing. The motivation should not be out of fear of punishment but rather arise from a desire for a closer walk with Jesus Christ.
Has God whispered to you lately, “What’s on your mind right now that might need changing?”
Jim Bishop is a freelance writer and photographer and a member of Community Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va.