Does God Change His Mind?

by Graham Pockett

Scripture quoted is from the NIV Bible, not because it is ‘best’ but because it is in modern English. If in doubt, please read the quotations in various translations. You might like to read Why I Quote The NIV Bible.

I doubt that any Christian would deny the fact that God, being omnipotent (all-powerful), omnipresent (ever-present) and omniscient (all-knowing), could change His mind if He wished, but the question is: Does God ever change His mind?

Anyone who is all-knowing must, by definition, know everything and therefore should never need to change His mind because He knew what has, and what will, happen in any set of circumstances. His word is quite clear – He knew us before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5) so why would He ever need to change His mind?

To look at this properly we need to examine the subject of ‘freewill’.

Freewill

Recently I read that “the concept of freewill in the Christian church was over rated” implying that freewill was not the motivator of our faith. The article – from a well known preacher – implied that everything was ‘God ordained’ and that He had our lives mapped out for us so that freewill ceased to be an important aspect of our walk with the Lord.

If you take that concept one step further you will accept that God has chosen us. Jesus said in Matthew 22:14 that “For many are invited, but few are chosen.” [NIV]. Therefore, according to that concept, some people are born to be saved and others are born to lead a life of sin and be damned.

That Calvanistic concept does not sit well with me.

Almost the entire Bible – from Genesis to Jude anyway – talks about freewill, our choice of whether we believe (have faith) that there is a God, the freewill to worship Him, the freewill to try and live a holy life. By the same rules, we also have the freewill to turn away from God, to mock Him, to spurn Him.

Scriptures abound in this area. The first example in the Bible about freewill being exercised is the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall. In Genesis 2:16-17 says:

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” [NIV]

In Genesis 3:6 it says:

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. [NIV]

Adam had exercised his freewill by refusing to accept God’s command and disobeyed Him by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Results, of course, were disastrous for mankind!

Further examples of man exercising freewill – and directly opposing God’s wishes – abound. In Genesis 4:6-10 we read the story of Cain and Abel:

Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”
Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.
Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”
“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
[NIV]

So Cain killed Abel – even though God warned him about sinning – and then Cain stupidly tried to fool God by saying “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As if God didn’t know what had happened! Still, by allowing man freewill, God allowed Cain to go against Him and kill Abel.

By offering various rules of life or examples of how we should live (particularly the parables of Jesus) we can choose to live in God’s favour (by The Law as in the Old Testament or by Grace as in the New Testament) or we can choose to live outside of God’s favour. What are the Ten Commandments if not rules so that we may make a choice?

But why would God give us these choices? It would have been easier to have given us a loving dog-like devotion to Him. He could have commanded obedience – we would have been forced to live by His rules for us in the same way we order the world in which we live. We could have been God’s cattle.

But God didn’t want blind obedience, He wanted our love, to be our loving Father and for us to be His loving sons. But love does not live in a vacuum and for God to give us the opportunity to love Him, He had to also give us the opportunity to turn away from Him. If there are no choices then there is no choice and He had to give us the choice so that we had the opportunity to choose Him – otherwise how could we be sons and not cattle? Would you want a robot for a son? Would you want unquestioning obedience? If there was no questioning then there could be no love and what father doesn’t cherish the love of his son?

If God wanted children and not robots or domestic cattle then He had to give those children freewill, the choice to love or not to love.

Therefore I believe that the preacher who advocated that freewill was overrated was wrong. Too many people look at a verse and not at the book. The Bible is interrelated and it is dangerous to put your faith on one or two verses and not comprehend the whole.

Does God ever change His mind?

Let us return to the original proposition. Does God ever change His mind?

If God is not going to manipulate us, if He is going to offer us the opportunity to express our freewill, then He is at the mercy of that freewill. He can say to us “I would like you to donate a certain sum of money for missionary work” but if we choose to ignore that ‘small still voice’ then God will get someone else to supply that need. Maybe you were His first choice but your own inaction had led God to find someone else.

Do you ever wonder how many times God had a task for you and you didn’t listen carefully? Do you ever think of lost opportunities to help someone find the Lord? Have you ever thought that maybe you should speak to someone about Jesus and then failed to do so, only to find out later that someone else led that person to the Lord?

God must change His mind because He is dealing with self-centred mortals who often get so wrapped up in their own petty problems that they neglect to listen to God. Because of our inability to be led, God must keep on finding alternatives to our lack of action.

God knows us individually and will use us to the extent of our capabilities. We need to exercise our freewill so that we can be vessels which God uses.

Does God ever change His mind? If He does then it should be outlined in the Word. If we look at Genesis 6:6-7 we read:

The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth – men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air – for I am grieved that I have made them.” [NIV]

So apparently God DID change His mind – and that change of mind led to the Great Flood.

If we look at the story of the Golden Calf in Exodus 32 we read that God was so unhappy with his ‘stiff necked people’ that, in verse10, the Lord said to Moses:

“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.” [NIV]

But Moses pleaded for his people and finally God said to Moses (v14):

Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.[NIV]

If we continue on with the story of the errant Israelites we find that God is still unhappy with them. In Exodus 33:3 God says:

“Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” [NIV]

This is extraordinary! God is saying that He might not be able to control Himself because of the attitude of the Israelites. This is exactly what we have been looking at. God is, in some ways, at our mercy. The freewill He has given us as the tool so that we can love Him as sons and daughters can also be turned against Him – it is a two-edged sword. With gifts like freewill comes responsibility. One cannot flourish without the other.

Look what’s happening in our schools today. We tell children that they have ‘rights’ but be don’t balance that with the knowledge that with those ‘rights’ comes ‘responsibility’ – one cannot successfully live without the other. God has given us the ‘right’ to our freewill, but we must temper that by being responsible.

Let’s look at another Scripture where God has changed His mind. In 1 Samuel 15:35b it says:

And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel. [NIV]

Again, man has let down God and God grieved His original decision to make Saul king.

One of the most remarkable stories in the Bible can be found in the book of Jonah (Jonah 1:1-4):

The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.
Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.
[NIV]

With the ship threatened, Jonah told the crew to throw him overboard to appease God and to save them. This they reluctantly did and the raging sea grew calm (v15). Jonah, of course, was swallowed by a “great fish” and stayed there for three days and nights. Finally, God “commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10).

Now let’s read from Jonah 3:1-4...

Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very important city – a visit required three days. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
[NIV]

So Jonah finally obeyed the Lord and told the Ninevites that they had only 40 days before their huge city of more than 120,000 people would be overturned. Reading further from Jonah 3:5-10...

The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh:
      “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste
      anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let
      everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows?
      God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
[NIV]

So the Ninevites repented of their “evil ways and their violence” and God, again, changed His mind!

Obviously, how we behave – for good or for bad – determines how God treats us. God ‘adjusts’ His behaviour to us dependent on how we behave and what choices we make.

So our freewill allows us to go against God’s wishes and that makes God change His mind. Often He will keep on reminding us so that, if we do start to listen, we can finally obey God’s command. If we don’t then God allows us that right to disobey and we are ultimately the losers.

Many people would have heard the story of the drunk who was captivated by the beautiful singing and staggered into a church and was saved, never to touch the demon drink again. I have often wondered just how many churches God led that drunk to before he finally took the hint and went inside. Was it a 100? 200?

God works to a plan – part of which is outlined in Revelation – but for that plan to come into effect many things must be done.

God’s Spreadsheet

God showed me that His plan is like a huge computer spreadsheet – a spreadsheet as large as this planet. The first column is the present, and the last column is the culmination of God’s plan, but this spreadsheet works in reverse to other spreadsheets. Normally, you make a small correction to a cell in the first column – you could call it ‘the here and now’ – and the ripple effect amplifies that correction until the whole spreadsheet is upgraded with new data – invariably with a new conclusion.

However God’s spreadsheet works the other way. The first column – the here and now – is where all the action is and I can envision a huge turmoil in that column. The next column exhibits less turmoil, and the next even less. This abating ripple effect goes on until we get to the end where there are no changes taking place. The last column remains unchanged because that is God’s ultimate plan for us. That plan, outlined in Revelation, has not changed and never will.

Time is progressing – from left to right – towards the end of God’s spreadsheet. The furthest left hand column has more major corrections required to ensure that the last column remains unchanged. As the period between the ‘here and now’ and God’s triumph over this world diminishes, so more and more corrections are required to keep everything ‘on track’.

Yes, but not in regard to the Final Plan. That Final Plan He gave to us through the Apostle John is recorded in Revelation. That plan has not changed, the only thing which keeps constantly changing is how we listen to God, how we obey Him, and therefore how God can use us.

God has to change His mind because He is dealing with us! That is not a pleasant thought for a switched-on-for-Jesus, Bible-believing Christian.

An interesting thought. In Revelation 21:6 Jesus said: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” He doesn’t speak about His authority during man’s reign on this Earth! The ‘beginning and the end’ but no mention of His absolute authority in the middle!!! He is there to help man but, ultimately, man must choose life or death, Jesus or Satan. With the promise for the future recorded in the Bible, I know where my focus must lie.

End Times

Is the future (often called the ‘End Times’) really pre-ordained? In Habakkuk 2:2-3 it says:

Then the LORD replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” [NIV]

So the ‘appointed time’, as God told Habakkuk the prophet, ‘will not prove false’. God set His plan into motion many thousands of years ago and that plan is still unfolding today.

As we rush towards that ‘appointed time’ the Saints are being tested and many are found to be wanting. The ones who don’t listen carefully to God’s word are likely to be left behind, to become so disillusioned with Christianity that they turn away from God.

We can see that turmoil in the world around us even now. As we get nearer to the End Times we will find that God will call on us even more. We will be given more and more tasks as the final day of the Lord draws near.

If we listened perfectly and obeyed Him in all things there would never be a need for God to change His mind.

Finally

God has the ability to make-good our mistakes. If we just live under our own fleshly desires and powers we will always fail. If we submit ourselves to God then we will receive the rewards He has promised us.

However, it is pleasing to know that, even if we don’t always listen and obey 100 per cent of the time, God can still use us in more ways than we think possible. Look how He blessed King David, even though David was a self confessed sinner in many areas. Guess we donít have to be perfect, just repentant!

Just remember Hebrews 13:20-21 which says:

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. [NIV]

A clarification:

It has been pointed out to me, quite rightly, that the Bible states that God does not change His mind. For example:

    God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. (Numbers 23:19a, NIV).
While I agree with this statement completely, I think of it in terms of God’s Spreadsheet (above). The end result may not change but the path to that end result will always change due to the actions of others (ie our inability, or outright refusal, to listen to God and obey Him 100%).

Another analogy is this. You are driving your motor vehicle between two towns. The start and finish points of the journey (the two towns) does not change, but along the way you have to make small diversions – you avoid potholes in the road, maybe road workers have erected a temporary detour because of repairs, there is a slow vehicle that you overtake, or you pull over a little to let a faster vehicle pass, etc.

Along the way you speed up and slow down because of other road users and the changing conditions on the road. Your actions are being controlled by other people and by circumstances beyond your control.

No two voyages you take over that road will be identical because of these changing conditions. However, you finally get to your destination in spite of the detours, potholes, and the actions of other people (motorists, pedestrians and cyclists).

God either orders us (pre-ordained blind obedience where we have no choice but to obey) or He allows us freewill. If He allows us freewill then He must allow for us to exercise that freewill – and that means constantly changing His mind in the same way we do when we drive between two towns and make constant tiny changes to our path (caused by actions outside of our control).

The destination (as outlined in Revelation) does not change, but the path to that destination changes constantly.

Graham Pockett

I pray you have found this article interesting and I would be pleased to read any comments you may have. However, my workload is such that I may not be able to respond to all mail. Address any comments to Graham Pockett.

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Further Reading

If you enjoyed this article, you will probably also enjoy If God Doesnít Change His Mind, Can Prayers Work? by the "Oldtimer", Jim Tabb, from Georgia, USA. Jim also uses Isaiah 38:1-6 as confirmation that God really does change His mind.

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Graham’s Christian writing:
"Graham Pockett doesn't mince any words, but he writes with a kind heart. If you have questions about such things as "once saved, always saved", or why so many different ideas can come from the same scripture, or how much what we see and do affects us as spiritual beings, you'll find much to think about here."  from This Christian Life
Graham Pockett
Download these articles:
GrahamsWriting.zip
  • The Key To Heaven  (an analogy about commitment)
  • I Am A Cynic; Therefore I Am A Christian
  • Evolution – a statistical question mark?
  • “Once Saved Always Saved” – a dangerous delusion?
  • Who is my Neighbor? – featuring "The Parable of the Good Muslim"
  • Bashing The Bible – misusing & abusing Scripture
  • Two Billion Doctrines – the strange religion called Christianity
  • Does God Ever Change His Mind? – Calvin would turn in his grave!
  • New Wine In An Old Skin – the problem of legalism in the church today
  • Are You Hard Boiled, Or Soft & Runny? – doctrines are like an egg shell
  • The Bible is an "iffy" book – a look at the conditional promises of God
  • Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? – what did Jesus really look like?
  • The Truth Will Set You Free! – the Holy Tarantula???
  • Growing the Seed of Faith – so it doesn't wither and die
  • We Don't See The Clean, Just The Dirt – judgement and forgiveness
  • Why I Quote The NIV Bible – is it an heretical Bible?
  • "Omissions" from the NIV Bible – a look at 17 missing verses
  • Do You Believe In Miracles? – you do when they happen to you!
  • “Why Didn’t God Answer My Prayer For A Miracle?” – my response
  • Christian Concepts – the cavern of life  (an analogy)
  • Christian Concepts – the three crosses  (an analogy)
  • Christian Concepts – we are what we eat
  • Christian Concepts – when are we saved?  (an analogy)
  • Christian Concepts – when we are saved, part 1  ...part 2


  • This article was featured in the October 1999 edition of The Christian Online Magazine.

    This article was featured in the August 2003 issue of Australia's Alive Magazine.



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    “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power. What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?”>
    [1 Corinthians 4:20-21 NIV]



    © Graham Pockett
    Last Updated: Monday, November 24, 2014