I have spent a lot of time recently contemplating how God changes his mind.
Have you ever thought about that? If you are like me, your first thought is, “But scripture is clear that God is not a man that he should change his mind” (1 Samuel 23:19)!
And yet, I find myself absolutely convinced that he does change his mind!
Let’s start with this example from my own life: I believe with all my heart that I married the man God intended for me to marry 20 some years ago. And yet, I also believe that he gave me explicit permission to walk away from my marriage following years of unrepentant adultery.
Some would argue that because God called me to marry this man that I am obligated to stand in the gap for him as long as it would take for him to repent and return to God or until one of us dies. However, I believe whole-heartedly that God has told me that he is doing something new and that he is preparing a husband for me. I have never once heard him even suggest that my “new” husband might actually be my ex-husband.
So, if God doesn’t change his mind, how can I move forward into a new life without my ex-husband? It’s actually a question I hear repeatedly through comments and emails.
I don’t consider myself an expert in scripture. I have no special training. I am simply an Oklahoma girl that loves Jesus—and has loved him and his word as long as I can remember. I studied with my ex-husband in seminary. We have prepared sermons together, taught together. I have even preached Sunday services in a Southern Baptist church (I know, heretical for a female preacher in a Baptist church!).
But, I have no Bible degrees, no ThM after my name. Maybe I’m way off-base. As I scour scripture, however, here’s what I see:
God does indeed change his mind based in large part upon the actions of his people.
Let’s look at a couple of examples when God changed his mind.
The Israelites were in bondage in Egypt after Joseph died. They were miserable, subjected to forced labor. They were building cities for Pharaoh, crying out to the God who seemed so distant from them.
Even so, he pitied them in their distress and listened to their cries. He remembered his covenant with them and relented [i.e., changed his mind] because of his unfailing love. Psalm 106:44-45 NLT
God changed his mind because of the Israelites’ misery and his unfailing love!
In Exodus 32, Moses had been on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. The Israelites became frustrated, unsure what had happened to their fearless leader who had led them out of Israel. They decided to take matters into their own hands.
Aaron gathered all of the gold and threw it into the fire. Much to their amazement, a golden calf emerged from the fire (at least that was their explanation). Surely it was a sign that they needed to bow and worship the almighty cow!
And God was mad!
Then the Lord said, “I have seen how stubborn and rebellious these people are. Now leave me alone so my fierce anger can blaze against them, and I will destroy them. Then I will make you, Moses, into a great nation.” Exodus 32:9-10 NLT
Moses to the rescue! He pleaded with God not to destroy the people. He reminded God how that would look to the Egyptians, how it would appear that he was unable to lead them to safety. He begged God to change his mind about his plans to destroy his people.
So the Lord changed his mind about the terrible disaster he had threatened to bring on his people. Exodus 32:14 NLT
See that? God changed his mind…in response to the earnest, heart-felt cry of one who had an intimate relationship with him.
If we really look at scripture, we see all of the people who caused God to change his mind: Jonah ran from God because he just knew that God in his compassion would not destroy Ninevah if they repented. He was right (Jonah 3:10). When David took a census in Israel against God’s plan, God punished Israel. As the messenger was about to destroy Jerusalem, God looked down and changed his mind (1 Chronicles 21).
Sometimes God doesn’t completely relent, but he often redeems a situation. Abraham begged God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. The cities did not survive, but Abraham’s prayers allowed him to save his nephew, Lot, and his family (Genesis 19). Or consider when David begged God to spare his son from his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. God allowed his son to die, but he later blessed David and Bathsheba with a son, Solomon, through whose lineage Christ would come (2 Samuel 12).
To me, it becomes obvious that God does change his mind, especially in response to the pleas of his people. I continue to wonder, though, what will cause God to change his mind?
There’s a lot of mystery in the interaction of God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. I have contemplated it often, wondering how God could call me to marry a man that he ultimately knew would cheat on me. I don’t have a whole lot of answers. What I am coming to believe, though, is that God ultimately has a great plan, a great purpose for each of us (see Jeremiah 29:11, Ephesians 2:10). He wants to guide us into that plan, day-by-day, as we walk closely to him.
However, we are human. We make mistakes. We encounter people whose actions greatly impact our lives. I am certain that God’s plan is to guide us from point A to point B as quickly and effortlessly as possible. Our free will interferes with that plan so often, though. We choose to follow a different route. Our spouse devastates us with his/her mistreatment. We rush ahead of God.
Have you ever used a GPS system on a trip? Have you ever missed a turn? The reassuring voice begins to say, “Recalculating route.” Sometimes the voice seems to grow impatient with our refusal to follow its route. Its goal is to get us to our destination as effortlessly as possible.
Sometimes it is our wrong turn that causes the GPS to recalculate. Sometimes it is a road block or a detour…or an outdated map in the system.
Isn’t that kind of how God works with us? He is guiding us through this trip, showing us the route. When we get off-route, God begins to recalculate the journey. Sometimes we make a wrong turn by intentionally disobeying God, by choosing our pleasure over the future blessings he has planned. We hear him say, “Recalculating route.” Maybe we get impatient and decide to try a short-cut. He will recalculate the route. Maybe we hit the roadblock of a cheating spouse. “Recalculating…”
The good news is that God doesn’t waste any of our slip-ups on this journey. He is always ready and willing, standing by to use the wrong turns to mold us into his image, to build our faith, to change us into his image. He is ready to forgive our mistakes when we repent, to show us a glimpse of his love when we surrender. He hears our cries, our pleas for relief from the burden we are carrying. He stands ready to do a new thing in our lives (Isaiah 43:18-19).
God does change his mind when a humble, contrite heart comes and bows before him, begging him to have mercy and compassion. He does free us from bondage when we repent of our sins and cry out to him. He can take our mistakes and the sins of others and recalculate our route, use the circumstances for our good.
But, when it comes to God’s plan for our lives, the great purposes for which he created us, he will always come through. He will continue recalculating the route until we reach the ultimate destination. Our job is just to trust him to get us there, to walk closely with him day-by-day, until we see the glorious unfolding of his great plans. And in that area, he will never change his mind.
God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through? Numbers 23:19