Challenge Response: God Changed When He Became Man

Here's my response to this week's challenge:

 

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This week’s challenge is about the question of whether God changes.

“You Christians say that God never changes. But then you say God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s change. You’re contradicting yourself.” 

Yes, it’s true that Christians often say that God doesn’t change. I want to address this challenge with regards to two areas. One is when God changes his mind, and the other is whether God changed in the incarnation.

Let’s first take a look at God changing His mind. There are a couple of instances where we see this in Scripture. The first is in Exodus when Moses comes down with the 10 Commandments, sees his people worshiping idols, and God wants to wipe them out. Then, Moses intercedes on behalf of his people and asks God not to destroy them. Eventually, God changes His mind. Moses reminds God of His promise to make a nation out of those people.

In another instance, Jonah goes to the Assyrians, and God is going to wipe them out because they are wicked people. Eventually, Jonah preaches to these people, it causes them to repent, and then God relents from planning to destroy them. This is another example of God changing His mind. 

In both of these examples, we see God changing His mind, but this is not a contradiction in the sense that God has changed, and here’s why. In Malachai we see the claim where God says, “For I, the Lord, do not change.” But when we take a look at what that means, it doesn’t mean that God doesn’t change His mind. It just simply means that God does not change nature. He doesn’t change His divinity or His essential self. 

We have to remember that God is a person. He’s a personal being. Personal beings, like humans, have a will, thoughts, rational, and reasoning. For a person to change their mind about an issue does not change their essential nature. In the same way for God, who is also a person, to change His mind would not in any way affect any sort of meaningful sense of God remaining a divine being. He is still divine. He is still God, but He’s allowed to change his mind. That is no big deal.

Some people like to make a big deal about this and say that God changing His mind shows there’s a lack of knowledge on God’s part. There is something that He didn’t know that he came to know, and therefore, that’s why he changes His mind. That is not the case at all. The reality is that God has a fixed disposition towards different circumstances. For instance, towards obedience, God has a disposition of blessing and protection. Towards disobedience and rebellion, God has a disposition of judgment and wrath. So, to the Jewish people, who might be engaging in disobedience, God has a disposition of judgment towards them. If they then move in the area of obedience, they are under a different disposition of God, which is a disposition of protection and blessing because they are now engaging in obedience. It appears now as if God has changed His mind or in some way changed. In reality, it is just these people, the Jews, moving from one disposition of disobedience, under God’s judgement, to obedience, which is now under the disposition of blessing.

What about God changing in the incarnation? Christians say that God became man in the person of Jesus Christ. Of course, this sounds like God changed. He went from being God to being man. I’m sympathetic to this concern or this confusion because we often say the words “God became man.” While although that phrase is okay for every day use, it’s technically incorrect. God did not become man in the sense that he changed from divine to human. The more precise understanding to expressing this is to say the Word, the Logos, the person of the Trinity who has been unchanged through all eternity past, took on human nature. He added humanity on to himself when he became the person Jesus Christ. In reality, it’s not that God is changing from divinity to humanity. Rather, God is simply adding on humanity to Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s why we’d say there’s not a contradiction occurring there. 

To give a very rough analogy, I myself am a human being. My essential nature is human. However, if I put on scuba gear, and I begin to swim in the ocean amongst the fish, I have not lost my humanity, I have simply added on something that allows me to dwell among the fish in the ocean and interact with them. In the same way, when God takes on human nature, it’s not that He’s changing His essential nature; rather He’s taking on humanity in order to dwell among us and interact with us.

Bottom line, there’s no contradiction in the claim, “God doesn’t change,” unless you characterize “change” in a way that Christianity and the Bible doesn’t intend.

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Alan Shlemon

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