One day I was perusing https://soteriology101.com/ and came across an article that caught my attention. It is titled, “If God Changes His Mind, So Can I” by Drew McLeod. This caught my attention because it has implications for the doctrine of divine simplicity. This doctrine has been addressed before by another contributor to this blog site, Andrew Warrick, in previous posts. But in short, divine simplicity teaches that God is not composed of parts or passions (which would also constitute as parts in God). There is nothing in God that isn’t fundamentally God Himself. God is completely a se meaning He is self sufficient and therefore pure act. What this implies is that God cannot change. He is not able to become anything more than He already is and there is no possibility of Him becoming less than He already is. In other words, there is not potentiality in God. He just is. Let us look at the article.
Mr. McLeod begins the article with a story about how he gave up on praying for healing because he did not receive the response he desired for himself or for others. He then goes on to discuss when he began praying for healing again. He makes an interesting note:
“I remember the night that I prayed for healing again for the first time. I begged God, “If you’ll sustain Baby and heal it, I promise to always say at least one prayer for every single healing prayer request I hear from here on.” I thought maybe God would change his mind about his “no’s” that he had been giving me.”
The last sentence is what stands out. The assumption here is that God has His mind set on the “no’s” necessarily, and therefore He would be required to change His mind to “yes’s” to provide the answer Mr. McLeod was looking for. This assumption is faulty. How does Mr. McLeod know that when God says “no” to one or more instances, that He intended to leave it that way? This statement only makes sense if he believes God was actually intending on continuing to say “no” to a particular request for all eternity or give a final “no” for any particular request. Otherwise, there would be no need for God to actually change His mind. Would Mr. McLeod be content to say that He is able to say “no” temporarily or that God may be working in a way that helps us to understand Him since He is in a different category of being than we are? This doesn’t appear to be the case.
He then provides Scriptures which allegedly show that God really changed His mind on certain matters. These are Isaiah 38, Exodus 32:9-10, 33:19, and Jeremiah 18:1-11 to name some. I want to address his use of the first story he provides.
Hezekiah and his death predicted (Isaiah 38:1-6)
In this chapter we see king Hezekiah coming to the point of death. Isaiah brought the grim news to the king in verse one where he says,
In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”Isaiah 38:1 (NIV)
This news hit Hezekiah hard and it led him to cry out to God to deal kindly with him based on the righteous life he had lived (v. 3). God then appears to relent from bringing about the prophecy and adds fifteen years to the life of Hezekiah. Mr. McLeod attempts to use this as an example in Scripture to show that God actually changed His mind. While on the surface this may seem like a slam dunk for Mr. McLeod’s position, he misses what is really being communicated in this passage. Just six chapters later in the same book, God reminds the Israelites that He is the one who is sovereign over all.
“Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels.Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose. What I have said, that I will bring about;what I have planned, that I will do.Isaiah 46:8-11 (NIV)
What is ironic is that this passage continues the line of thought from chapters 38 and 39 of the same book. Hezekiah recovers from his illness in chapter 38. Hezekiah then gives the Babylonians a tour of his kingdom and Isaiah tells the king that the Babylonians will come and take everything from him. Then, from chapter 40-55, we see the prophet talking to the Babylonian captives (The Reformation Study Bible note on this section is helpful). This means that chapter 38 is not to be disconnected from chapter 55. And chapter 46 falls in the middle of these passages about Babylon. Therefore, Isaiah could not have meant that God was actually changing His mind in chapter 38. God is the one who reveals His plans. He will accomplish His purposes and this power is grounded in His very nature. To say that God somehow did not have Hezekiah’s life planned before hand is to grossly neglect other passages of Scripture which say otherwise. Another example is in the book of Numbers, where we have explicit, unequivocal language about the nature of God’s decree:
God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?Numbers 23:19 (NIV)
This is the importance of proper hermeneutical principles when looking at Scripture, as the 2nd London Baptist Confession of Faith notes in Chapter 1, paragraph 9, where it says,
The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.2nd LBCF 1.9
We have explicit teaching from Isaiah 46 and Numbers 23 about the nature of God’s plan and decree. That must be used to shed light on the passage in chapter 38 that is less clear. Otherwise we will come to the same conclusion Mr. McLeod has. Another interesting observation to note: Mr. McLeod bases the view that God changes His mind in this story on God’s ability not to lie. However, if God can actually change His mind on something that He said would come to pass, how is God being truthful at that point? Isn’t that a falsehood then? This simply means that Mr. McLeod has pushed the problem of God’s integrity back without actually solving the problem. If God is able to change His mind about something He said will definitively happen, how can God be trusted? Could God change His mind about the efficacy of the Gospel? Or of the promised inheritance to come for God’s people? Sounds very much like an Open Theist, although I don’t think Mr. McLeod would say he is one.
What does this passage indicate?
We have established that this passage cannot in any way imply that God is actually changing His mind when it comes to Hezekiah. If that is the case, what is God doing? There isn’t necessarily an easy answer to this question. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology notes,
The situations with Hezekiah and with the intercession of Moses are similar: God had said he would send judgement, and that was a true declaration, provided that the situation remained the same.Systematic Theology, pg. 165
If Hezekiah had not actually prayed, God would have let him die of his sickness. This doesn’t mean that God is held at the whims of men’s actions, but that He responds to men as the actions are in that particular moment (Grudem talks about this on the same page referenced above). This is also a matter of perspective. From our perspective, without knowing everything that will happen, it appears that God has gone from one state of mind to another. But from the point of view of the one who is beyond time and is pure act from everlasting to everlasting, it is simply the outworking of His plan.
Mr. McLeod has left hermeneutical principles behind in the construction of his article. It is dangerous to formulate a theological worldview based solely on your perceived implications of biblical narratives, especially when you ignore clear passages directly addressing the topic at hand. The implications are frightening: if God can change His mind about this, then what else can He change His mind about? What else is not “set in stone”? Is God simply at the mercy of what humans do without the power bring about His purposes? These are questions that Mr. McLeod does not answer in this article, but need to be addressed. We serve a God that cannot lie, that cannot change in any way, and that will bring about His plans, human choices and actions notwithstanding. This is the God of the Bible.
It seems to me you cannot say that God responds to the prayers of men and be consistent with the scripture you cite in Isaiah 46. “I will do that which I please…all that I plan, that will I do.” He’s gonna do what He’s gonna do.