by James Dolezal; LIGONIER MINISTRIES
“The Glory of Israel will not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind” (1 Sam. 15:29; cf. Num. 23:19, NIV). These words of the prophet Samuel provide a straightforward reply to the question “Does God change His mind?” Yet in the same chapter, we are told twice that God regretted having made Saul king (1 Sam. 15:11, 35). Indeed, several passages of Scripture describe God as regretting, relenting, or repenting (which fundamentally indicates a change of mind) (e.g., Gen. 6:6–7; Ex. 32:14; 2 Sam. 24:16; Jer. 18:8; Jonah 3:10).
Classical theists understand such passages to be speaking about God anthropomorphically and do not take such descriptions literally. John Gill, for instance, explains Exodus 32:14 in this way:
Not that any of God’s thoughts or the determinations of his mind are alterable; for the thoughts of his heart are to all generations [Ps. 33:11]; but he changes the outward dispensations of his providence, or his methods of acting with men . . . and this being similar to what they do when they repent of anything, who alter their course, hence repentance is ascribed to God, though, properly speaking, it does not belong to him.
This is similar to the non-literal way we understand passages that speak of God having body parts or performing operations proper to bodies (such as smelling, hearing with ears, seeing with eyes, experiencing intestinal disturbance, moving about locomotively in space, etc.). Several theological truths undergird this interpretation and belief that God does not change His mind.
First, Scripture testifies that God is immutable. While God changes the heavens and the earth, He Himself is not among the things He changes: “You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same” (Ps. 102:26–27). God declares, “I, the LORD, do not change” (Mal. 3:6). He is “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow” (James 1:17). When God makes a promise, He swears by Himself and so stakes the surety of His word on Himself. It is God’s unchangeableness that guarantees the unchangeableness of His promises and that gives us strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us (Heb. 6:13–18). To whatever extent God could change His mind, our confidence in the unchangeableness of His promises would be destabilized.
Second, the universal scope and efficacy of God’s decree also tell against God’s changing His mind. He declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done. These all unfold in accordance with His purpose and good pleasure (Isa. 46:10). God “works all things according to the counsel of his will,” (Eph. 1:11) and no one frustrates His plans (Job 42:1–2; Prov. 19:21; Isa. 14:26–27; Dan. 4:35). Insomuch as a change of mind ordinarily redirects our actions due to unexpected roadblocks, God’s mind cannot change. All things and circumstances—good and evil—are included in His comprehensive decree for the world and so cannot not be the occasion of a change of mind in Him.
Third, God’s omniscience rules out any change of mind in Him. A change of mind is invariably due to the acquisition of new knowledge or of a new judgment about reality, but God is perfect in knowledge (Job 37:16), knowing all things (1 John 3:20). Moreover, His perfect knowledge of the world is not derived from the world. He teaches all humans knowledge (Ps. 94:9–11), but no one teaches or informs God (Isa. 40:12–14). For this reason, the Westminster Confession of Faith states that God’s knowledge is “infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature.” Such omniscience is not susceptible to augmentation, and so, God’s mind is not susceptible to change.
Finally, God’s perfection and fullness of being requires that He undergo no change of mind. A state of mind is a state of being. Mental states have an ontological status. If God were to enter a new state of mental actuality—which is what happens in every change of mind—we would be compelled to say that He previously lacked some actuality of being, namely, the state of mind into which He entered via a change He underwent. What’s more, God would be ontologically dependent upon whatever agent or event caused His new state of mind. New states of mind are caused states of mental being and actuality. And there simply are no caused states of being or actuality in God. He is the uncaused cause of all else—the One from whom, through whom, and to whom are all creatures (Rom. 11:36). As such, God is the One who is fullness of being itself, giving to all but receiving from none. Perhaps for this reason most of all, classical theists are correct to insist that God does not experience changes of mind.