This isn’t just a question for seminary students or those who like to engage in philosophical thought experiments. It is a question that arises naturally as we read about God in the Scriptures. Our answer to this question brings up a host of others as well:
If God doesn’t change his mind, why pray? Isn’t it useless if God will do what he decided beforehand?
Can God change his mind about major things, like cancelling eternal judgment in hell and bringing everyone to heaven in the end (which may encourage some), or the other way around (which should terrify everyone)?
If God is mutable (changeable), is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Early on in Scripture we see God expressing regret: “And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth…” (Genesis 6:5-6). “I regret that I have made Saul King…” (1 Sam 15:11).
We could easily read texts like these and conclude that God made a mistake. Maybe he should not have created man. Maybe he should not have made Saul Israel’s king. Did God make a poor decision?
In other places, people seem to be counting on the fact that God changes his mind:
“Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” (Jonah 3:9-10)
Of course, we have to weigh the numerous texts that state quite clearly that God does not change.
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it.” (Numbers 23:19)
“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you , O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6). See also Isaiah 40:13-14; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8; 6:17-18.
People usually change their minds for two reasons: a change of desire or a change in circumstances. God does not change his mind because he is subject to neither of these weaknesses.
God does not change within himself
God’s desires are unchanging because his character is unchanging. God does not change within himself, because he would have to either be getting better (growing in excellencies) or getting worse somehow. He would have to be gaining knowledge, growing in wisdom, or he would have to have made a mistake that needs correction. In any case, for God to be subject to any internal change would mean he is not a perfect being.
The Bible does not reveal to us a God who in any way grows or matures, much less grows deficient. It is a good thing to say your son or daughter has potential. It would be a very bad thing if we could say that about God. Rather, the Lord is no wiser, no more knowledgeable, experienced, or in any way better or worse than he was before creation. God can (and does) will a change in the world outside himself, but he does not (and cannot) will a change in himself.
God cannot be subjected to change from anything outside himself
God cannot be deceived by anyone since he has complete knowledge. He cannot be convinced to alter course, because he is all wise and doesn’t need any counselors (Isai. 40:13-14). There are no unforeseen circumstances that would cause God to change his will. God cannot be emotionally manipulated the way that we are. We cannot force him to feel differently than he does. This has to do with what theologians call God’s impassibility. There is more to this topic than I can do justice to here. Simply put, for any agent outside of God to be able to force a change on God would be in some way greater than God, which is impossible.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever
No, our God does not change his mind, nor does he need to. This ought to encourage you. Our God will not shift from his promises. He won’t enact a better plan, because there is no better plan! Our totally powerful, sovereign, wise, and knowing God needs no counselor. He doesn’t need to learn on the job or field test his ideas. Neither is he relying on you to inform him (which would be a terrifying prospect). Instead, we pray in faith, not to change God, but to be changed. We do know that God uses our prayers. He wills not only the ends (what will occur), but also how it will come to pass (the means). Often the means God uses are the prayers of his people. So set yourself to praying. We pray not to convince God to move against his will, but to lay our cares and wants at his feet, submitting to his perfect plan. And if we find that if our prayers and his will conflict, it is we, not he, who must change our thinking.