Thursday, January 27, 2011

Does God Change?

I blame Susanne. Again. I think it was one of the posts on Tradition and whether or not it should be changed (and the answer is no, for Tradition. Little 't' traditions are different.) where somewhere in the comments the idea that does God change got brought up. And it's sort of been stewing in the back of my mind.

It reminded me, somehow, of something I said in my old posts on the death penalty. That God does not change. He is the same God in the Old Testament as He is in the New. Which, for the purposes of those posts, was about showing that if God approved of the death penalty under certain circumstances in the Old Testament then there must still be approval of the death penalty in the New Testament.

We tend to think of God differently for some reason, but He didn't really change. We think of Christ as...nice and cuddly basically. It's all about love. And the God of the Old Testament is all about wrath and punishment. But if you step back and look, there are instances of love from God in the Old Testament. Actually, the entire act of creation is one of love on the grandest scale. There are moments of kindness, even. Forgiveness. There's punishment, sure. But so there are in the New.

I tend to think of it as the evolving relationship of a parent to a child. Keeping in mind that all analogy or metaphor used to speak of God falls far short of the reality and has inherent flaws, of course. When you're a small child your parent seems harsh and authoritarian. There's a certain kind of relationship. You're too small to understand the reasoning behind things that you should or shouldn't do. It is very much a dictatorial relationship. But once you've become an adult, your relationship with your parent changes. You're more on a level with them. (Which is one place where the analogy falls far short, admittedly.) You understand better the reasoning and can be directed more gently.

Part of the problem is that we can only see things after they have occurred. We are incredibly limited creatures and have no way to grasp the entire plan. We have bits and pieces, but we're really just reacting to what has happened and guessing at what might happen. God knows everything. He knows what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen for all time. So things that might seem odd to us are really just parts of the plan - necessary bits that we can't quite wrap our heads around because we don't get it all.

This is basically how I look at it: "God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players*, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time."Footnote to above: * ie., everybody. - Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett (Gratuitous GO quote!)

Another thought. The idea that God might change is actually fairly terrifying. It' have a being of infinite and ultimate power. There is nothing that you can do to this being. It created you. It created the rules of the universe, the principles upon which everything operates and is sustained. Let's say that one day God changes. He changes His mind about gravity. *whoosh* Bye bye! God as a mutable person is a bad thing. It takes us back to the pagan pantheons, who were moody and extremely human in their motivations. One second they were on your side, the next they weren't. They were projections of humanity onto the world. God is not like that. The world is a reflection of God, covered over and stained, but still a reflection of Him. If He changes, the world changes. Reality changes and nothing is certain.


  1. Um, I will gladly take the blame if it means you write such great posts like this! :-)

    I absolutely enjoyed this and honestly need to be reminded of this sometimes. I can at times see God in the OT and marvel over His actions and contrast them to Jesus who seems so much more loving. But you are right. God did really care for people and His mercy and kindness were there even in the OT. The last paragraph is wonderful! Thank you for this timely reminder.

    You are more than welcome to mention it on that particular post on my blog. Maybe Becky and others will want to read it.

  2. :D You're so good to admit that it's all your fault!

    I think we do need to be reminded that it's the same God throughout the Bible. We've somehow focused entirely on Christ being this good, sweet person, which He is, but He's also God. Same God that commanded the destruction of entire cities for their sins.

    Pht. Naw. I don't like to do that. It makes me feel too much like a little kid begging for attention. 'LOOKIT MEEEEEEEEEEEEE!' :p

  3. I am very happy that Susanne decided to share this post, cause I really enjoyed reading it :)

    Though I do see your point that the "change" in God from OT to NT, might be likened to that of a parent, I think the parallel breaks when we look at our individual lives. Because, unless there has been a sudden shift in human maturity for all humankind, then we would each need the disciplinary action of the God from OT before we have matured enough to understand the God in NT. I'm not sure if I'm explaining myself properly. It seems to me, that the shift in Gods "behaviour/attitude", would only make sense if it was our perception of him, in our individual lives (so through the span of our own life-time), but since the shift is over several decades, even thousand of years, I don't think that parallel explains it properly.

  4. Becky,

    I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    And you're right, the parallel doesn't explain it quite right.

    Humanity hasn't matured, of course. We do the same things, over and over again only sometimes we find new ways of doing them so it sort of looks like we're getting more mature. But I tend to think that that's illusion more than anything else.

    I haven't come up with or across a better illustration though, than the parent/child one, as imperfect as it is.

    In this case I think I should have focused less on the maturity angle. It's not so much that our parent/child dynamic shifts because we mature mentally or emotionally, but simply because time moves on and at some point we are no longer children.

  5. Thanks for sharing Amber! I'll think more about this.

    I think if we believe that the one who inspired the OT and the NT (and the Quran) is the same Person then it makes sense to think that God perhaps doesn't change. But do you think the God of OT and the God of NT and the God of Quran has not changed?

    I'm already thinking ...

  6. Suroor,

    No, I don't think that God has changed.

    Weird thought: change is something of a function of mortality. Humans are constantly searching for meaning, fueled by the knowledge of their inevitable death, and in that search they create circumstances that change themselves.

  7. Amber,

    I really like what you wrote here: "Humans are constantly searching for meaning, fueled by the knowledge of their inevitable death, and in that search they create circumstances that change themselves."

    Maybe, it is not God that changes, but as we are changed, so does our perception of God change? I spoke to my Mum briefly about this when I was home last (she's a Christian) and she said, that she values different qualities in God these days, than she did when she was young. Maybe along with shifting paradigms and different cultures, society as a whole, values and emphasizes different parts of God, although God him/her/it-self doesn't change?

    Just my thoughts.

    I'm reading 'A History of God' by Karen Armstrong right now, and it's really thought-provoking, so if it's something that interests you I'd greatly recommend it.

  8. Becky,

    That I can believe, that our perception of God changes over time. You can see that, as you point out, in individual lives all the time. Our concept of God as a child is not the same concept that we hold as an adult. Our view of reality is informed by our experiences and each experience changes us in a million ways, sometimes small and sometimes large. I would definitely say that the same shifts hold true for society.

    I actually read A History of God several years ago. I like Ms. Armstrong's earlier works quite well. Her later books seem to have suffered somewhat though.

  9. It's definitely the theory that seems to make most sense to me these days. Also the reason behind why I tend to believe there's truth in all religions these days, that maybe we need different ways to achieve a relationship with God, and to understand his/her/its personality.

    I have to admit this is the first book I'm reading by Armstrong, but I'm sad to here her work isn't as great these days. I'm really enjoying A History of God, but I do think it's one of her earlier works (1993 according to my copy, although the Danish translation is only from 2001).

  10. I can see the point that there is truth in all religions. They say so many of the same things so much of the time with variance based on culture or time period. But does that make them all true?

    Well, ymmv, with regard to Armstrong's later work. My problem is mainly that I feel she's dumbed it down for the audience. The latest published book that I read by her was The Bible which is meant to explain how we arrived at the Bible that we have today. And I was disappointed in it because it left out a lot of history and what I think is both fascinating and important information for the expediency of being brief and having larger print to entice people to read it. I've read and enjoyed A History of God, The Great Transformation, Holy War, The Battle for God and Muhammad though the last is hardly an in-depth biography by any means. So having read six of her works, I've liked five of them. It's not a bad percentage really. :)

  11. Well, my background is having gone from growing up in a very Christian family (and considering myself very Christian as well), to non-practicing Christian following my father's death where I became sort of dis-illussioned. To converting to Islam, following more progressive interpretations, to these days where I feel like there's truth in all religions, but there's also errors in all religions, and honestly, I don't know what to think, so I'm continuing my journey.

    Well, 5 out of 6 ain't bad, but I'd be sad to see her dumbing down her work, because that's what I like so much about AHoG so far, all the fascinating background information. I had been interesting in reading A Case for God, which I believe is her latest, but I guess I'll see when/if I get the chance.

  12. Mmm...I don't think our journey is done until we die, really. There's always something else to learn and other perspectives to consider so I'm not sure that anything is set in stone until there's no more chances left. And even then, what if I'm wrong and reincarnation is real?

    It might be a singular case with The Bible. I believe it was written as a part of a series of books about books that changed the world, so there might have been some editing choices made by people other than Armstrong. It's just such a huge difference from her other works. I've heard good things about A Case for God, but I haven't gotten my hands on that one yet.

  13. Well, I suppose if you are wrong and re-incarnation is real, I guess you get another chance to make your choice ;)

    But yes, I agree, I plan on keeping growing and learning.

    Well I do hope The Bible was just an odd one out, because her writing is really good and I'm excited to read more in the future.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...