2015 Lent 7


Deuteronomy 9:13-21

The LORD was so angry with Israel, Moses says, that he wanted to destroy them all.  And Aaron, Moses’ very brother, was most culpable!  But Moses interceded–more like argued, actually, according to this and parallel passages in Exodus–and God relented.

This episode reminds me of the story of Jonah from Ash Wednesday’s reading, when God relented from his anger against the nation Nineveh.  God relented; and Jonah was angry.

Can God change his mind?

It’s like when a kid once asked me at summer camp, “Can God make a rock so big he can’t lift it?”

Without going into a scientific explanation about gravity and planets and suns and stars and black holes and where gravity is and is not effective and etc., I cut to the chase and said, “Do you want to know if there’s anything God can’t do?”

“Uh,”, he said, “yeah, I guess so.”

So I pointed him to a Bible verse that says God can’t lie, which seemed to satisfy.

But that’s kind of like this question: can God change his mind?

I like to think so.  I like to think that God is subject to emotion too, like me.  For that makes God more like me, not so infinite, not so omniscient, maybe even a little irrational at times.  I can understand God better that way.

Like the Greeks and Romans!  Their gods are very human, right?  What beginner in Greek mythology hasn’t heard about one of Zeus’ escapades, whether overcome by a fit of anger or of lust?

So, is God up in a heavenly board room pacing undecidedly back and forth, wringing his hands in indecision, fretting over the best plan of action in order to keep the universe’s harmony humming?

Er, um, maybe God can’t actually change his mind.

But that would mean God isn’t so much like me, that God is perhaps infinite and unknowable; and that we are thus left to our own finite capabilities in order to explain God–finite verbal capabilities like the use of metaphor to communicate truth.

We call God Father, but God is not a father in any earthly, physical, material sense.  We call God King, but the best we can explain is that God is like a king, albeit better than any king we could ever imagine.  These are metaphors we employ in attempts to understand God better.

So, maybe, is it that God doesn’t change; that God is actually immutable, as classic and Reformed theology teaches; that only our perspectives of God change?

Maybe God always was loving towards Israel, only Moses didn’t see it at first.  Maybe God was always loving to those foreigners, those Ninevites, only Jonah didn’t want to believe it.  Maybe it was Moses and Jonah who were mad enough to destroy something, not God.

And maybe that’s the lens through which we should read these passages.


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