Does God Change?

The following passage from James Dolezal’s All That is in God has been pecking away at my brain like a woodpecker at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning for the last month. It encapsulates the main thrust of what I took away from reading Dolezal’s book, and I find it to be a linchpin, in that once one grasps and accepts these notions much of the rest of his thesis (and theology proper) follows as a matter of good and necessary consequence.

Those who subscribe to the softer version of theistic mutualism are usually willing to deny that the Bible speaks literally or properly of God when it speaks of Him possessing body parts (e.g., Ps. 18:7-9; 89:13; Isa. 65:5), moving about locomotively in space (e.g., Gen. 11:5; Ex.3:8), or even changing His mind (e.g., Ex 32:14). But when the Bible speaks of God as experiencing changes of relation, affection, or agency, we are told that these changes are properly in God and that the text would be meaningless or even untrue if this were not so. But it is not at all obvious that this is the case. The classical theist simply regards these as yet further instances of the Bible’s anthropomorphic (or anthropopathic) language, revealing something true about God – such as His true opposition to sin, His gracious compassion, or His providential guidance of historical affairs – progressively in time and under a modality (viz., change) that is improper to His plentitude of being. Such improper or nonliteral forms of attribution do not obscure the truth about God any more than talk about God’s right arm or nostrils obscures the truth about Him. Our theology should enable us to discern the various accommodated and nonliteral ways in which God speaks to us about Himself in biblical revelation. Thus, passages depicting God as undergoing change are spoken improperly and from the human vantage point and should not be taken in a strictly literal sense.

God alters the revelation of Himself without altering Himself ontologically. He unchangingly wills changes in His ad extra dealings with creatures without willing or experiencing a corresponding change of agency in His own intrinsic actuality. The proper locus of all change is in the revelation of God – as it appears to us successively through various phenomenal instruments – and in the effects of His sovereign administration. Its proper locus is not in Him as revealer and administrator. “When repentance is attributed to God,” a Brakel writes, “this does not suggest a change in God Himself, but rather a change in activity (in comparison to a prior moment) towards the objects of that activity, this change being according to His immutable decree.” It is by rejecting or ignoring the revelation of God’s aseity, pure actuality, immutability, simplicity, and so forth that one goes wrong in interpreting the Bible’s portrayals of change in God as indicating real changes in His being.

That’s a mouthful (and mindful!). But let it sink and soak into your brain for a while. Look up some terms if you need to. And let me know what you think.


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