Who is our God? Chapter 13


The subject we are now about to consider would hardly have been permitted or tolerated fifty years ago. But since then a considerable literature on the subject has sprung up, and many wrong views of God, due to the influence of Latin theology and the hell-fire teaching of the Reformation, have been satisfactorily reconsidered.

We ought, in fact, to suspect every doctrine regarding God which was the product of the Dark Ages and the Reformation, because in those days there was no exact use or understanding of Scripture terms.

One example will illustrate this. In Daniel we read a few times in chapter 7 of one termed "the Ancient of days." This description of the Deity springs from the Greek Old Testament translation, made about two thousand, two hundred years ago. Since then no one appears to have thought it worth while to prove that this, rendering was correct. It was our great pleasure twenty-five years ago to discover that the Hebrew word used did not mean "Ancient" at all, but involved rather the idea of change or changing. But of this more hereafter.

When I was a child at school, about the age of eight, I had to learn by rote a statement of the Presbyterian creed called "The Shorter Catechism." Very soon I forgot every word of this, but beyond a doubt this formidable statement made one fear God, whoever He was. It commenced by saying that God was "infinite, eternal and unchangeable." Budding theologians of eight years could only think of God as the Great Unknown or Unknowable, utterly distant from mankind.
That God is infinite and eternal we are quite prepared to accept, because if He were not, He could not be God to us. But that He is not subject to change in any way we stoutly deny.
A theologian informs us that the Kenosis theory (Phil. 2; the self-emptying of the Lord) contradicts the principle of the unchangeableness of God (Powell, in "The Principle of the Incarnation"). That is to say, he denies a very important truth because he has accepted a sheer falsehood. Yet we might answer, that the same one who emptied Himself, also died. He who subsisted in God's form exchanged it for slave form as a human being.

Let us examine those few passages which are said to speak of the unchangeableness of God.
Heb. 13:8, "Jesus Christ—yesterday and today the same, and for the ages." It will be noted that the word for "same" also signifies "Himself" (autos). He is always Himself. Nothing more is implied. When He gives up the kingdom to Him who is God and Father (1. Cor. 15:28), He will still be Himself, but He will not be exactly the same as He was prior to that point. Similarly, in Heb. 1:12, the heavens "shall be changed, yet Thou art the same" (again autos). That is, the Lord will still be Himself. He cannot perish or wax old.

James 1:17 is thought by many to indicate that with God there is no "variableness," because the A.V. of 1611 used this term. The R.V. of 1881 is even worse, as it informs us that with God there "can be no variation." Rotherham reads, "With whom is no alternation, nor shadow cast by turning." The New World version reads, "with whom there is not a variation of the turning of the shadow." In this verse God is called "the Father of the lights," that is, the heavenly lights, the well-known lights. With the Hebrew, light was a favourite theme. Psalm 97:11 tells us that "Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart," but this should really read, as is very well known, "Light bursts through for the righteous, and for. . . ." (zrch for zro). Cf. Psalm 112:4, which reads "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness." The true meaning of the Hebrew word (zrch) however, is to break through, burst through, shew through. And is it not true of all of us that often in our ponderings and heart-searchings light does suddenly burst through, most unexpectedly? "God is light, and a dark phase (dark spot, dark area, dark period) in Him there is none" (1. John 1:5. Here the word for dark is skotia, but in the next verse it is skotos, which signifies darkness in general, complete darkness). James 1:17 says not a word about variableness of character or nature, but refers to illumination.

Mal. 3:6 is perhaps the strongest text upon which the unchangeableness of God is hung. "For I am Jehovah, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed." The argument is that the Messenger of Jehovah will return to Israel, and purge out the evil ones. He is the Messenger-Executive (or Agent, Undertaker; Heb. mlak) of the Covenant, and it is because of God's Covenant with the fathers, from the days of whom Jacob had been going astray (v. 7), that these sons of Jacob had not been quite "finished off" as the Hebrew really says. The word kalah is used of the seventh day, when "God ended His work" (Gen. 2:2). That is, He then finished it. But we could not say He "consumed" it. This verb is used of the finishing of works, days, years, speaking, harvest, and anger. Because of His Covenant, Jehovah could not change in respect of His promise regarding Israel. We must take into reckoning the whole context. The Greek Septuagint reads "I have not changed" (ouk ElloiOmai). The Hebrew word used (shanithi) obviously comes from the verb Sh-N-A meaning to change or alter, not from Sh-N-H, meaning to repeat, reiterate. These two words have been to some extent confused in Hebrew, because they were similarly sounded. There is no need for the suggestion that Mal. 3:6 says "I do not repeat," because this bears no relevance to the rest of the passage.

Not only is there no term in Scripture which declares that God is altogether unchangeable, but there is one very important word in the Hebrew Scriptures, used quite frequently, which certainly states that He is capable of changing His mind or attitude. Let us boldly and cheerfully face whatever the Scriptures have to tell us, without attempting to turn off the meaning into the opposite sense. The day for condemning the ascription of human characteristics to God under the excuse that these are only "anthropomorphic"—that He is only pretending to possess human feelings and characteristics, is gone. God made man in His own physical image. It was a very human Jehovah in front of whom Abraham made his passionate appeal for Sodom in Gen. 18. The curse of anthropomorphism has made much of the Bible meaningless to many of God's people. Let us believe implicitly just what God has told us, without informing Him that He really means: something quite different.

"Whenever He is said to repent it is the figure of speech in which God assumes human attributes in order to reveal His attitude. Ignorance and failure lead us to change our minds and actions. The progress of His purpose leads Him to alter His dealings. As a result He seems to change His mind" (Unsearchable Riches, page 234, 1927).

That is to say, when the Hebrew word nacham is used of God, it really signifies "seems to change the mind," or "seems to repent." Gen. 6:6 would then read, "And Jehovah seemed to repent that He made man." 1. Sam. 15:11, "I seem to change My mind that I make Saul king." Numbers 23:19, "God is not a man, that He should lie, neither the son of man, that He should seem to change His mind. .." Amos 7:3, "Jehovah seemed to change His mind over this; it will not come to be, says Jehovah." Jonah 3:9, 10, "Who will get to know God will turn and seem to change His mind, and turn from His fierce anger, and we shall not perish? And God sees their works, for they turn from their evil way, and God is seeming to change His mind concerning the evil which. He said He would do to them, and He did it not."

The Hebrew Scriptures speak thirty-three times of God "repenting," or changing His mind or attitude. But unfortunately for the above theory, the word is used quite a few times with a negative. What then will the meaning be when we read that God does not repent? Take Psalm 110:4, "Jehovah swears, and will not seem to repent, Thou art Priest to obscurity. .." Or Jer. 4:28, "For I speak, I scheme, and I am not seeming to repent, and I am not turning back from it." We ought to consider the synonyms used along with the word "repent," to see what story they tell us. Gen. 6:6 states that Jehovah was "grieving Himself unto His heart." Are we to understand this as meaning that He was only pretending to grieve, that He was only putting on an attitude which He did not really feel at all? But why make all this "anthropomorphic" pretence when there were apparently no human witnesses of His grief?

Many have been stumbled by a single verse in Matthew (24:36), where the Lord admitted He did not know when a certain important event would take place. For many years this verse troubled me. I found it hard to believe. Yet without this one statement, how could we ever understand the kenosis or self-emptying of the Lord, mentioned in Phil. 2? Some have tried to make the verse in Matthew mean something else, but with no success. After all, is it more difficult to believe that God can change His mind or attitude, than to believe that for a time, while He was on earth, the Son of Man did not have complete knowledge? Let us believe the Scriptures exactly as they stand, or we shall go astray.

We human beings are so made that we cannot go through life without a certain amount of change. Generally we enjoy change, and it does us good. Yet many of us do not enjoy sufficient variety, and suffer accordingly. Human beings are in marked contrast to the grazing sheep or cow, which go through their lives with the minimum of variety. But God has made man different, and as man was made in the divine image, it means that his Maker enjoys and understands change.

There is nothing derogatory in saying that God enjoys change, or can change His ways and His methods and His mind. This does not make Him weak, or changeful, or capricious; but it means that the Creator of the infinite variety found in Nature and in the universe is capable of infinite enjoyment thereof. It is unthinkable that in the ages to come God will not be able to produce incessant new interests and changes with which to delight His creatures, and Himself. It is evident that Abraham believed he was sufficiently "God's friend" to take upon himself to approach Jehovah face to face with regard to the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah, when he heard that it hung in the balance. Immediately he confronted Jehovah, and made his impassioned pleas. One would do much for a friend, but for a very close friend, would not one do well-nigh anything in reason? Abraham knew full well what the wicked cities deserved. Why then did he approach Jehovah at all? Was it not that he might prevail upon Him, and get Him to change His mind? Did he not know that even he, dust and ashes, yet had some influence with Jehovah? Perhaps he had heard Jehovah telling the two messengers why Abraham had been called and chosen, and asking whether He should hide from Abraham what He was about to do (Gen. 18:18, 19). Abraham must have thought that there was some possibility of getting the doom of the cities averted. It was no unchangeable and indifferent Deity that he approached. We must face the fact that Jehovah appeared here in thoroughly human form, and exhibited truly human feelings. He was not acting a part, put on for the occasion. God could never thus deceive those whom He calls friends.

The chief philosophical obstacle to the answering of prayer lies in the ancient heathen dogma that God is unchangeable. We call it a heathen dogma, for were not all the so-called gods of the nations dumb and blind and senseless, incapable of any change beyond gradually crumbling away?

Another common description of God is "The Absolute," which indeed often implies One who is out of all relations with His creatures, unknowable, impassible. Such a description, used in this wrong sense, has been well termed "pure verbal jugglery." God is truly the Absolute when all His creatures find in Him their existence, their reason, and their relationships. Yet in the far future, it is unthinkable that such a God will not continue to be the God of the individual, to all His intelligent creatures. God having deliberately planned an infinite variety of human beings, evidently wishes to delight Himself in this variety. This would imply on His part a special and individual interest in each one, with whatever adjusted activity on His part as His loving kindness required.

C. Ryder Smith, D.D. in "The Bible Doctrine of Man" (1951) states that "there is something of ultimate value in change—for history is the process of change. The antinomy emerges that God is 'changeless' so far as changelessness is of value, and that He 'changes' so far as change has value. (Of course, we ascribe both 'change' and 'changelessness' in some degree also to man because of his 'personality.' A man is both 'the same man' as he was ten years ago, and 'a different man.') May it not be that under 'space,' the other category in history, similar claims may be made?"
A. C. Bouquet, D.D., in "The Doctrine of God" (1934) writes that "it is quite proper to speak of Deity as immutable, but only in the sense that He is not capricious, but ever true to the laws of His own being." After quoting Mal. 3:6 he continues that within God's primordial nature "there may well be a process of self-realization or self-expression which is of the character of duration and process and so involves an element of becoming. In this sense, though in this sense only, may we speak of the progressive mutability of divine experience. ." He who has complete control of His own potentialities, and can be and do what He will whensoever He will is not changed by His actions." He then quotes Prof. W. S. Urquhart of Calcutta University, "If we identify God with Absolute Value, we do not diminish that value by thinking of temporal process as not yet completed, even for God. . . we may without irreverence think of God as Himself evolving, differentiating Himself according to the laws of organic growth, but with far greater specification. . . . . We may regard God as entering into the world of time through the creation of human personalities, whose freedom He will not retract. . . . The end will be the Kingdom of God, the realm of the completely triumphant spiritual, and into this kingdom we shall bring all that we have truly won in the temporal struggle, and shall find our places as free personalities, each one of us discovering in the Kingdom of God the Kingdom of His Own spirit."

"Thus there will be joy in heaven over one sinner changing his mind, more than over ninety-nine 'righteous' ones—those who have 'no need of change of mind.'" (Luke 15:7). Joy always brings some change, and the implication here is that God joins in this joy and change. As Dr. Ryder Smith says, upon such repentance by the sinner, God can now do more for His child.
Even science cannot explain logically why the nature of every living thing is that it changes while it remains the same.

Says G. H. Langley in the 1937 volume of The Victoria Institute, dealing with the subject of "Change and the Eternal," "All space-time experience. .. . is a drama revealing the functioning of the Eternal" Also, he speaks of God as "the changelessly-changing source of all becoming, who would Himself change if He ceased to be the author of change."

The late Prof. James Y. Simpson, in "Man and the Attainment of Immortality," says "Matter may be regarded as the result of the elimination of freedom from a certain portion of the experience of God. In the fulness of His experience He is transcendent. Mutation is characteristic of that which is becoming, of the process, of God as Immanent. God is, we have said; the World becomes. He is the Being in the Becoming—that is, God as immanent. But He is not exhausted by the process: He is—that is God as transcendent, as simultaneous. It is peculiarly difficult to represent. the situation clearly to ourselves, yet we get a hint of it in our own personality, and man being a genetic product of the process, there is no illegitimacy in arguing from man to the character of the process. If we make God in our image, it is because He first made us in His. Now every human individual can say of himself, 'I am, and I become.' There is something of him that is not subject to the law of change in the degree in which this is true of the physical and certain mental aspects of his being. Now that which is persistent through these changes—that self-identity or measure of individuality that gives him a sense of transcendence to the rest of himself—is the basis on which his existence and his freedom rest, and his freedom is his power to create and initiate change. The consciousness of transcendence comes out also in selfconsciousness—in the ability to separate himself as subject from himself as object. The activity of God as Transcendent is internal, within Himself, or with the spirits of just men made perfect, for the meaning of communion is activity without change. On the other hand, His activity in relation to the cosmic process and the gradual development of beings towards greater freedom and perfection is in time, durational, and in that limited sense God is becoming, becoming man, a limitation that is removed as men become perfect. God has been becoming man in order that man may become as God. He became man in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Logos. So in thinking of the Transcendence of God we strive to represent and express to ourselves His persistence through change, His wisdom and fulness of power."

End Chapter 13 (Alexander Thomson)

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Listing of Articles

Who is our God? Chapter 1
Who is our God? Chapter 2
Who is our God? Chapter 3
Who is our God? Chapter 4
Who is our God? Chapter 5
Who is our God? Chapter 6
Who is our God? Chapter 7
Who is our God? Chapter 8
Who is our God? Chapter 9
Who is our God? Chapter 10
Who is our God? Chapter 11
Who is our God? Chapter 12
Who is our God? Chapter 13
Who is our God? Chapter 14
Who is our God? Chapter 15
Who is our God? Chapter 16
Who is our God? Chapter 17
A Female Deity?
Acts 7:15 & 16
All Things
Amos 3:6
An Answer to the Challenge of Hell
Angels & Men One Species?
An Interesting New Version
Are You an Ambassador?
Are You a Pillar?
Are You a Witness for Jehovah?
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 1
Are You an Israelite? Chapter 2
Are You an Israelite? Chapters 3 & 4
A Special Resurrection?
Baptized for the Dead?
"Beloved" or "Loveable"?
Brotherly Love
Book Review
Colossians 1:23
Common or Unclean?
Common Sense
Did Paul Visit Spain?
Did the Lord give up His Flesh?
"Divine" Fire?
Doctoring the Holy Scriptures
Does God know Everything?
Does God will Everything?
Does your Spiritual Life seem Unreal?
Did God hate Esau?
Earth our Future Home?
Emphasis in the Scriptures
English more Archaic than Ancient Hebrew?
Ephesians 1:23
Erroneous Translations
Gleanings from A.T.
Heaven our Homeland
How is Christ God's "Word"?
How many were Crucified?
In the Christ All Shall Be Made Alive
Is Dust the Serpent's Food?
Is the Devil Impersonal?
Isaiah 26:14,19
James 4:5
Jehovah's Theocratic Organization
Jesus the Saviour
John 19:29
The Kingdom of the Hebrews
Leave it with God
Men or Mortals?
Misplaced Ingenuity
New Light on the Second Death
None Other Things
Objective Value of Prayer
Other or Different
Our Advocate
Paul's Chain
Paul the Sensitive
Paul versus James
Prevailing Prayer
Problems of Translation: I Cor. 7:21
Problems of Translation: II Cor. 3:18
Psalm 66:18
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
Rogues and Rascals
Rom 9 & 10: Human Freedom & Human Choice
Romans 9:14-24
Romans 9:30 to 10:21
II Corinthians 5:16
II Peter 3:10
Seven Wicked Spirits
Shall We See God?
Sir, We would see Jesus
Should we fear God?
The Bloody Husband
The Cherubim of Glory
The Corinthian Error
The Cunning Manager
The Dead Sea Scroll of Isaiah
The Designation of Jesus as "God"
The Disruption Fallacy
The Disruption Fallacy #2
The Eighth of Proverbs
The Eleven "Generations" of Genesis
The Elohim
The Ends of the Eons
The Eternal Saviour-Judge
The Eternity of Hell Torments
The First Christian Convention
The Four Gospels
The Gentiles in Ephesians
The Greek Definite Article
The Hardening of Pharoah's Heart
The Hebrew Conception of Time
The Hebrews Epistle
The Hebrew Terms Rendered 'For Ever'
The Hope of Israel
The Life of Prayer
The Lord Jesus Revealing the Heart of God
The Lord's Relatives
The Lordly Supper
The Meaning of Ta Panta
The Ministry of Women Parts 1 & 2
The Ministry of Women Parts 3 & 4
The "Penalty of Sin"
The Poor in Spirit
The Primeval Laws
The Primeval Laws #2
The Problem of Evil
The Quality of Divine Love
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Serpent of Genesis 3
The Soul and the Spirit
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 1 & 2
The Talmud of the Jews Parts 3 & 4
The Translation of Acts 28:25
The Trial of the Lord
The Truth of the Bible
The Two Seeds
The Works of Henry Clay Mabie, D.D.
"Three Days and Three Nights"
Translator's Incentive
Truthfulness and Mercy
Try the Spirits
Unto Eternity and Further
We have all been Wrong
What did Peter do?
What does Olethros mean?
What Happened to Jephthah's Daughter?
What is Destruction?
What is the Flesh?
What is the Sin unto Death?
Whence "Eternity"?
Who are the Saints?
Who is Jehovah?
Who Shall Deliver Me?
Why Pray?
Why the "Lake" of Fire?
Will God Punish?
Will the Lord Come for Us?
Will the Man of Lawlessness be Killed?


The Differentiator Revisited 2009