Good News--Jesus Changes His Mind

We live in a culture that looks down on people changing their minds. For example, politicians are criticized if they change their minds, and when they do, they often deny that their new position is inconsistent with their old one. Their opponents say that they can’t be trusted because of their inconsistent views. Vote for me because my words can be trusted. You would think that it wouldn’t be that hard to make the case that changing your mind is a virtue. After all, would you really want a political leader who wasn’t willing to acknowledge that a previously held view was inadequate? Wouldn’t it be reassuring to know that our leaders were willing to grow rather than hold fast to discredited views? Apparently not.

Therefore, it is not surprising that many people of faith assume that the God of the Bible would never change her mind. After all, God is all knowing, omnipotent and perfect. If we should come across stories in the Bible where it looks like God has changed her mind, we must simply not be interpreting the story properly.

Yet there are stories that simply can’t be explained away. After the golden calf incident, God says to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation” (Ex. 32:9-10). But then Moses intervenes on behalf of his people, and we are told that “the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people” (Ex. 32:14).

We see the same change of mind in the Gospel of Mark, this time on the part of Jesus. A Gentile woman begs Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Not only does he initially refuse to act, but he also responds quite rudely, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (7:27). But when she persists, “Sir, even the dogs and under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (7:28), he changes his mind: “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter” (7:29).

Why do we find this change of mind so troubling? Most of us are just unwilling to live in a relationship with God that is not predictable and manageable. We desperately want to be able control this relationship. Even though Jesus says that the Spirit “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (John 3:8), we want to control that elusive presence.

What we discover here and elsewhere is that God refuses to be contained in our pre-determined categories.  And thank God for that! If God were more consistent, Israel would have been destroyed for its transgressions. If Jesus were more consistent, the Gentile woman’s daughter would have remained possessed. If the Spirit weren’t so elusive and surprising, our world would undoubtedly remain stuck in its old ways without hope that God might unexpectedly surprise us with something new.

Roger Greene2 Comments