We’re barely into the new year, and already the well-intentioned resolutions of many have fallen by the wayside. Some things never change. And in some cases, that's a good thing.
We are told in the book of Lamentations, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end." The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews declares that Jesus is "the same yesterday, today and forever." And the prophet Malachi quotes the Almighty: "I, the Lord, do not change."
The unchanging nature of God is known as immutability, derived from the Latin roots im (not) and mute (change, as in mutate.) This would lead us to deduce that the Lord doesn't change his mind. In fact, after being admonished by the famed talking donkey for his reluctance, Balaam delivered this statement from the Lord: "God is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should change his mind."
So God never changes his mind ... right?
Yes.. No... Maybe so...
Many are familiar with Jonah, the prophet who got scarfed down by a whale before agreeing to warn the people of Nineveh that their city would be destroyed in 40 days. God later withheld his punishment when the city repented. Some may also recall how the Lord acquiesced to Moses' plea for mercy from his announced destruction of the Hebrew people who had crafted the golden calf. Numerous other instances may be cited as well.
So how do we reconcile this apparent discrepancy? Is the Bible messed up? Far from it. Many places in Scripture show God's willingness to be influenced by good behavior. From the prophet Joel: "Return to the Lord your God, for he is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. He is eager to relent and not punish."
But if he said he doesn't lie or change his mind, yet clearly states he would accept a plea bargain after declaring unconditional disaster — what's up with that? Is the Bible contradicting itself?
To continue this conversation, we must agree to two ground rules: 1. God knows everything. 2. I don't. That being said, careful examination of scripture may reveal a dichotomy between the direct statements of God and our translations. Reading scripture in any one of the myriad English versions available today (including the King James Version) may not adequately convey the intent of the original text. Bible scholars surmise that despite his apparent unconditional forecasts of destruction, God's overarching intent is always to bless, not destroy. As Jesus said, "A thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But I came to give life—life that is full and good."
Thus, because of his holy, righteous yet loving nature and the fact that he knows the end from the beginning — God knew the outcome all along.
As 2023 commences, we can be encouraged with the words of the psalmist: "From everlasting to everlasting thou art God ... for those who honor the Lord, his love lasts forever; his goodness endures for all generations." And from the mouth of the Savior: "I am with you always, even unto the ends of the Earth"
Out with the old — in with the new. As spoken by the prophet, "The mercies of the Lord are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness."
May we all enjoy the richest blessings of the one who said he would never leave us nor forsake us. Happy New Year!
Wynn Hopkins has served as Chaplain Volunteer at Ketchikan Medical Center.
Perspectives is a regular column sponsored and written by members of the Ketchikan Ministerial Association.