"Does God Change God's Mind?"
October 11, 2023, 6:00 AM

Franciscan Fractals: “Does God Change God’s Mind?”

A contemplation on today’s culture through the eyes of St. Francis.


And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that

he planned to bring on his people. Exodus 32:14


St. Francis never witnessed God change God’s mind. For St. Francis, God simply claimed him as God’s own, loved him, and that was it. Period. End of story.

The trust that St. Francis modeled, however, is missing in much of our culture and in many of our churches. Messages within the Hebrew Scriptures seem to shout out for a corrective of unconditional love from the Gospels. Thinking of God as an angry person is like having an angry father waiting to pounce on us if we do not do the right thing. Thus, we had better do the “right thing” or be punished. Exodus story resonates with the state of anxiety and pending doom which many of us experience.

The above Exodus passage is from the story of the Israelites in the desert. Aaron, the high priest, made a golden calf for the Israelites to worship. The calf was created as a substitute for a God who never seemed to appear. When God saw the Israelites worshiping the golden calf, God became angry and told Moses to leave since God planned to kill the Israelites. Instead, Moses stayed, and apparently convinced God to do otherwise and not kill the Israelites. (I wish that I had that kind of persuasive power.)

Passages like the one in Exodus have been used by the church for centuries to reinforce a perception that God changes God’s mind. Yet, the image of an angry God who changes his mind is not part of God’s revelation. It is, instead, simply part of what the church has uncritically taught for centuries.

The concept of an angry God who can change his mind has haunted (and tormented) Christians for centuries. It has led people to pray endlessly hoping that God in his anger will not send them to hell. This concept has reinforced the belief that sickness and death can be avoided by sincere prayer as though God can be “bought off” by persistence and contrition. A more dire consequence is that God is not only an angry deity, but even condones punishment and death.

Why was this type of story included in the Hebrew Scriptures? This is how stories were told 3,000 years ago. The Israelites were a group of people who had matured only to the emotional and intellectual level of a child. As children get into fights, so too the people of Israel got into fights with one another. In their mind, the world consisted of “good” people and “bad” people. Any god who was fair had to reward the “good” and punish the “bad.”

As a child experiences the wrath of an angry parent, so too did Israel interpret their world at that time. And, as children today bargain with their parents in order not to get punished, Israel saw Moses as bargaining with God to prevent any punishment.

To complicate this picture, the tribe of Israel lived in a world of mythical and magical figures. They had a limited concept of an invisible God, and much less a concept of a God who was promoting loving relationships instead of using coercive tactics. Jesus, the Christ, was the visible image that demonstrated that life could be lived beyond rewarding the “good” and punishing the “bad.”

Christ is the loving presence of a God who never changes direction. God’s mind has only one trajectory, and that is to love, love more, and then love even more. There is no alternative plan, and no reason to change course. In Christ, we have learned that God never changes God’s mind. That is comforting and, in fact, the way of salvation.

May you never change your mind about a God who can never change his mind about loving you.

Prayers and Blessings,

Fr. John