The Open Theology movement is a philosophical framework of God that allows for God to change. Of course, most orthodox Jews, Christians, and Catholics concur that God is immutable, and that His immutability is a critical component of His character. As I have stated in the past, a true Theology (study of God) will result in a.) conclusions of who or what God is (character, traits, personality, substance, etc…) and b.) an understanding of what God desires from his creation (obedience, satisfaction, appeasement, etc…). The conclusion of Theology then is a formula of who God is and what God wants. Anything existing outside of these two is extraneous static.
I recently read an essay entitled Pentecostal Prayer and Relational Openness of the Triune God by Dr. Kenneth Archer, Professor of Theology at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. The essay attempts to create a “model” of God that is a “conscious and critical understanding of God rooted in my personal relationship with the living God (Social Trinity).”
The basis of Archer’s position is primarily demonstrated in Exodus 32. Most directly at issue are the words, “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.” (V. 14 NRSV). It is this idea of “change” that fuels the debate of the immutability of God.
This passage (Exodus 32) documents the story of the Golden Calf. Moses was still on the mountain top with God and down below, after many days had passed, the Hebrews “gathered around Aaron and said, ‘Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’” They convince Aaron to build the Golden Calf and start worshiping and dancing around it. This act sends God into a fury!
“Adonai said to Moshe, “Go down! Hurry! Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have become corrupt! So quickly they have turned aside from the way I ordered them to follow! They have cast a metal statue of a calf, worshipped it, sacrificed to it and said, ‘Isra’el! Here is your god, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” Adonai continued speaking to Moshe: “I have been watching these people; and you can see how stiffnecked they are. Now leave me alone, so that my anger can blaze against them, and I can put an end to them! I will make a great nation out of you instead.” (v 7-10)
Who can blame God for his rage? After such a MIRACULOUS escape from Egypt, the Jews are already losing faith in God.
But Moses implores:
Moshe pleaded with Adonai his God. He said, “Adonai, why must your anger blaze against your own people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand? Why let the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intentions that he led them out, to slaughter them in the hills and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger! Relent! Don’t bring such disaster on your people! Remember Avraham, Yitz’chak and Isra’el, your servants, to whom you swore by your very self. You promised them, ‘I will make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky; and I will give all this land I have spoken about to your descendants; and they will possess it forever.’” (v. 11-13)
This passage instantly forces us to challenge what we believe about God, more precisely, what He knows, when He knows it, and how He responds. If we were to take this passage without any other Biblical context, here is what we may learn about God:
- God does not recognize the Jews as His people and He had nothing to do with getting the Israelites out of Egypt. It was by the power of Moses: “Your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have become corrupt!”
- God destroys people after their first sin. Or, alternatively, worshiping another God is grounds for annihilation: “So quickly they have turned aside from the way I ordered them to follow! They have cast a metal statue of a calf, worshiped it, sacrificed to it”
- God is EXTREMELY jealous of other gods who are not even gods.
- God is omnipresent and omniscient. God sees from the mountaintop that the calf has been made and informs Moshe: “They have cast a metal statue of a calf, worshipped it, sacrificed to it and said, ‘Isra’el! Here is your god, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!’” This attests that God is everywhere at once and sees all things.
- God has no, or limited, knowledge of His own creation. Apparently from the beginning of time, He was completely unaware that the Hebrews were “stiff-necked.” He JUST figured it out: “I have been watching these people; and you can see how stiffnecked they are.”
- When God is angry, he prefers to be left alone AND He just gets angrier: “ Now leave me alone, so that my anger can blaze against them.”
- God changes the terms of His covenants at will. He is willing to abolish EVERY promise and covenant He has made to strike a NEW DEAL with Moses, making Moses and his progeny the benefactors of the Abrahamic “Royal Grant” covenant: “I will make a great nation out of you instead.”
- God’s massive ego must be fed to divert His wrath: “Why let the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intentions that he led them out, to slaughter them in the hills and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger!”
- God is justified in His action. Capital punishment for severe sins is well documented in scripture. His actions are consistent with His character and His Law.
- God wants to act immediately without trial. This is a deviation from God’s Law that allows the accused defend themselves. Not to mention that Adam was sentenced to death but was not put to death for over 900 years–hardly fair.
- God is willing to destroy a nation over the sins of a VERY SMALL percentage of the population: Only 3,000 men were involved in the sin of the Golden Calf, an extremely small percentage of the few million Jews. God is willing to destroy the entire Jewish nation on the sins of only a few. In God’s omniscience which we have already demonstrated, he would have known very well that it was a small minority, an important fact that He withholds from Moses.
Anyone who is a scholar of scripture and has studied it cover to cover multiple times can see that much of the above carries little or no weight in the greater scheme of the Bible. But lacking total context, this would be a VERY accurate depiction of God from this passage alone, as erroneous as it may be. But at the same time, we can also hear echos of statements from atheist like Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and others.
Who’s People Are They?
One recurring theme throughout Exodus is the “people.” Each plague is leveled at Pharaoh and “his people” because God is intervening for “His people.” God is redeeming His People from bondage to Pharaoh and his people. It is the story of redemption that we all know. But, just as Egypt is a picture of sin and ultimately the world, and the Hebrews are a symbol of all who turn to God, Moses, likewise is a symbol of Messiah, the mediator of this “salvation.” But this story that gloriously tells the story of Christ redemption has a flaw: Moses AIN’T Jesus! Jesus came to earth to fulfill a very specific destiny. How much of that destiny Jesus comprehended at age 12, we do not know. But we DO know that Moses comprehended absolutely NONE of the destiny to which God called Moses. Moses was discovering himself, and re-discovering a God that had, for the most part, gone silent. What was known about God by Moses was limited to what God had revealed of Himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Genesis had not been written yet, so most of the information was still being revealed prophetically to Moses. But Moses was no prophet yet! He was becoming. And a part of Moses becoming a prophet, and ultimately a reflection of Messiah, was for God to move Moses from standing at a distance leading God’s people, to becoming their prophet and making the people Moses’ people. Jesus was not doing God a favor and dying for someone else’s dilemma. He was dying on the Cross for US, HIS OWN PEOPLE. Moses, reluctant from the start at the burning bush, must make Israel his own personal LOVE.
What is God Doing?
One dilemma facing modern religion is understanding what God is doing in the world today. We as humans always crave something new. But God, unchanging as He is, is not doing anything new. He is doing exactly what He has been doing since time began:
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren. (Romans 8:28-29)
This oft cited verse is mostly shared in limited context–that God simply works all things together for good. That alone creates a plethora of problematic theologies. However, in context, we realize that He is working so that we become “conformed to the image of His Son!”
That is what God is doing. It is what He is doing today, did yesterday, and will do until we are glorified. Everything that happens in our lives and in the lives of those around us (ALL HUMANS) is an attempt by God to bring all mankind into a knowledge of Jeshua and then CONFORM us to that image. The problem with mankind, then, is us. The only variable in this equation is choice–my choice–to consistently, and daily, yield to God’s sovereignty in becoming conformed to the image of His Son, or to choose to place me in the center of my own universe in defiance of God. But no amount of my rejections or the rejections of the world, can alter or change the prime action of God to conform all men into the image of His Son, just as Demas’s loving the world did not change Paul’s destiny and God’s plan (2 Tim. 4). Or, dn the words of Mordecai, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish” (Esther 4). God does not change, but our choices make us the beneficiary through participation, or the object of His wrath through rejection (Romans 1). But in the end, God has not changed.
It is interesting that there is scant commentary of this incident in Jewish writings. The story itself is well covered, but verse 14 (God changed His mind) is hardly touched. Jews realize that this is not a doctrinal statement. Firstly, the Hebrew word נָחַם does certainly mean “change”. But the root of the word is actually “comfort.” It can also mean “moved to pity.” Hebrew is a conceptual language. It does not work like English and other symbolic languages. Each Hebrew word represents a gender, a number, and a body of ideas. The focus of this passage does not hang solely on the idea of God “changing” His mind as an arbitrary act based upon the disrespectful rebuttal from a mere mortal. God relented from destroying the Jews because He was comforted, moved to pity, relieved.
Why was God Relieved?
Moses intercession succeeded in averting the threatened punishment. As the Psalmist said,
“Therefore He said that He would destroy them,
Had not Moses His chosen one stood in the breach before Him,
To turn away His wrath from destroying them. (Psalms 106:23)
God did not change His mind at all. God was doing what God does–conforming Moses into the image of His Son. Moses stood in the breach. It was Moses acting as Messiah that appeased, comforted, relieved, and moved God to pity and away from wrath. But what was it Moses said that made him a reflection of Messiah? Not knowing ANY of the details other than what God has just told him, Moses defends his brothers and sisters.
- Moses rejects the ego boost that Moses had ANY contribution in the Exodus from Egypt: “whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand?” In the words of Jesus, when faced with the same opportunity says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” Moses, like Messiah, recognized that it is God at work in the world, and that my participation is passive.
- Moses defends God’s reputation: “Why let the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intentions that he led them out, to slaughter them in the hills and wipe them off the face of the earth’?” God’s reputation in the world is part of His witness to mankind. The entire bases of observing the Torah is “so all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will be afraid of you” (Duet 28:10). Any thorough study of scripture will demonstrate that God’s reputation is tied to how His people behave. Or, in the words of Jesus, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
- Moses: “Relent! Don’t bring such disaster on your people!” Jesus: “Peace! Be still!”
- Moses recognizes that the promise is greater than he and his children: “Remember Avraham, Yitz’chak and Isra’el, your servants, to whom you swore by your very self. You promised them, ‘I will make your descendants as many as the stars in the sky; and I will give all this land I have spoken about to your descendants; and they will possess it forever.’” God gave Moses a pretty sweet bone! God offered to cut a new covenant with just Moses and Moses children, virtually making Moses equal to, if not greater than Abraham himself! Accepting this deal would sidestep God’s ultimate plan. Messiah was to come through the line of Judah, not Levi. This would change EVERYTHING! Similarly, in the dessert, Satan takes Jeshua “and he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘YOU SHALL WORSHIP THE LORD YOUR GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY.’” The temptation for Jesus to sidestep God’s plan to take ownership was valid. But Jesus rejects the deal to ensure that God’s promises are completely fulfilled. Moses likewise rejects the offer recognizing that the promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob must be fulfilled.
This was the crowning moment for Moses. If anyone were to ask what Moses’s greatest flaw was, NO ONE would argue. He was full of PRIDE! It was his PRIDE that kept him from entering the Promised Land. And, yet, in this glorious, selfless moment, he, like the Messiah himself, would reject self-promotion, self-aggrandizement, ego and pride to acquiesce that God’s plan is best, regardless of what might befall him personally. It was this act that relieved God, comforted God, and moved God to pity upon the Israelites. God’s hope for Israel was going to be safe in the hands of His chosen servant, Moses. God did not change. Rather, God, playing the advocate, caused Moses to change, to be conformed to the image of His Son.
May this testimony be a beacon of hope to all of us prideful, self-aggrandized heathens, that God will not give up on us, but will do all in His power to help us become His Righteousness!
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