Monday, May 23, 2016

Is God Capable of Changing His Mind?

I have to say, I enjoy replying to people's comments and questions in comboxes on matters regarding our Catholic faith. i often learn just as much as they do. I feel so fortunate to have a nearly 2,000 year old institution, where basically all the answers on a myriad of subjects have been given to almost an infinite number of questions. Recently, I saw someone asking how it was possible that God was always the same in both Testaments of the Bible; in that He never changed His mind.This person was not being belligerent at all, but genuinely asking. Here's part of what he wrote:
"God never changes His mind about anything? Incest used to be fine, then it wasn't. Gathering firewood on the Sabbath used to be grounds for a painful execution, then Jesus pronounced it was fine after all. I'm not saying God changes His mind on everything. I'm just trying to figure things out and for many many reasons the Bible confuses me."
First off, I was thinking on a philosophical level that God is a fully actualized Being. All potentialities have been explored and actualized by him. If He had the potential to "change His mind", then He wouldn't be God, the Supreme Being. How can pure Act, Being itself, change? It's something that I can reach by thinking it through, but not all are familiar with classicla theism. Here's the answer that I gave him, thanks in part to some great posts from this thread over on Catholic Answers' forums:
Stoning of a violator of the Sabbath from the 1545 Luther Bible
God does not change His mind on anything. There is a difference between the Old Law, and the New Law, which was fulfilled by Christ. Remember, Christ didn't come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.

To your first point, when was incest fine? There is a difference between incest in the direct line and incest in the collateral line.

To your second point, the story you're talking about from Numbers 15: 32-36 is certainly something difficult to read in our modern times, but once we read the context we see there is no contradiction or "changing of mind" on God's part.

Let's back things up a bit, just a few verses in this same chapter, where we see the difference between one sinning unwittingly and one sinning willingly with "a high hand". Notice the parallels between venial and mortal sin:
"If one person sins unwittingly, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who commits an error, when he sins unwittingly, to make atonement for him; and he shall be forgiven... 
"But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.” (Num 15: 27-28, 30-31).
Remember, as St. Paul tells us, the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), and we see a distinction between mortal and venial sin in 1 John 5:16-17. Already in the Old Testament, we see the beginnings of this distinction which is then fully brought to light by Christ in the New Testament.

Now according to Old Testament Law, (which was binding only on the Jews at this specific time in history), the death penalty could only be effected if three things happened:

1. Two witnesses see the act happening
2. The two witnesses warn the one committing the act to stop
3. the person deliberately ignores the warning and continues in the act.
Moses Blesses Joshua Before the High Priest- James Tissot
This is outright rebellion against God, just as our understanding of mortal sin is. This man picking the firewood did something against the law, knew it was wrong, and did it anyways. This man obviously was sinning willingly, "with a high hand". Now of course, God doesn't want us to sin; He doesn't want us cast off into death. We see that in the fulfillment of the New Law in Christ with the sacrament of Reconciliation. But God didn't leave the Israelites hanging either in the Book of Numbers. Look just a few verses later how God gave the Israelites yet another opportunity to avoid sinning so no one else would be condemned to death (spiritual or otherwise):
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the people of Israel, and bid them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put upon the tassel of each corner a cord of blue; and it shall be to you a tassel to look upon and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to go after wantonly. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God'." (Num 15: 37-40).
Jesus didn't change his mind regarding working on the Sabbath; He simply fulfilled the Law, His Law, since Christ is God Incarnate regarding the penalty for infringing on the importance of the sabbath.

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