I got an email from a friend asking me:
“ … there’s just one thing that I’m still not sure about: the idea that God changes over time. And the reason this bugs me is because, to me, that means we can never know who/what God is. How do we know that God really is love? What if God really use to be as violent as He/She/It was back in the Old Testament?”
I thought it would be good to post part of my response here and compare notes (theology, after all, is dialogical).
There are 3 things that we need to flesh out (pun intended) about this question:
1. While God may not change, how humans view and speak of that God evolves. There is little doubt that over the centuries how we conceptualize and even construct our language about God (or Gods) has changed, adapted, morphed, absorbed and modified. There is no reason to shy away from that. It is a healthy response to growing awareness and – I will even say – progressing revelation.
God is at work in our midst and God has also given us Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us. We say that God is infinite, but as I have heard it said “then no matter how much we know about God – there is infinitely more to know.”
The only objection to this seem to be a ‘you think that your better than them?’ defense of the ancients. Seriously – that is the only real defense I hear of conserving antiquated notions of God. Don’t you dare going moving stuff and changing what they set down!
That is silly. We must acknowledge as Merold Westphal told us in his visit to the podcast that all our knowledge is situated or what we call perspectival. This is where Elizabeth Johnson’s book “She Who Is” becomes so valuable. I wrote about this in ‘She Who Is Not’ and ‘Horse Gods’.
2. Many groups and thinkers would challenge the notion that God doesn’t change. As Keith Ward points out in God: a guide for the perplexed
“ it is important the see how different the classical view is from the popular view. Whatever the Trinity is, it cannot consist of three distinct ‘parts’ in God, who has no parts. Whatever is meant by ‘God becoming man’ is cannot mean that God changes by taking on human flesh. Whatever is meant by the Holy Spirit working to sanctify the hearts of man and women, it cannot mean that God is actually changing by acting like a finite being in history. All statements about God changing and acting, wether they are in the Bible of not, must be metaphors, All changes are in finite things, and not in God, who is changeless.”
Ya see – the old Platonic conception of changeless ideals means that there could not have really been an incarnation. The stories in the Old Testament about God ‘changing his mind’ must be anthropomorphism. You run into to real problems really quick if you say that God never changes.
Now, having said that – we can say, as a matter of faith, that the character and nature of God never changes. In fact, I would go as far as to say that when we say that God never changes, what we are commenting on is God’s loving nature. You want to know why I can say that so confidently as a Christian …. it’s because I believe that the highest revelation that we have of God in this world is in Jesus.
3. Process thinkers have an especially helpful take on this. Built into a Process theology is a dipolar nature of God. They distinguish between the Primordial nature or God and the Consequential Nature (some get even more advanced and add a Superjective nature … but that is for another time.) The Primordial nature sets out all the possibilities – the Consequential nature is the perfection of the divine experience. Therefor the Primordial nature of God, what God desires, is preserved and can be said to ‘never change’ while God is fully participatory and even impacted by what happens.
What are your thoughts? Is there anything I could add to make this stronger?