Allen S. Maller

If God is all powerful, why should God be inflexible and unchanging?

Many Muslims, Christians and even Jews think that God is, or should be, unchanging. After all, the Torah proclaims, “God is not a person that He should lie, nor a human that He should change His mind.” (Numbers 23:12) and the prophet Malachi says, “I am the Lord, unchanging.” (3:6) However, in the very next verse Malachi adds, “If you will return to me, I will return to you, says God.” God is thus unchanging in always changing responsively to human behavior.

Those who claim God is unchanging say that God is all knowing and thus knows in advance how people will act. Therefore God only seems to change in response to human behavior.

But in the days of Noah “When the Lord saw that humans had done much evil on earth and their thoughts and impulses were always evil, God was sorry that he made mankind.” (Genesis 6:5) If God knew in advance that humans would be so evil; God wouldn’t have felt sorry for creating humanity.

Our Rabbis went even further in understanding God’s responsiveness. When Israel made the golden calf God was so angry he wanted to destroy them (Exodus 32:10) but Moses pleaded with God “like a man who seizes his fellow by his garment and says ‘I will not let go till you forgive them’ (Rabbi Abbahu). Rabbi Yohanan says, “in the end God conceded Moses was right as it says, ‘I have pardoned according to your word.’ (Deuteronomy. 9:14)

Rabbi Isaac adds, “This teaches God said to Moses ‘your words have vitalized me.’” (Brachot 32a) Thus, not only did God admit that Moses’ arguments are right and change his mind, but God also finds the human-Divine interaction stimulating and invigorating.

Indeed, our Sages even taught that God learned from Moses. When God tells Moses to destroy Canaanite cities (Deut. 20:17) Moses did not do it because he refused to smite the innocent together with the sinners. Instead Moses sent negotiators as he had to Sihon, king of Heshbon. (Deut. 2:26) Only when Sihon preferred war did Moses fight.

Then God says to Moses, “I told you to destroy them and you didn’t do it. By your life, because you did this, I will do this ‘When you advance on a city to attack, make it an offer of peace’.” (Deuteronomy 20:10) Midrash Tanhumah teaches that God added to the Torah because of Moses’ moral concerns.

The Rabbis even assert that one time when a majority of the Rabbis voted to support the interpretation of Rabbi Joshua even though God had indicated 3 times that Rabbi Eliezer was correct, God laughed and said (proudly), “My children have defeated me.” (Talmud: Baba Metzia 59b)

God’s mind changes because change is part of life in general and a good and faithful relationship in particular. The idea that God is perfect and thus cannot change is an error of Greek philosophy.

Perfection is static. A circle is perfect. To live is to change; and the God of the Bible is the living, interacting, always caring, mentor of Israel and all humanity. That is why the Torah states: “Adonai regretted making humans on earth, and God’s heart was pained.” (Genesis 6:6)

Why did God regret creating humankind? Because “They are flesh…” Rabbenu Bahya (13-14th c.) noted: Humans are unworthy that God’s spirit should reside in them, since they are only flesh like the other creatures, and their soul is drawn to the flesh rather than to God’s spirit.

Bahya’s view is extreme. After all it was God who decided to create human being as a combination of Divine and animal? When God said: “Let us make mankind” (1:26), God was talking to nature in general and animals/primates in particular. So the pain and regret God feels is not due to God’s negative attitude to humanity. But God is disappointed that humans have not yet lived up to their Divine potential.

Regret (“va-yinakhem”) also is related to the word for consolation (“nakhamah”). Midrash Genesis Rabbah 27:4 presents several portraits of God’s feelings.

Rabbi Judah has God saying: “It was My mistake that I created him below, as a terrestrial being; had I created him in the higher realms, he would not have rebelled against Me.”

But Rabbi Nehemiah suggests the opposite: God is “…consoled, knowing that by creating humans in the lower realms, with limited powers God had acted wisely. For had humans been in the upper realms, they would have caused all to rebel.”

Rabbi Aivu proposes that God “…regrets creating humans with a yetzer ha-ra, an evil/untamed/wild inclination, for had God not so created humans, they would not have rebelled against God.” Thus God must be ever-forgiving because it was God who decided humans should have free will to act morally and immorally.

Rabbi Levi has a more positive take on consolation. He conjectures that God is “…consoled in making humans as God did, for (eventually) humans will be set in the earth,” i.e.,humans are mortal and subject to burial. Every generation, no matter how evil will die out, so that there is always hope that future generations will get it right.

I would say that although God knew giving humans moral free will would mean they would do great evil, when it occurs it still hurts God deeply and causes temporary regret. We also learn from this the essential lesson that God responds to human actions and cares deeply for us.”

So did God make a mistake in creating humans to be this way?

“For 2 years, the school of Shammai and the school of Hillel debated whether God should have created humankind. Shammai’s school said it would have been better if people had not been created; Hillel’s school held the opposite view.

Finally, they voted and the majority decided that Shammai’s school was right and it would have been better had humans not been created, but since they were, each person is responsible for examining their own past and future deeds” (Talmud, Masekhet Eruvin 13b).

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 850 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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