“For I am the Lord, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.”
God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
1 Samuel 15:29
And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.
It’s clear from verses such as these that God is immutable—His nature and character do not change. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Other passages, such as those below, speak of God relenting in His judgment on a nation or group of people, mainly as the result of the pleas of an intercessor or repentance on the part of the nation. Does this pose a contradiction?
So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.
Perhaps everyone will listen and turn from his evil way, that I may relent concerning the calamity which I purpose to bring on them because of the evil of their doings.
Now therefore, amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; then the Lord will relent concerning the doom that He has pronounced against you.
Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah ever put him to death? Did he not fear the Lord and seek the Lord’s favor? And the LLordORD relented concerning the doom which He had pronounced against them. But we are doing great evil against ourselves.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.
From the Bible, we know that God, in His holiness and righteousness, must punish sin and that His decreed punishment for sin is death (Genesis 2:15–17; Romans 6:23). Yet we also know that God is full of grace and abounding in mercy, forgiving the repentant of their sins (Exodus 34:6–7). The balance between these two aspects of God’s nature may be best summed up in this passage from Jeremiah:
The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.
The following passages have also been used to accuse God of changing His mind.
And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
1 Samuel 15:11
“I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.” And it grieved Samuel, and he cried out to the Lord all night.
Nowhere in Scripture does it indicate that God is not emotive. In fact, emotions are often ascribed to God in anthropomorphic or anthropopathic language. The Bible describes God’s actions and emotions in terms of human actions and emotions.
Passages such as the two above simply show the emotional reactions God has to sin in those He created in His image. They aren’t expressions of, “I didn’t do that right the first time; guess I better figure out something else to do.” Instead, God is grieving over disobedience and wickedness: a response that we should all have to sin. Again, this doesn’t indicate a change in His nature or character; in fact, it is His holy nature that demands this response of grief. As finite, created beings, we understand that there are consequences associated with our moral decisions. The Bible is quite clear on that matter (Galatians 6:7). Yet, the “relenting” of God is, in many cases, the voice of compassion and mercy from a longsuffering God extended to sinful creatures in need of grace.
God does not change. However, He can change how He chooses to respond to an individual or nation’s actions.