Monday, September 13, 2010

Does God Change His Mind?

Q - I had a question about todays first reading. When Moses came down from the mountain and saw what the people were doing, it seemed as if he had to convince God to not unleash his wrath upon the people. So my question is was this a test on Moses to see how he would react? Because since God is all knowing and perfect why did Moses have to convince him to save the people by bringing up the past covenants? Thank you for the answer.

A -
Thanks for the question. Here is the reading you mention:
The LORD said to Moses,
"Go down at once to your people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt,
for they have become depraved.
They have soon turned aside from the way I pointed out to them,
making for themselves a molten calf and worshiping it,
sacrificing to it and crying out,
'This is your God, O Israel,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt!'
"I see how stiff-necked this people is, " continued the LORD to Moses.
Let me alone, then,
that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them.
Then I will make of you a great nation."

But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying,
"Why, O LORD, should your wrath blaze up against your own people,
whom you brought out of the land of Egypt
with such great power and with so strong a hand?
Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel,
and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,
'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky;
and all this land that I promised,
I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.'"
So the LORD relented in the punishment
he had threatened to inflict on his people.
-Ex 32:7-11, 13-14
When we read the Bible, we must remember several things.
  1. There are two authors of Scripture - a human author and a divine author.
  2. God does not force the human authors to write anything, but inspires them to write what is true.
  3. The human author's understanding of the world is limited to his time, culture, science, intellectual limitations, etc.
  4. We must understand that the Old Testament understanding of God's nature is limited. They did not have the fullness of God's revelation that we do since Christ.
With these points in mind, I quote from the Catechism:
2577 From this intimacy with the faithful God, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, Moses drew strength and determination for his intercession. He does not pray for himself but for the people whom God made his own. Moses already intercedes for them during the battle with the Amalekites and prays to obtain healing for Miriam. But it is chiefly after their apostasy that Moses "stands in the breach" before God in order to save the people. The arguments of his prayer - for intercession is also a mysterious battle - will inspire the boldness of the great intercessors among the Jewish people and in the Church: God is love; he is therefore righteous and faithful; he cannot contradict himself; he must remember his marvelous deeds, since his glory is at stake, and he cannot forsake this people that bears his name.
The human author speaks as if god "changes" his mind after being "convinced" by Moses. But, if God is God, then there can be no changing of the mind, which is unchangeable - because it would then be an imperfect knowledge and goodness of God. So, the truth of the passage, from the divine author's view, isn't an in-depth study on God's nature, but on the intercession of Moses. This is an anthropomorphism - which is a "humanizing" of God, in order to try to explain His nature or actions that are hard to understand.

We know that Moses is a "type" of Jesus. A type is an Old Testament foreshadowing of a person or event in the New Testament. The fulfillment is always greater than the foreshadowing. Thus, Moses is a "type" of Jesus, in that he intercedes for the people of God (the Israelites), just as Jesus intercedes for all of humanity.

St. Augustine writes the following in The City of God:
For though God is said to change His determinations (so that in a tropical sense the Holy Scripture says even that God repented), this is said with reference to man's expectation, or the order of natural causes, and not with reference to that which the Almighty had foreknown that He would do.
Thus, this passage of Scripture has something to tell us about God's mercy, our need to intercede for others, the foreshadowing of Christ by Moses, and how we are to always turn to God with everything.

The Catechism says this about Exodus 32:
210 After Israel's sin, when the people had turned away from God to worship the golden calf, God hears Moses' prayer of intercession and agrees to walk in the midst of an unfaithful people, thus demonstrating his love. When Moses asks to see his glory, God responds "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name 'the LORD' [YHWH]." Then the LORD passes before Moses and proclaims, "YHWH, YHWH, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness"; Moses then confesses that the LORD is a forgiving God.
I hope this helps.

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