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Is God changeable and fickle?

Question & Answer

 

Q: By Geoff

It strikes me that the God of the Bible, and most religions, is a changeable God; angry, not angry, satisfied with sacrifice, then finally satiated with the “perfect” sacrifice etc. It seems to me that God should be unchanging and unchangeable. It is no wonder that people are rejecting the God of the Bible. I do too. Fear of a changeable God seems inconsistent with the loving God that Jesus teaches. Is God really that fickle?

A: By Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, PhD

Dear Geoff,

I don’t think God is fickle, I think our understanding of God varies with who is doing the writing about God, and when. Once human beings walked out of the cave and into the light, we began “theology.” We wondered about God and climate, crops, fertility, fire. We wondered about God and our sickness, our health, and in the deaths of loved ones. We wondered about God and the storm, the volcano, the earth cracking wide open. We made sacrifices to God, we worked hard to please God. We sometimes thought good fortune came with the power of our sacrifices and good behavior. We were frustrated when God “failed” to do what we wanted, to be Who we wanted.

We talked about it with our kin; we told stories; we testified about the God we encountered in our everyday lives. God is good. God is strong. God is a very present help in time of trouble. There is no place away from God we can go. God caused the flood. God opened the sea. God killed our enemies. Did God do all of that? We’re not sure. God cured the cancer; God chose not to. Is that true? We don’t know for sure. But we want to know, we yearn to know. We watch, listen, learn. We grow, we change how we view God. We take more responsibility for the good, the bad and the ugly.

That is what changes, our view of the mystery, our understanding of the ineffable. The conclusions we draw about sacrifice, about prayer, about who God is and what God wants—these change. We wrestle with who God is, as did the writers of scripture, as do the composers of music, the authors of poetry, the creators of art. Frozen in a moment, it seems certain: This is who God is, right now!  And then, in the next moment: No, in my experience, God is like this.

And God? God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, understands our imperfect perceptions, can take our mischaracterizations. And keeps loving us. That is a constant. God can take our changing, our doubts, our wrestling. Because God is God all the time.

~ Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, PhD

About the Author
Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Ph.D. is the Senior Minister of Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. She is a nationally acclaimed activist, author, public theologian, and organizer of an anti-racist multicultural movement of love and justice. She has been featured in The Washington PostWall Street JournalThe New York Times, and on The Today Show, CBS, and MSNBC. She write The Power of Stories: A Guide for Leading Multiracial and Multicultural Communities, and also wrote a book with her husband John called The Pentecost Paradigm: Ten Strategies for Becoming a Multiracial Congregation.

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