A current theological debate concerns the so-called openness of God. Much of that debate centres of whether God controls future events, whether there are possible future events of which God has no knowledge, and even whether God himself is open to change. A focus of that discussion invariably turns to some of the Old testament passages where God changes his mind.
I am not interested in asking whether God can or cannot change his mind as some abstract discussion. The issue I am addressing is how the Old Testament describes God. To ask in the abstract what God can or cannot do is interesting - sort of like ‘Can God make a rock so big that even he can’t lift it?’ – but beyond the scope of this book and maybe even beyond the scope of the Bible. It is not the God behind the scenes that I want to look at, but the God of the scenes, the God of the Bible, how he is portrayed there.
I realise this raises some questions. Does not God, as he is portrayed in the Bible, correspond to ‘God behind the scenes?’ In other words, does not the Bible, because it is the word of God, give us an accurate presentation of what God is really like? After all, if you drive a wedge between what the Old Testament says about God and what God is really like, how can we speak meaningfully of the Bible as God’s authoritative word?
This is a very good cluster of questions. I am not trying to drive a wedge between the Bible and God. Actually, and somewhat ironically, this is what I see others doing. I feel bound to talk about God in the way(s) the Bible does, even if I am not comfortable with it. The Bible really does have authority if we let it speak, and not when we – intentionally or unintentionally – suspend what the Bible says about God in some places while we work out our speculations about what God is ‘really’ like, perhaps by accenting other portions of the Bible that are more amenable to our thinking. God gave us the Bible so we could read it, not so we can ferret our way behind it to see how things really are.
God reveals himself throughout the Old Testament. There is no part that gets it ‘more right’ than others. Rather, they get at different sides of God. Or, to use the well-worn analogy, the different descriptions of God in the Old Testament are like the different colours and textures that combine to make a portrait.
There are diverse portrayals of God in the Old Testament. He is, on the one hand, powerful, one who knows things before they happen and who causes things to happen, one who is in complete control. On the other hand, he finds things out, he can feel grieved about things that happen, he changes his mind. If we allow either of these dimensions to override the other, we set aside part of God’s word in an effort to defined him, which is somewhat of a self-contradiction. But as we think about God, as we learn of him more and more, as we enter deeper into relationship with him through Christ, we will see that there is much in the full-orbed biblical portrait of God that we need to know. And of course, this is no surprise. ‘All scripture is profitable’ – even parts that don’t fit easily into our molds.
From chapter 3 of Inspiration and Incarnation – evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament, published by Baker Academic 2005