Is God Unchanging or is God in a Box?
A few months ago, I was trying to connect my husband’s new printer to his new computer. I am not technologically inclined. Frustrated and near tears, I sat in a chair and silently asked God, “Do you know anything about computers?” The silence that immediately ensued nearly deafened me. I felt God’s response rather than heard it. “Ponder the depths of what you do not know for a while.”
I realized God did not learn about computers 50 years or even a thousand years ago. God did not need to learn complicated math, science or about the operation of technology. God doesn’t learn or need anything; He has always been perfect in knowledge and wisdom of all things. Just as God knew how to create the heavens, earth and all life from the beginning, He is the source of knowledge and ideas from whom people discover, learn and create.
The Bible says God is eternal, and He changes not (Isaiah 40:28, Malachi 3:6). God Himself says His thoughts are not our thoughts, His ways not like our ways. That His thoughts and ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Therefore, we should be willing to loosen any personal assurance or idea that we have God figured out. For many people their understanding of God tends to come from the explanations of others. Some people would disagree and say, “My understanding of God is from the scriptures of the Bible.” However, to a large extent God is identified in the Bible through the eyes and experiences of the people and writers of their time and culture.
There are a number of beliefs we have that are really based on statements of others. For example, there are theologians and pastors who have spoken of the silent 400 years between the end of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus covered in the New Testament. But this is not true. During this period of time, the historical account of the Maccabeans are recorded in First and Second Maccabees. These books show God's help and the records the miracle of Hanukkah. Although the books are not recognized in the Hebrew bible, it does not mean that God was silent. Likewise, since no new “scripture” has been written since the book of Revelation, it does not mean that God has been silent for the past two thousand years, His miracles, interactions, interventions, love and mercy revealed to millions of people have been evident through the ages. Therefore, God cannot be defined solely by what is found in the Bible.
In fine tuning our understanding of God and His relationship with people who know Him, it is important to acknowledge that God existed before the scriptures were written about creation just as He exists now beyond the book of Revelation. If our understanding of the eternal and unchanging God and what He requires of mankind for relationship is based on the ancient cultural perceptions of the people who wrote the Bible, we should be willing to admit our perception of God may be off.
At the time and location in which the Bible was written, the people in the Middle East believed in a variety of gods and goddesses. The people believed these gods needed to be sought for favors and appeased through religious ceremonies that included food and drink offerings, fornication, animal and in some cases human sacrifices. While those practices were common for that time period and region, they are not common today among most of the world populations. Christianity explains that the God who required the death of hundreds of thousands of animals for forgiveness of sin was finally appeased with the sacrificial death of His perfect and sinless son, Jesus. But is this really what the Old Testament scriptures say or what Jesus said? Are there scriptures in the Old Testament that say or imply God would require a final atonement from one who is perfect, or one who would be His Son doing God’s bidding? The answer is no, there is no such definitive scriptures in the Old Testament.
Few Christians seem to question or realized that the theory of Jesus’ death for sin atonement was apparently put forth by the apostle Paul years after the resurrection. Jesus’ death is not characterized that way in the book of Acts by any of Jesus’ disciples. It is in Paul’s speech in Antioch, that Paul connects Jesus to forgiveness of sin (Acts 13:38). Then in Romans 5:6-10 Paul connects Jesus’ death for the ungodly and sinners, justification by his blood, saved from wrath and reconciled to God by the death and saved by his life! In I Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul says the scriptures [of the Old Testament] speak of Jesus dying for our sins and His resurrection after the third day. Again, no such clear scripture exists in the Old Testament. Matthew 26:28 records Jesus speaking of His body being consumed and His blood being “shed for many for the remissions of sin,” yet this profound statement is not in the other three gospel accounts of the last night before the cross. Nor are there any other statements from Jesus that His death would be atonement for the sins of mankind.
It is easier to find verses in the Old Testament about God forgiving sins and not wanting animal sacrifices from His own deceptive people than it is to find verses with God saying He will not forgive sins without sacrificial death atonement. In Jeremiah 7:22-23 God says He did not command the people about burnt offerings and sacrifices when they left Egypt. Amos 5:21-22 God says He despised their feast days (when sacrifices took place) and would not accept their burnt and meat offerings. Isaiah 1:11-18 God says He does not delight in their sacrificial offerings and to bring no more of them to Him. In verses 16 and 17 God says what He wants of His people: “Wash you, make you clean, put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well….” We tend to lose sight that these admonitions of God are to His people who say they know and follow Him; they are not to unbelievers.
How did God feel about sacrificing one’s children? God said the sacrifice of children never entered His mind (Jeremiah 19:4-6).
So, who was behind animal sacrifices to appease gods and goddesses? People adhering to the ancient cultural practices of their time. What is the basis for understanding who God is and what He requires of mankind for relationship? The criteria by which we make that determination should show that God is consistent in His character. God must be as relevant, true and unchanging today as He was at the time of Abraham, Moses, David, and as Jesus. God described Himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 as merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abundant in goodness and truth, who forgives iniquity, transgressions and sin. Note, the God did not say His forgives required sacrifices. Throughout the Bible, as well as through the ages, the unchanging God MUST be consistent in character as well as His requirements for relationship with mankind.
If not sacrificial atonement, what does God require to forgive sins? For those who do not know God, come and seek Him, for He will be found by them. For those who say they know Him, yet continued to sin, this verse from II Chronicles 7 instructs us.
II Chronicles 7:14 If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
Sacrificial atonement for forgiveness? No, repentance is the answer. Repentance means to review one’s past actions, recognize why it is wrong and the harm it brings, to stop the past actions and choose to turn to God to walk in God’s path of righteousness (being honest, merciful, showing integrity in dealing with others). True repentance cannot take place if the wrong doing is not understood, acknowledged, and stopped nor can true repentance take place if one does not choose to follow God’s instructions for right behavior.
It was Jesus who revealed God’s heart and profound knowledge of and love for us. All the hairs on our heads are numbered. Not even a sparrow falls to earth without God’s presence. God’s knows our needs before we utter a word. If we do not forgive others, treat others with respect, be honest, caring for the weak, sick, hungry, lost, the helpless, we cannot actually love God or call ourselves His children. Jesus said people would know we are His when our love is evident (John 13:35). He bid us in Matthew 11:28-30 to come to Him for true relief, to take His yoke of relationship upon ourselves and learn of Him, for the requirements for a relationship with God are light and easy. So, what does God require of us for relationship – sacrificial atonement or repentance? Micah 6:6-8 says this:
6 Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? 7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?
The unchanging God’s requirements of mankind are the same as they were when cavemen walked the earth, with ancient men, through the middle ages to today’s technological society – acknowledge and revere God and treat all other life with honor and respect.
When we really take a look inside the box we have God in, we will find it empty. God can never be contained by the assessments and definitions of mankind.
 While the author of the book of Hebrews alludes to this point in chapter 9, the author of Hebrews is unknown. The author does not claim to be a prophet of God. Several of his assertions do not match with Old Testament scriptures (such as Jesus being the High Priest and a High Priest offering his own blood at Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement).
Photograph courtesy of Kelli McClintock at unsplash.com