Could God Actually Repent?
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You’re listening to Search the Scriptures Daily, a program in which we encourage everyone who desires to know God’s truth to look to God’s Word for all that is essential for salvation and living one’s life in a way that is pleasing to Him.
If you’re listening to us for the first time, our program is called, as I mentioned, Search the Scriptures Daily, which we took from the book of Acts:17:11, found in the New Testament of the Bible. Searching the Scriptures daily was what the Jews in the synagogue in the Greek city of Berea did after the Apostle Paul preached to them about Jesus being the Messiah spoken about by the Old Testament prophets. The Jews were commended for listening to what Paul had to say, but more importantly, for checking out what he said against what the prophets foretold.
To a great degree, that’s what this program is about. Caveat emptor, that is, “the buyer beware.” We don’t want our listeners buying into the spiritual marketplace without first doing their homework regarding what’s being sold. To paraphrase the Jewish prophet Isaiah, “If the preachers or teachers or media spiritual gurus are not speaking according to what God has revealed in His Word, there is no light in them.” Anything to add to that, Dave?
Dave: No, that’s Isaiah:8:20, is it?
Tom: Mm-hmm. We’re going through Dave Hunt’s book, In Defense of the Faith, as a source of questions and answers regarding the integrity of the Bible and the Christian faith. Now, Dave, chapter five of your book is titled, “Challenges to Faith,” and many of the challenges are directed at the Bible itself. Why do you think that is?
Dave: Well, the Bible is the source of our faith. Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. And it’s the Bible that is God’s message to mankind. And if Satan or the skeptics can undermine the Bible, we have nothing. You know, we’ve mentioned that a number of times on this program. If God has not spoken, and if we can’t know for sure that this is what God has said, and if we can’t understand it, forget it! Shut down all the seminaries, etc., and the churches. We are not interested, and I hope no one else is, in opinions of men about eternal matters, because there is no way that human opinion could be right, and how could you tell whether it was right or wrong anyway? So, the Bible is the foundation. That’s why we have to stick to the Word of God, and that’s why Isaiah said, “If they don’t speak according to this Word, there is no light in them.”
Tom: And, Dave, as we’ve been mentioning in our past programs, challenges that come—I don’t think people, Christians, per se, ought to hide from those things. They shouldn’t stick their head in the sand, as it were, but deal with them because, again, if this is God’s Word, they’re going to come out being encouraged and reinforced by what they read. Now, let me go to the first question, actually a challenge: “In Genesis:6:6, we’re told that, ‘It repented the Lord that He had made man.’ Jonah:3:10 says that ‘God repented of the evil that He had said, that He would do unto them,’ and a number of times throughout the Old Testament, the same Hebrew word expresses a similar repentance on God’s part. How can God, who is supposedly perfect, repent? And, why would He need to if He knows in advance all that is going to happen, and allows it?”
Dave: Well, Tom, that’s a tough question! It’s a good one. And those verses have caused many people to change their view of God. For example, Youth with a Mission, I can remember—when would it be, 1973—a man named Gordon Olson was teaching what they called “moral government.” I happened to be there in—well, we had a daughter there—at the Golf Hotel near Lausanne, Switzerland, where he was teaching, and he said God doesn’t know the future, and He’s moving right along with us. He’s surprised when certain things happen, and He adjusts His plans and programs, etc.
Now, we have more recently, of course, as far as I know, Youth with a Mission has continued to teach that. Now we have Greg Boyd, a pastor, who’s been teaching this, what he calls the “openness view” of God. And you just had quite a large gathering of theologians, evangelicals, discussing this. Now, they, I think were pretty close to voting to put this man out, because God knows what is going to happen or He’s not God. He’s not omniscient. And it’s very clear, Acts:15:18, tells us, “ . . . known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” It really means from the beginning of eternity—from the very beginning, as far back as you can go.
So, if God knows everything that He’s going to do, He must know the future. So, actually the questioner—if we took the word “supposedly” out, how can God, who is “supposedly” perfect repent? No, He is perfect. Well, then, that should tell the questioner maybe you’d better have a different understanding of “repent.” Maybe it doesn’t mean exactly what you think it means.
Tom: . . . and particularly in this context.
Tom: Dave, I’ve noticed some of the other translations substitute “sorry,” or “relented.” Well, actually that’s in reference to Numbers:23:19. Let me read that Scripture, “God is not a man that He should lie, neither the son of man that He should repent. Hath He said, and shall He not do it, or hath he spoken and shall He not make it good?”
Dave: See, Tom, we have to understand the Word of God. There are many seeming contradictions in the Bible, and we’ve dealt with some of them. Now, we approach them, first of all, and this one in particular, we must approach with the understanding that God is perfect. If He’s not perfect, if He’s doesn’t know everything that is going to happen, and if He doesn’t know what He is going to do, then He’s not God. He wouldn’t dare create the universe. He wouldn’t know what is going to happen. He wouldn’t dare create men. I mean, this thing could get completely out of control!
So, we begin first with the premise . . . not the premise, but the confidence . . . not even the confidence . . . with the basic axiom, the basic understanding, God is God. He knows everything that is going to happen. It’s not possible, then, for Him to be wrong: “Oh, oh, I didn’t realize this was going to happen! Oh, well, then, I’d better change my plan of action!” So, we know that it can’t possibly mean that. Well, then, what does it mean? Well, we have a number of examples. We have the example of Jonah, you remember? And, Jonah, in fact . . .
Tom: Went to Nineveh.
Dave: Jonah got upset because God sent him there to say, “ . . . in forty days Nineveh will be destroyed!” But the people repented, and God did not “make good” on that statement. That should give us some hope. “In forty days, Nineveh will be destroyed” was not an absolute, decretum absolutum, I guess . . .
Tom: A condition.
Dave: . . . as the Latin speakers would say. But it was a warning, and God isn’t changing His mind toward man; He’s changing His action toward them. So I think you could get a number of examples. For example, Ezekiel:18:21: “If the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live and shall not die.” Jeremiah:18:7-8 explains it again, “At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom to pluck up and to pull down and to destroy it, if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.”
Now, God is not changing His principles, He’s not changing His character, He’s not changing His mind, but because man has changed his attitude toward God and has repented, then God changes His actions towards man. No change in God’s character or His righteousness and justice. And the same thing is true here. God—you could say He’s disappointed in man, although how could He be disappointed? He knew it would happen, but, nevertheless, I think you could say He’s disappointed in man. Man has shown that his heart is continually evil, and the imagination of his heart is evil, wicked—he’s selfish, self-centered. And God says, “I’m going to change my actions. I wanted to bless man. I had so much . . . .”
In fact, what He had planned for Adam and Eve in the Garden, He had to change His actions toward them. He created a Garden for them, He put them in the Garden, but He had to throw them out. It didn’t change God’s character; it didn’t change His love or His desire to bless. But He had to change His action. And I think we have the same thing here.
Now God is changing the way He’s going to respond to mankind. He’s not going to continue just to bless man with . . . well, there was a canopy over the earth. I mean, this was like a hothouse. That’s why the dinosaurs grew so big—because they’re lizards, and lizards just keep growing and growing as long as they live, but now God says, “I’m going to have to bring judgment.”
I think it’s an example that parents need to heed. You come to the point of diminishing return. I think it’s something the Israelis maybe finally realized in their relationship with the PLO. You keep giving in and giving in and giving in, and it only makes it worse. And God has refrained from punishing man, He’s refrained from punishing man, He’s held back His judgment, and, finally, “it repented God”—in other words, He is going to change His dealings with man, the way He responds to man. And He’s going to destroy man with a flood. He would have wiped the whole thing out, but, fortunately, one man found grace in His eyes—Noah.
Tom: Yeah, but Dave, as I mentioned earlier, this has to be understood with regard to God’s condition that He sets forth. If we do certain things, and He said He would bless us, He will bless us. But if we rebel, as you said, call it repentance or use whatever term you want—He’s going to fulfill the condition that He has set forth.
Dave: And, this is based on a moral relationship. That’s the difference between the relationships that Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader had with the Star Wars force. There’s no moral relationship there. Or, a witch—it’s like, you burn the candle, you recite certain formulas. But there’s no formulas for this. This is a moral relationship with God, and He has certain requirements.
Tom: Dave, the relationship aspect—that brings up another thought that I had. Throughout the Bible we do find terms—I think some people call them anthropomorphisms—that is, God, who is perfect and infinite, demonstrates, at least in language, some ideas. And we’d say, “Hey, this is personal, this is intimate, this is . . . how could God possibly be this way, being the omniscient, omnipotent, transcendent God?” But He created us in His image, and we have to understand that He is personal and intimate with us, and He has given us these characteristics. Now, we make a mistake to bring God down to our level, failing to recognize, as you said at the beginning of our program, this is God. He’s perfect. So, we can only go so far with this anthropomorphism.
Dave: But He’s a God of mercy and grace. His tender mercies are over all His works. He is not willing that any should perish. He loves man very much. But, I think we probably covered that one as . . .
Tom: Okay. Well, I’ve got another one. There are more challenges.
Tom: And, again, these are taken from Dave Hunt’s book, In Defense of the Faith. And Gary can tell you at the end of the program, if you want to follow along, because we’ve been using this book for a number of programs as a resource to find challenges, and, as I said, Dave has answers in this book beyond what we’re covering.
Dave: Let me remind them, Tom, that I didn’t make these questions up. These are questions that have been asked me, to challenge me in public discussions or private discussions, or I have them in my files, or I’ve taken them out of the books of skeptics and atheists, etc. So, these are questions that you could be confronted with, and it might be helpful to have some answers in advance.
Tom: Here’s our next question, Dave: “The Gospels are silent about the approximately eighteen years between the last time we hear of Jesus in the Temple as a boy of 12” (that’s found in Luke:2:41-52) “and the beginning of His ministry at about thirty years of age” (which we’re reminded of in Luke:3:23). I have come across a number of times, not only in the Aquarian gospel, but in newspapers as well, that during these missing years Jesus was in India studying under the gurus. The wisdom He acquired there supposedly became the basis for his ministry. Why not?”
Now, Dave, now I know you have it in the book and you have some good answers, but some of these things, they seem funny to me.
Dave: Well, they are funny. But, you have the Aquarian gospel out there. This is commonly reported in the New Age movement. There are so many people . . . and, of course, the gurus try to say this, “Jesus was one of them.” Some would even say that Jesus was another reincarnation of Vishnu who came as Krishna, etc. The skeptics would do anything to bring Jesus down, just to be a normal human being, not God manifested in the flesh, not the Son of God, not the Savior, the Redeemer.
Tom: Or those who are very ecumenically minded—they want to sort of put Jesus in other religious settings so that they can really show that all religions are basically the same.
Dave: Right. And there have been a number of Catholics—Catholic priests—who have gotten involved in Hinduism and have tried to indicate . . .
Dave: Yeah, Buddhism and other religions . . . tried to indicate the “oneness.” In fact, when Pope John Paul II first went to India, he said, “We haven’t come here to teach you anything. We’ve come here to learn from your rich spiritual heritage. And the world does well to give heed to this.” Now this “rich spiritual heritage” involves reincarnation, it involves the idea that there is no sin—we simply make mistakes, and we have to pay . . .
Tom: That God is not personal or transcendent.
Dave: We have to pay for our mistakes, you know, through karma, and a denial of who Jesus Christ is, denial of the one true God—and they have about three-hundred- and-some million gods; the denial of the Trinity, that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, etc.
Well, did Jesus study under the gurus? Now, there’s a widely reported—I mean, I would say the most widely circulated report that I’ve read, there’s a gentleman named Nicolas Notovitch. He claimed that while traveling in Tibet in the late 1800s he was told by Tibetan Llamas that a record reporting the visit of Jesus existed in a Himalayan monastery. And in the early 1900s another visitor to Tibet was allegedly told the same thing.
Well, we’ve got some problems. Nobody capable of reading and translating these records ever saw them. There’s no copy of these records that has been brought to the West for examination. And now they say, “Oh, the records have been destroyed.” Well, if the Bible were based on no better evidence than that, they’d be justified in throwing it out.
Now, there’s not a particle of historical evidence about this. We have plenty of historical evidence as to who Jesus was, what He taught, His disciples, etc. Furthermore, everything that Jesus said and did proves that this is a lie. Every guru—for example, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—he has a guru, Guru Dev. Every guru who has come to the West was sent by his guru. And, they honor their guru.
Jesus never talked about His guru. If He had studied under some guru in India, He would have been obligated to honor that guru. Instead, Jesus talked about His Father in heaven—that His Father had sent Him. And that was a term unknown to the gurus, and the rabbis didn’t like it, because that indicated that He was God.
The people who study under the gurus, and the gurus themselves, like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, etc., or Muktananda or Rajneesh—they are on a journey. They are vegetarians, for one thing. Jesus was not a vegetarian. He ate the Passover Lamb, He ate fish, etc. They are practicing meditation in order to lift themselves from men to being equal with God.
Jesus, on the contrary, was God who became a man through the virgin birth. Now, He didn’t cease to be God, He’ll never cease to be man, He’s the one-and-only God-Man. The holiest thing you can do, for some gurus, at least, is to drink the water they washed their feet in. Jesus never offered that kind of water. He offered living water. Not H2O, but spiritual life. “You drink of the water that I give you, you will never thirst again.”
The guru is looked up to and is waited upon. He would never wash someone else’s feet. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, and Jesus, well—Jesus claims to be not a man on his way to godhood but God who became a man. Now, furthermore, Jesus talked about sin. The gurus don’t talk about sin. It’s “ignorance.” No, Jesus talked about sin. He said He came to seek and to save the lost. He said He came to die for our sins, to pay the penalty His own justice demanded. This is altogether contrary to guruism!
Tom: Dave, I’m thinking about resurrection as well. What a contrast that is to reincarnation!
Dave: Absolutely. Jesus was resurrected, not reincarnated. Furthermore, Jesus, if He’d been some kind of a Jewish Marco Polo, who traveled to India—wow! and to Tibet—He would have been famous on that account. No, on the contrary, we read that the people in Nazareth, they despised Him. They said, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?”
This guy—if He had traveled all over, they would have looked up to Him on that basis alone. I mean, there are other things, Tom, we’re running out of time. But, it is absolutely, there is no historical evidence, and everything that we read of Jesus in the Gospels, everything He did, everything He taught, is a complete denial of this whole idea that Jesus studied under the gurus. He learned from His Father. He said, “I do what the Father has sent Me to do, and with the Father, I follow His example.”
Well, you say, “Well then, Jesus, you know—the Father is greater than Jesus.” Yes, in one sense, because Jesus has become a man. On the other hand, the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—only work in conjunction with one another. They do not work independently of one another; these are three persons, one God. Absolutely contrary to Hinduism and the whole New Age idea!
Tom: Dave, last week at a conference—we were both at a conference—and a young man came up to me and said, “Oh, listen, what about the gospel of Thomas! And what about the gospel of Barnabas! And I’ve been reading these things, and what do you think about those?” Well, I would encourage anybody out there who is reading these materials—go to the Scriptures. Be a Berean! Check these things out against God’s Word, and your going to see incredible contrasts; one is true and the other one’s—you’ll easily recognize them as blatant frauds.