Sometimes progressive Christians area accused of over accommodation of the faith. Our more conservative sisters and brothers worry that we are too swayed by whatever the current culture suggests is appropriate. Sometimes those discussion are framed by the statement that God does not change and that God’s laws do not change.
But what do we mean when we say God does not change? It can’t mean that God never changes God’s mind. A careful reading of the Bible reveals that God has changed God’s mind. Anybody who has prayed an intercessory prayer hopes to, in some way, influence God- to get God to act in a particular way. If God is not influenced by God’s interactions with us, we left with a distant, uninvolved God or a God who has control of everything. Either “god” makes prayer useless. Our actions are at best indifferent or at worst useless with either “god”.
When I say God does not change, I mean that God’s essence, God’s truest self does not change. God is love. God is triune. God is merciful. God is just. I think God’s ultimate intentions for us and for the world do not change. God’s desire for salvation and shalom do not change.
God is love. That is true. But exactly what God’s love looks like at any particular time in human history may change. Here are two simple analogies.
As a parent I love my children. The way I express my love to them and for them changes as my children change. When they were young, one of the ways I expressed by love for them was by setting boundaries to keep them safe. For example, I didn’t let them cross the street by themselves when they were two. Now they are 19 and 21 and I let them cross the street by themselves. The “law” about street crossing needed to change as they grew. To keep the rule about street crossing the same from 2 to 21 would not be a healthy expression of love.
When my children were young I was more involved in their friendships. They needed supervision and guidance. Now (as much as I might want to be involved) I need to let them make their own decisions about who their friends are and what they do together. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care. But my involvement is different.
Analogies are not perfect ways of thinking about God, I know. Anything and everything we can say about God is less than the full reality of God. But all we have available to talk about God is our limited experiences and language. These analogies fall short at some point, but they can help us think about how what was appropriate at one time may not be appropriate for another time.
The most convincing evidence that at least some of God’s rules can change come from the Bible. We sometimes forget that Jesus often was accused of ignoring God’s law. Jesus, of course, didn’t see things that way. Jesus believed himself to be the fulfillment, the culmination of the law. The way the law appeared in its fulfilled state with Jesus looked quite different than the law appeared in Moses time, or in David’s time. ( For example, see Matthew 5:17 ff)
Peter, in Acts 10 is given new “rules” about what to eat and who to eat with.
Consider also the decision of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). They needed to decide what to “do” about non Jewish believers. Was there a certain level of adherence to Torah that was needed? The council decided that only a few things would be required. The situation, now, was different. God’s love didn’t change. God’s care for God’s people didn’t change. But particular practices and standards and ideas did need to change because of the new reality of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus.
The difficulty, for us as it was for the Jerusalem council, is figuring out what ought to change and when change is appropriate. This always brings confusion and anxiety with it. Jesus upset people. He didn’t upset people just to annoy them or because he was accommodating the culture. The Jerusalem council’s decision must have upset some people. They weren’t trying to water down the faith, they were trying to be faithful giving the world they lived in.
It is not easy, figuring out if change is the right thing to do. It is especially difficult because change involves thinking and acting differently than we ever have before.
How can we figure out is change is appropriate? I think we need to recall what is unchanging about God- mercy, justice, love. God is not static. God is not living in the past. God is here, now, present and urging us to deeds of mercy, justice and love. Old things have passed away, new things have come.