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Does God Change?

Does God change? God is eternal, without beginning or end. Does He ever change?

I ask the question because recently I was asked about God’s vengeance. There is some tendency to see God in the Old Testament as a punishing God while in the New Testament God is loving and forgiving. Why the difference?

The Crucifixion. Through Jesus’ Crucifixion we have come to better know God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The Old Testament does describe God as one of vengeance. Psalm 94:1 says, “Lord, avenging God, avenging God, shine forth!.” Isaiah 24:1 says, “Now, therefore, says the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the Mighty One of Israel: Ah! I will take vengeance on my foes and fully repay my enemies!.

In Deuteronomy 32:35 we read, “Vengeance is mine and recompense.” Vengeance is retribution for a wrong done. We are to seek “justice.” However, I think “vengeance” is seen today in a negative connotation based on anger.

God does speak of retribution in Leviticus 24:19-20, “Anyone who inflicts a permanent injury on his or her neighbor shall receive the same in return: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The same injury that one gives another shall be inflicted in return.” This verse seems to call for equal retribution for a crime. As such it is used by some to justify the death penalty as punishment for murder. However, we should understand that God is not calling for the death penalty. This verse is offered to limit punishment. People were responding to crimes with a worse punishment than the original crime so God said an “eye for an eye” to limit the punishment.

When are we seeking “revenge” over “justice”? Here, I think of a news story I saw in recent weeks where a person in federal prison was scheduled to be executed for murder. Normally, the victim’s family is allowed to be present at the execution. Because of the Coronavirus restrictions in place, the victim’s family was not able to travel to be there when the execution was scheduled. They asked for it to be delayed. I ask, if the purpose is justice, why does the victim’s family need to be there? Is it justice they seek or revenge?

Returning to my original question, “Does God change?”, I already brought up the two different images held by some from the Old and New Testaments about God’s forgiveness and punishment. We hear Jesus’ response to Leviticus 24:19-20 in Matthew 5:38-42, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.” Jesus calls for a gentle and compassionate response.

So, does that mean that God does change from a punishing God as witnessed in the great flood (see Genesis chapters 6-9), or in the Fall of Kingdom of Israel to the Assyrians and Babylonians (See Books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel) to a gentle and forgiving God in the New Testament?

We read in Romans 12:19 (recalling Deuteronomy 32:35 above),  “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” God still maintains the right to avenge in the New Testament but we trust in his mercy.

Now, let us explore the question is forgiveness ever shown in the Old Testament.

We see forgiveness offered by humans in Genesis 45 when Joseph forgives his brothers for having sold him into slavery. We see David spare Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 26. How about God’s forgiveness?

In Genesis 4, we hear the story of Cain and Abel. Does God kill Cain for having murdered Abel? No, in fact, in Genesis 4:15 God says, “Not so! the Lord said to him. If anyone kills Cain, Cain shall be avenged seven times.”

In Leviticus 19:18, we hear God say, “‘Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your own people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

In Exodus 32, the Israelites make a golden calf as their idol. God prepares to destroy them for their sin but relents when Moses pleads for his mercy.

Through the prophets God promises an end to the Exile that was punishment for sin. He does indeed set them free from exile.

Yes, God punished people in the Old Testament but He also forgave. He does the same today. God who is all-knowing punishes when appropriate and forgives when fit. We need God’s forgiveness.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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