by Linda McMillan
There is an idea floating around that God never makes mistakes. Mega-preacher Joel Osteen has said, “God doesn’t make mistakes. He’s already designed your life and laid out every piece, down to the smallest detail.” James Dobson, speaking of the Bible said, “It was inspired by the creator of the universe, and he does not make mistakes!” And even Pastor Rick Warren gets in on the act: “God never does anything accidentally and he never makes mistakes.”
The take-away from all this perfect-God business is that since God doesn’t make mistakes, everything in your life must be going just the way it’s supposed to. God doesn’t make mistakes, after all. It’s supposed to help you feel better about yourself when you’ve been stupid, or mean, or selfish, or… well, enough about me.
The other time you might hear, “God doesn’t make mistakes…” is during a time of trouble. People mean well, but they can say the most outlandish things. “No worries, Job. I know your children are dead and you are financially ruined, but God doesn’t make mistakes. Cheer up, old chum!” It is not true, of course. God didn’t do those things to Job; and, well, God does make mistakes
We know that God makes mistakes because it’s in the Bible. It is really hard to understand how so many religious leaders get it so wrong about a mistake-free God when the Bible is so very plain.
It seems like God made a mistake right in the beginning when he created male and female version of every other animal, but only made a male version of humans. Then taking the female from the male instead of creating her ex nihlo like the other animals left us with a world of patriarchal problems. Mistake.
More recently God has failed to destroy the many new super-skyscrapers that now dot the planet. The Burg-Kalifa in Dubai, for example is a towering 2.722 feet tall That is much taller than the Tower of Babel which God destroyed just before sending everyone on their (separate) way. Another mistake.
But, don’t take my word for it. God owns her own mistakes. Genesis 6:6, for example says: “The Lord was sorry, regretted, repented that she had made man on the earth, and it grieved her at her heart.” And God owns up to another mistake in I Samuel 15:11 when she says, “I am sorry. It grieves me I ever made Saul king over Israel. I repent of it…”
There are also a couple of times when God changed her mind, indicating that she might have been mistaken the first time. For example, Exodus 32:12. In verse 12 the people pray and ask God to change his mind, and in verse 14 God does.
So, God makes mistakes.
If God makes mistakes, then perfection isn’t about an absence of mistakes. It must be something else. Again, we have to look at the word as it was originally understood. Another, older, way to say it might be, “Therefore, grow-up, whole and complete, like God is whole and complete.”
If we are really like God, we will do what God does. In the face of every mistake, every set-back, every failure God keeps trying. When Adam and Eve fell into consciousness, God kicked them out of Eden and started working on Plan B; when the people decided to build a tower to Heaven, God knocked it down and revised the plan again; when things got really bad God decided to start all over with a new plan, but he kept Noah’s family and some of the animals. Every time there is a set-back, God does a work-around, tries something new, makes a new plan. The one thing God never does is give up.
Abraham was persistent in saving the city of Sodom…
Jacob persisted in holding onto his wrestling. Adversary…
This kind of Godly persistence is extolled in the New Testament too. The best known example is the parable of the needy neighbor. There was a man who needed some bread because people from out of town had shown up at the last minute. Even though it was late at night he went to his neighbor’s house to borrow some bread. The neighbor was sleeping but eventually he got out of bed and came up with some bread just so his neighbor would go away. Persistence!
Later in Luke we read the parable of the persistent widow. There was a widow who wanted justice against her adversary. The judge didn’t care, though. But she was persistent and finally he granted her request just so she would leave him alone. Persistence.
Finally, Jesus persisted through his arrest, trial, and crucifixion. When it was over he said, “It is finished.” And the root word for finished is the same root word for perfect. Jesus could have just as well have said, “It is perfect.” His work was complete.
There’s no pressure this morning to be mistake free. We can all breathe a sigh of relief because we are all going to make mistakes, probably lots of them. But we can grow towards persistence in faith, persistence in hope, and persistence in love by simply never giving up.
God has been persistent since before time. Let’s redouble our own efforts for the few years we have.
Linda McMillan is in Arakan, Burma where the gentle waves of the Bay of Bengal cause her not to fret too much about perfection.
Image: By anonimous – http://www.artbible.net/1T/Gen0601_Noah_flood/pages/15%20NOAH%20S%20ARK.htm, Public Domain, Link
Some Notes of Possible Interest
You can find the website for Saddleback Church here. Rick Warren is the founder and Senior Pastor.
See the Book of Job in the Tanach for a complete list of the calamities that befell God’s man Job.
The Burg Kalifa is an amazing building. You can read all about it here.
PBS has undertaken a series on super sky-scrapers. You can readmore about it here.
Talking about God repenting, or being sorry for what she has done is difficult because the language is old and the word has a surprising number of (all correct) meanings. Hebrew is an ancient language. It served its purpose at the time, and still does. But the number of Hebrew words in use today far exceeds those of God’s early days.
In this case, we are looking at the Hebrew word נָחַם (Nachom… pronounce it like the musical phrase na, na-na, na-na and like the word calm, if it didn’t have an L in it. Also, to write it correctly in English there is an H in it, but you don’t make a traditional English ch sound)
Nacham can mean to repent, to comfort, to feel generally bad about, sorrow, grief. So translating this word as repent, or sorry, is dicey. But we either translate or we remain in the dark.
In the essay, I’ve made a good-enough translation by simply using several of the possible correct translations. But here are some more to show you how others have translated it, and so that you can see the range of the word:
God made a mistake
Webster’s Bible Translation… And the LORD repented that he had made man on the earth
JPS Tanach 1917… And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth.
New International Version… The Lord regretted…
New American Standard… The Lord was sorry…
King James Bible… And it repented the Lord…
JPS Tanach 1917… And it repented the LORD
Jubilee Bible 2000… And the LORD repented
The same word, נָחַם is used similarly in the very next verse too.
Webster’s Bible Translation… And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created, from the face of the earth, both man and beast, and the creeping animal, and the fowls of the air; for I repent that I have made them.
JPS Tanach 1017… And the LORD said: ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and creeping thing, and fowl of the air; for it repenteth Me that I have made them.
New International Version… I regret that I have made them.
New Living Translation… I am sorry I ever made them
King James bible… .for it repenteth me that I have made them.
International Standard Version. I’m grieving that I made them
Young’s Literal Translation… I have repented that I have made them.
God admitted that making Saul king over Israel was also a mistake.
I Samuel 15:11
I Samuel 15:11 (Also, the word is similarly used just a few verses later in I Samuel 15:35)
Webster’s Bible Translation
I repent that I have set up Saul to be king: for he is turned back from following me, and hath not performed my commandments. And it grieved Samuel; and he cried to the LORD all night.
JPS Tanack 1917
It repenteth Me that I have set up Saul to be king; for he is turned back from following Me, and hath not performed My commandments.’ And it grieved Samuel; and he cried unto the LORD all night.
New International version… I regret that I have made Saul king
New Living Translation… I am sorry that I ever made Saul king
King James Bible… It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king
New heart English Bible… t grieves me that I have made Saul king
Young’s Literal Translation… I have repented that I caused Saul to reign for king
God changed his mind…
Exodus 32:12 and 14
Webster’s Bible Translation… v. 12… Why should the Egyptians speak and say, For evil did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people. V. 14…And the LORD repented of the evil which He said He would do unto His people.
JPS Tanach 1017… v. 12… Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, saying: For evil did He bring them forth, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from Thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against Thy people. v. 14 And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people.
New International Version… v.12…And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do to his people. V.14… Then the LORD relented
New Living translation… v. 12… Change your mind about this terrible disaster you have threatened against your people! V. 14… So the LORD changed his mind
New American Standard Bible… v. 12… Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. V.14… So the LORD changed His mind
Of course, there is also this from Numbers 29:18: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” Why does the Bible seem to contradict itself? I don’t know. It’s just one of those things we have to work out along with our salvation.
The Greek word that is translated perfect in this reading is from teleos. It is better translated as complete. It can refer to a job that is finished, or the completion of a person’s growth physically, mentally, spiritually. In this case I read it to mean that it’s time to grow up and get serious.
Abraham saved the city of Sodom in Genesis 18.
Jacob persisted in holding on to his wrestling adversary in Genesis 32
The parable about the needy neighbor is in Luke 11:5-10.
The parable of the persistent widow is in Luke 18:1-8.
Jesus said, “It is finished: in John 19