Parashat Lech-Lecha

Can God change His mind?

It all could have been so good, indeed, according to Torah everything was created good. God never acts to do evil or bring injustice; it is however in the nature of man, given the choice, to do evil and bring injustice.

From Bereshit we moved swiftly towards Noach and the great flood. For most people the idea of an ideal ‘natural’ lifestyle (as in living in accordance and harmony with nature and its inbuilt rhythms) seems tempting and the description given in Bereshit of the untainted world makes the heart yearn for a more uncomplicated rural existence when we all lived on farms and peace ruled. Ah, the good old days! We were so close to nature, surely if we could only re-create this all problems would cease…

Really? Let’s just cast our minds back for a moment. After the first sin, what was the second? Murder. Murder came to quickly dominate the scene as the benchmark of human depravity and evil that would destroy the image of God in us, anything that would remind us of our origins and our destination: to stand once more before the One who formed us. The shedding of blood came to define rebellion against God, terminating life through direct murder and preventing life through sexual barrenness.

The forces of spiritual evil cannot bear life. The reason is simple: life, rather than flesh, holds within it the key to a spiritual response to God. The flesh cannot be redeemed but the human spirit can. By the time we reach Noach’s generation, things were far from all right ‘down on the farm’. Violence was everywhere, a rapid decline to a level where only one option was open to the Lord: destruction of it all.

It seemed as if God’s experiment had failed; love would find no expression in the universe. Except… after His absolute statements about destroying ALL mankind, it seems God changed His mind. how does a fully and completely holy and righteous God tolerate such evil to continue after saying that He would end it? This question of course has echoed down the ages and perplexed many, yet we have the answer before us here: It IS in the nature of God to destroy evil, His justice and righteousness are strong, yet He is moved by the fact that Noach walked with God. It appealed to another layer of His own character and nature: His mercy. It is why Ya’akov says that mercy triumphs over judgement in his letter. His love as shown through His mercy sits ‘deeper’ than His desire to see righteousness and judgement prevail at all costs.

A day of reckoning will come because God will be true to Himself, but He is moved by appeals to His mercy. Consider Avraham, Moshe and Pinchas. When confronted with God saying he would destroy His people, they all pleaded for mercy. God didn’t change His mind in these cases but was moved by mercy, knowing the frailty of man.

What caused this move from judgement to mercy? It would have been so easy to destroy everything in the flood. The self-righteous would have been happy to see a moral, righteous universe functioning according to spec. Yet because this is not immediate and appears often untimely at best, many, including Job and Solomon grappled with this issue. Creation continues, ruled by a God who does truly love us and is at His core righteous, yet ‘reality’ screams at us. Why wait to judge and destroy? Why continue in mercy?

The answer comes to us in Noach and Avraham. Noach was a just man and so found favour with God. His character and nature was such that he was able, could and did choose life rather than death, chose to walk with God and not with the world. The Lord saw then that man COULD respond to Him, as the spiritual being man is too, and as such there was hope, there was a potential to reach out to God in man, and that heart plea would never, could never be ignored by God. That every human being therefore needed the opportunity also to respond and call on the Name of the Lord became paramount to God.

Even Noach was not able to ‘save himself’, he had a level of response that indicates a willingness and desire but God would have to take the initiative and act first. Salvation, deliverance and redemption from judgement only came about because God showed Noach the way: build an ark. God made the first move.

Which brings us to Avraham. He is the next person to be named who responds to God in this way. Curiously there are no little comments about him, unlike Noach, about his walking with the Lord or being a righteous man. All we read is that when God spoke, Avraham responded and set out, leaving home, country, culture and life as he knew it, heading towards being a stranger in an unknown land. To go out, “lech lecha”, was hard yet God knew what He was doing with him because the end result was clear: the reason God called him was because of this future potential to respond. He had the same heart as Noach, to reach out to God and respond. Unlike with Noach who reached out first and showed that man COULD respond, with Avraham the intent was future, he WOULD respond.

In Avraham the spiritual journey of our people begins. Because man CAN respond, the ‘need’ for judgement could be put to one side (so to speak), and mercy be allowed to flourish, time given to respond despite evil everywhere. With Avraham begins the story of salvation as we recognise it. God now acts with mercy to bring life, not death; instead He now redeems the corrupted, overcomes the sin and ultimately takes the initiative again some thousands of years later by sending a sacrifice for our sins equal to them: Yeshua Mashichanu.

And it is this final thought that ties it all together. The second sin was murder, the shedding of innocent human blood that so defines humanity. It is no wonder then that God took this event and turned it on its head, making the shedding of innocent sinless human blood the very access point and means to redemption. It ultimately shows that God is able to take the worst possible sin scenario and turn it to good, to bring redemption through such a cruel expression of evil. As such God was able to reverse death itself and bring life.

Truly now we can say that if you are born again you have passed from death and judgement to life, His mercy was greater than His judgement for you, and it was worth God’s time waiting for you! Yes, you were worth it, and God showed His total power to redeem by bringing salvation to you too, each and every one of you. He took the initiative and saved you because only He is able to redeem and not just judge.