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Does God make mistakes?

God made us, and we sure do make mistakes! We couldn't make mistakes if we hadn't first been given the gift of freedom and accountability, the capacity to choose and the inevitability of facing the consequences of our choices. We learn the hard way if we must. So God doesn't necessarily make mistakes so much as create the kind of world in which we can. God tolerates our mistakes for the sake of our freedom. Otherwise, the human experiment is rigged.

It's possible to learn from our mistakes. In fact, learning from mistakes is the best use of them. When we undertake to learn from our mistakes, God uses them for good all around. The churchy name we give to this intentional examination of our own error is repentance. The good God can do with our repentance we call redemption. So if our learning is made possible by our error repented, then mistakes have a paradoxical way of growing us up in spirit. How can that be a mistake in the end?

Isn't it ironic that we become people we wouldn't otherwise be by taking these lessons to heart? Personally and collectively, the human journey is not about being perfect but about being perfected, to the extent that we give ourselves to those hard-won lessons and begin to cooperate with the good God seems to be bringing out of them. In church talk, we call that amendment of life, our work to make things right, insofar as we are able, being wiser from regret.

There's another level of response to this question that is causing a good bit of excitement among theologians, who wonder about God all the time as their work. We might rephrase the question slightly to ask if God ever has second thoughts. In other words, does God change, if not by making mistakes, perhaps by getting better and better? During the history of God, there have been both static and dynamic views of God expressed by devotees. Scripture is packed with both views, sometimes side by side.

Recent scientific theories, such as evolution and quantum physics, for instance, have provided a rich source of metaphorical speculation about God's nature. Such thought is exciting to me, because it proposes a God whose characteristic creativity implies constant change, the exercise and expression of the same freedom given to us. When you stop and think about it, it makes sense that the very evolution of human history and its consequences for all of creation call forth from God new responses all the time. It's an interactive and emergent view.

Yet even in this view, it's not that God makes mistakes, but that God has new ideas and takes new actions as God wills. We outgrow earlier notions of God, and scripture records some of that evolution. My own notions about God have been transformed over time, and I hope insistent inspiration will continue to stretch me. Does God outgrow previous notions about us?! Another way to ask that is to ask if we can surprise God. Freedom seems to require that astonishing possibility.

Did Jesus surprise God by the breakthrough of his choices, by the singleness of heart that avoided the typical human error? Good questions typically lead to others.

--The Rev. Dr. Katherine M. Lehman



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