We’re entering the week when Christ-followers mark the last week of Jesus’ earthly life. This Sunday is “Palm Sunday”, so called because it’s the day the church celebrates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21.1-11). From that point forward, Jesus’ face is turned toward Jerusalem, toward the pain he will endure from no doing of his own.
In his last week, Jesus spent time in the Garden of Gethsemane. His human side showed there, perhaps as at no other time in the 33 years he had lived; he was totally stressed out about the fact that he was going to die the most heinous, painful death known to humanity at the time: he’d be crucified the next morning. And in his humanity, Jesus cried out to his Father to find out if there might be an alternative to what he knew lay before him.
“Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me” (Luke 22.42a, NLT). One could say that, in these words, Jesus was attempting to change the mind of God.
Lots of people today ask that question: Can God change his mind?
There’s quite a debate to be had on it, but in most circles, it’s understood that God does not change his mind, even though it may appear to us that way. After all, even the concept of “changing one’s mind” is an anthropomorphism: it’s a human expression that attempts to explain something beyond itself. After all, the idea that God has a ‘mind’ that can be changed limits God to human concepts. God is, of course, beyond that.
Many look to the decision of God to “relent” from annihilating his people at the pleading of Moses (Exodus 32) as proof that God changes his mind. Yet in reality, what was God doing in that story but simply fulfilling his original promise to protect and prosper his people?
In the story of Jesus’ prayer in the garden, it is no different: Jesus submits to the will of his Father, which was, from the beginning of time, to provide his own Son as the final sacrifice for the sins of the whole world. And Jesus knew it.
There will be times when we know there are things we need to do – things we know are God’s will, things we know will exact a cost from us – and we beg God to let us out of them. We ask God to change his mind.
When we pray like Jesus, we find that our prayers to change God’s mind end up changing our minds. God strengthens us for the task ahead, and delights in the fact that we talked to him about it. That’s a win-win.
I’m grateful that God didn’t change his mind: after all, had God said to Jesus, “It’s okay, you don’t have to endure the cross”, where would we be? The Bible answers that question so clearly. We would be “dead in (our) transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2.1, NIV).
I’m glad God is sticking to his original plan!