Can God lie or change?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: A friend of mine asked some questions about God, but they’re kind of technical (or something) … and I just don’t know what to do with them. He asked, could God be lying about his nature — and not actually be who he says he is? Could he have a false view of himself so that he doesn’t exhibit the things we expect like omnipotence, omniscience eternality, etc.? Can you help me out here?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries… and I feel your angst. Yet your friend asked you some philosophy-based questions… so, I’m impressed that you’re willing to mediate! But what this means is that we’ll have to work outside of the Bible quite a bit to address the issues that underlie these questions.

That being said, these questions can indeed be addressed by citing some Scripture… and that would be a good approach for people who accept the Bible as God’s authoritative word. But these are philosophical questions at their cores because they are forcing us to postulate about the things that God “could”  and “could not” do… which are not always directly addressed in Scripture. But in the case of lying, Scripture has us covered.

For instance, Scripture is clear that God does not lie.

“He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” (1 Samuel 15:29, NIV, emphasis mine)

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,” (Titus 1:1–3, NIV, emphasis mine)

But these verses do not tell that God cannot lie — which is more along the lines of your question. Nevertheless, we should not throw these “does not lie” verses away because they are still useful to build the cumulative case that God cannot lie… and cumulative cases help us understand the whole counsel of Scripture. But we do have some verses that tell us that God cannot lie, and for Bible-believing people, such direct affirmations are plenty.

“in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,” (Titus 1:2, NASB95, emphasis mine)

“God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.” (Hebrews 6:18, NIV, emphasis mine)

But to answer your first question completely we need one more factor. We need to answer the question of why. Why is it that God does not — and cannot — lie? That’s because of his nature. God is true, and falsehood cannot coexist with truth. But here’s the key: it is important that we do not see God’s inability to lie as a restriction... in spite of the fact that lying is indeed something that God “cannot do” … and there are plenty of things God cannot do, by the way. So, it is philosophically untenable to say these are restrictions… and that we’ve caught the omnipotent God in a “can’t do” trap.

God — like every other entity — can only act according to his nature… and this, by definition. As such, God’s omnipotence has logical limits while remaining omnipotence.

For instance, God cannot destroy himself or act outside of his nature. Also, he can’t do anything illogical — like make a married bachelor… yet, these are the very things that questions like, “Can God make a rock so big he can’t move it?” rely on… and this is why they fail. So, although it is correct to say that God cannot lie, it is more helpful (and precise) to say that God cannot not be true.

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?” (Numbers 23:19, NIV, emphasis mine)

“if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13, NIV, emphasis mine)

But even if I step into this question and play along with your friend, I can’t come up with a reason why God would misrepresent himself. The question presupposes that God created everything and that he communicates with us. So, why would a God who “owns” everything — who has maximal power and control over all creation — misrepresent himself to that creation? I can’t imagine what God would gain by such a ruse… and without answering this, the question has no teeth. It’s somewhat cleverly constructed. But at the end of the day, it is purposeless nonsense.

So, please note this well: just because a question makes syntactical sense, doesn’t mean that it makes logical sense… and we don’t have to accept a sentence as a logical argument just because it can be diagramed. In fact, this question collapses upon itself since it relies on two things that just cannot be: God cannot lie because of his nature… and he cannot be lying about his nature because he cannot lie. If anything, this supports the idea that if God exists, he must be truth itself.

But aside from being logically flawed, the question is methodologically untenable… and here’s why: a challenger must engage his opponent at the level of his premises…and we would never say of our God that he was a liar, deluded or incompetent. But the questioner does because his question implies this. So, since that kind of god is not the God we’d be presenting in any argument, we should never engage in a debate without challenging those kinds of premises.

Instead, we would have to set some ground rules... like discuss the nature of the God we have in view and discuss why the question cannot be answered as it stands. Our God is true and he does not change. Therefore, his lying is out of the question. But this is so because it is precluded by his attributes… which are faithfulness, omniscience, immutability, etc. … and that’s the kind of God we are discussing.

The second part of the question has all the same methodological defects as the first, and the same protocols apply… but with different details. For instance, we postulate an omniscient God — and the nature of an omniscient God is that he cannot know wrong things about himself. We postulate a perfect God — a God who is continually and forever free of defects. We postulate a faithful God — one that is true to himself and to his creation continually and forever. We postulate an immutable God — and an immutable God does not change in any way... let alone in the way where one of his attributes would not show up for work one day.

But perhaps most importantly, we postulate an omnipotent God — one that has the power to maintain all his perfections… and the second part of this question crumbles in upon itself because it’s not really different from the first. It just has different details.

In closing, I’d like to thank you for representing your friend to our ministry, and I pray that these insights have helped you. If you find that you are interested in what we were doing today — which was more Christian apologetics than merely citing Bible verses — consider listening to Dr. William Lane Craig from Reasonable Faith ministries — and consider going through his Defender’s series.

Craig is a highly credentialed theologian and philosopher, who is faithful to God’s word, but who also brings philosophy and logic to the table. This can be extra helpful because — and as today’s question demonstrated — not every question is a question… and it’s important to be able to sort out the valid from the invalid.

God bless you.

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