Would God Ever Change the Past?
We have a remarkable question on the podcast this week. It is a unique question. To be honest with you, a lot of the questions that I answer on the podcast each week are things I’ve heard before, maybe for years, things I’ve answered in other contexts. I have never been asked this question before. And it was really a thinker for me. I am happy to talk with you about it this week. And the question is, would God ever change the past? You start thinking about what we learn about this from the perspective of Scripture, and there are just so many passages that started springing to mind and thinking about how we would frame an answer to this, and I just realized I don’t have time to talk about everything that comes up in the text that is relevant for answering this question. We try to keep the podcast around 10 minutes or so. And so, my goodness, there’s a lot to say about this. But let me just say a few things.
The Past is Settled
First, let me say that the Bible gives every indication that the past is settled. When it’s done, it is over and done; it is settled. It is, for example, recorded in the text of Scripture. If God were going to change the past, events in the past would require him to change the Scripture. And we know that Scripture is settled and is not going to be changed. But just one passage of Scripture, out of so many that we can talk about, that helps point to the settled nature of the past has to do with King David, and in 2 Samuel, his child has been cursed because of his sin. David is fasting and praying that the Lord will relent from the judgment he has pronounced on this child. Then he hears that the child has died. It is done. The book of that child’s life is closed; it is placed on the shelf, and that is it. It is amazing that David does what every Biblical person does. There is never an example in the Bible. Lord, would you undo this? Would you take back this event? 1 Samuel 12:23 says, “But now he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” He’s saying, hey, this is over and done with. The past is taken care of. It is the past it is settled. The Bible gives every indication that when something is in the past, it is not going to be undone. We want this. The reason we start thinking about this kid is, could God undo this bad thing that happened to me? Could God undo this bad thing that happened to somebody I love? We want something bad to change. In other words, nobody is hoping that God will change the good things that have happened to us or the good experiences. We want God to change the bad things. We want God to erase what’s bad with something that is good. So if that’s the logic of this, then what we need to do is ask the question, what are the really bad things that happen in life? And in the Bible, how does God deal with those really bad things?
Well, one really bad thing. In fact, the very worst thing that could ever happen is sin. And God is righteous, holy, just, faithful, and loving. The worst thing that could ever happen is a violation against his goodness and righteousness and holiness and love, and that is sin. In the Bible, we do not read that God goes back and makes sin that had happened unhappen. Instead, what he does is forgive the sin that did happen in 1 John 1:9, the Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” He doesn’t make the sin unhappen. He changes the consequences of the sins that remain in the past. And we are forgiven, we are cleansed, we are released from the relational penalty of those sins. The worst thing that could ever happen in God’s world is sin. And God doesn’t undo the worst thing. Underneath that canopy of sin are tragic events. Tragic events that God witnesses in his world that we see happen in this world that is plague plagued by sin. And in the Bible, we do not encounter teaching that in response to those tragic events, God goes back and undoes them. He makes them unhappen. No, instead, we get this amazing miracle. It would be a miracle if God wanted to make those tragic events unhappen. But we get a different miracle in response to those. The Bible says in Romans chapter 8:28, a passage you probably know well, “We know that for those who love God, all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.” God doesn’t take the bad things and make them unhappen. The miracle that he does is he takes the bad things, and against all odds, in a remarkable display of righteous, omnipotent love, he turns the bad things for a good result. The best example of this in the Bible is the death of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, at the hands of sinful men, died. It was the worst, most horrible, tragic event in human history. God didn’t go back and unkill Jesus. But he took his death, and he made the resurrection happen. He piles this miracle on top of his death so that forever and ever and ever and ever, that resurrection, that life from the dead is sealed in the past, and it is true in the present. He did it because of his power. He didn’t make the death unhappen. He brought good out of the evil things that remained in the past. So, the past is settled. God doesn’t go back and rewrite history. When bad things have happened, we don’t expect God to undo the past. Instead, we trust him to forgive us of our sins and take all of the horrors that we have experienced, and by his grace and his glory and his love to work everything for good.