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This is something that I have never been able to understand, so thought I would ask.

It is common that, whenever we look back at previous generations and certain aspects of their lifestyle which would today be considered to be unacceptable, to say something along the lines of, "well, they were a product of their time".

Fine.

What I personally find intriguing is when we come to those believed to communicate with, and take instruction directly from, a God of some sort.

Often these people are being instructed by God to 'change their ways', other times they are being dictated to, and the individual will write this down in the process of producing a book instructing people how to live their life's.

So if we take the hypothetical example of somebody who either was instructed to change their ways by God, or God dictated a holy text of some sort too, but who also had a child bride.

The argument given is that, while today that sort of thing is not acceptable, at the time it very much was.

But do the religious believe that to be God's attitude at the time as well?

If so, wouldn't that suggest a temperamental God who changes one's mind?

If not, then wouldn't the point where God is directly interacting with a human, either to tell them to change their ways or to dictate a holy text be a perfect chance for God to include a part about child brides not being ok (ie. "Don't eat meat on Fridays, and before I forget, don't marry a 9 year old")?

My question is, how do the religious reconcile God appearing to condone activities in the past, which are not considered to be acceptable today?

  • 1
    +1 for thinking about god as NOT being an omnipotent infinite wooden block. Closer to your question -- yes it is definitely possible that god changes opinions but dont forget that he has choice of infinite good, so to say infinitely many options. I think religious folk will just say that god works in mysterious ways or that it is all for the better good. Standard. God is far from being boring or standard. If you want to answer this question you need to ask yourself -- what is most valuable for gods in humans. And this is tricky. – Asphir Dom May 14 '14 at 0:11
  • They have to, otherwise how would you explain old testament, new testament, and Quran? – Matas Vaitkevicius May 14 '14 at 10:32
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    "a God of some sort" is an idol; it's not the real, true, God. Idolatry in all of its legion of forms is far more common than real communion with God. So to the point, God's values don't change. What the vast majority, the idolaters and blasphemers, believe about God is very unfortunate, but it's irrelevant to God's values. Of course many of them do justify themselves by pretending that God's values change in accord with their own values. But that is a matter of record already. Why ask the obvious, why beg the question? I would argue instead that no true established religion exists. – Bread Feb 12 at 11:16
  • God doesn’t change, hasn’t change and doesn’t need to change, humans change and He continues to operate within the confinement’s unchanged. But since humans do change their conditions change also. Take marrying siblings, that wasn’t forbidden until much later when the genetic makeup deteriorated that it would hve been unethical for God not to point out that marrying siblings and cousins is not genetically diverse enough. The human condition deteriorated and changed and a law was introduced against marrying close relatives but that didn’t change God in the least. – Autodidact Apr 5 at 4:45
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    Religions are too diverse for any kind of single answer to this. – curiousdannii Apr 5 at 6:39
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God is entirely simple (not composed of parts), and God is immutable. God does not change in time; God is not in time; nothing about God changes.

If this is so, how can God, for example, prohibit the Jews from eating pork before Christ, yet after Christ God allows those Jews who converted to Christianity to do so? Christians believe the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament is the same, one God.

There are three kinds of law, forming a hierarchy: eternal, natural, and human.

There are three types of precepts of the Old Law: moral, ceremonial, and juridical. The latter two were meant to prepare the Jews for Christ, and they ceased to bind after Christ, but the moral laws (natural law) are forever binding.


A very relevant question is whether natural law can change. If it can, then what is religiously valued centuries ago (like that marriage is between one man and one woman) is not necessarily so today. This is moral relativism.

However, as is said in the Decretals (Dist. v): "The natural law dates from the creation of the rational creature. It does not vary according to time, but remains unchangeable."

So, since humans today are of the same species or nature as our ancestors, the natural law for us is the same as it was for them.

Note: In everything below the horizontal line I am only considering moral values. Dogmatic truths, which could be considered "values" in a broader sense, are immutable because God cannot contradict himself. The "values" upheld by the eternal, divine law are immutable because, by definition, the divine law is eternal, participating in God's eternally unchanging nature: "every knowledge of truth is a kind of reflection and participation of the eternal law, which is the unchangeable truth," as Augustine says in De Vera Relig. xxxi (source).

  • I appreciate your perspective --you might want to give some context that it comes from the work of St. Thomas Aquinas, and also situate it with the larger context of Christian/Catholic theology, and Aquinas' importance to that theology. – Chris Sunami May 24 '14 at 0:43
  • You should know that first thing god does is contradicting himself. If you don't know this, you don't see him yet. And this is clearly visible in humans who are the reflection of gods. This reflection idea is agreed upon in every religion and conception of god. – Asphir Dom May 24 '14 at 21:02
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    God is pure being. If God could contradict himself, you would have to admit that the principle of non-contradiction ("that something cannot both be and not be") is false, and we could no longer have a rational discussion. Just because He may seem to contradict Himself from our perspective, doesn't imply He in Himself contradicts Himself. – Geremia May 24 '14 at 21:07
4

One possible way to answer this question is to hypothesize that God wants good things for people at all times, but what those things are change as human circumstances change --even if God does not change.

For example, at one point in human history, it was necessary for people to have large families because so few children survived to adulthood. Accordingly, there were a lot of religious prescriptions aimed at increasing the birthrate within the family structure. Arguably these rules might be of less importance in a new era where overpopulation is a very real threat.

Or, to look at it a different way, we place different rules on our toddler children than on our teenagers and have a different relationship with them again when they are adults. Even a person who does not change herself could have differing guidelines for her children when they were at different ages, based entirely on their own needs and changes.

3

Focusing on my own religious views, I'd say something similar to the other posters as the solution.

First, God is not in time, His existence precedes time and therefore is independent of it. In the Nicene Creed are the words

[I believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages

So, in this view, it doesn't make sense to think about "time" as we normally apply it to our daily lives. God is outside of time. This quote also points to the idea that the nature of God that Christians believe in (the Trinity) also wasn't a "change" - it happened before there was time, and change necessarily depends on time (something was one way at one time, and different at another time).

In terms of how standards of behavior change over time, consider the quote from Matthew 5:

It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law.

The point here is that the fundamental law has not changed, how people were called to live the law did. This can be for all sorts of reasons, but the changes depends on us, not God.

Why God decided to share which bits with us is worth thinking about. The child bride example you refer to is, to the best of my knowledge, not really part of Christianity so I can't speak to it. It surely would have been convenient if God laid down the law about what was OK and not OK. Then again, where He has (or, if you'd rather, where the religious text that dominates the beliefs of an area has spoken specifically), it's still not always followed. It's not clear then that spelling every last thing would have helped.

  • "before there was time" makes no sense. without time there can't be "before". – artm May 14 '14 at 20:38
  • Yeah, that's a bit colloquial. Probably better would be that "When time started, it had already happened." But that's more convoluted. – James Kingsbery May 15 '14 at 19:43
2

In the Quran, Allah has 99 attributes (others say that there are less). Like Mercy or Wrath. But it is a given that these divine attributes bear only the slightest resemblence to the human conceptions of such. Some go even so far as to say there is no resemblence.

The Ash'arite theologians say that God is outside of time, so these attributes of Allah can't change.

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Religious traditions do not deny free will to humans, which means that god does not control everything that happens on earth. The bible plentifully affirms this. Does s/he foresee everything that happens on earth? I doubt it, but many people would say yes, and even that s/he has every power to intervene but mostly chooses not to. From this it follows that when god gives e.g. marriage advice, it is tailored to the circumstances of the time, and this circumstances do change.

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