God is Immutable (unchanging)


Related to and inseparable from God’s simplicity is His immutabilityThis means God is unchanging in Who He is. Unlike the Greek gods, who could wake up on the wrong side of the bed, God is constantly and consistently Himself. Speaking to the Israelites in Malachi 3, God is going to return to His temple and cleanse it so that “the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord” (v. 4). Then, following God returning to His temple and restoring proper worship, God will judge His people who are wicked (v. 5). Interestingly, verse 6 begins with “for I the Lord do not change.” How does this function in the context here? 

God will restore His people, judge and refine them, cleanse their worship so it is pleasing to Him. We Christians see this in the coming of Jesus, who refines and cleanses by His blood and through the Holy Spirit in baptism, Whose Body is the true temple (God’s people in the Messiah). So where does immutability come in? God’s purposes for His people, including the Gentiles in His Son the Messiah, are not whimsical nor arbitrary. His purposes flow from His character. Immutability strengthens this to help us see His purposes with more confidence. Quite simply, God will not back out of His promises because He is immutableand therefore always Himself, the God Whose steadfast love endures forever. Immutability supports the truth that God won’t say, “psyche!”

But what about Scripture that speaks of God relenting, or responding to (“God heard…”) prayer? What about God seeming to change His mind in some stories of Scripture? It’s important here to recognize that in Scripture we see God as the One who interacts with and works to redeem His creation. The language of Scripture is of God working in relation to His creation. Classically, a distinction has been made between (1) God in relation to His creation, and (2) God in Himself. Some people object to this, saying, “we only know God as He comes to us, not some distant deity!” But this misunderstands the distinction. The reason we talk about God in Himself (a scary thing to do, for sure! Much fear and trembling here) is because it supports the understanding of God in relation to His creation. God in Himself is the God Who we meet in Scripture, but accommodated to our human understanding. That’s why there’s a distinction. It honors the fact that God is truly God, truly other than us. But it also recognizes the reality of revelation, that God has revealed Himself through human language (the Scriptures).

So when we read that God changed His mind, or responds to prayer, it’s in relation to His creation, not in Himself. Now there’s some tricky and mysterious things that we get into if we go further, but I’ll leave it at that.

So what does that mean for us, God’s people, in 2020? James tells us that, depending on the translation, God’s gifts are sure because God has “no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17, NRSV). We are a people in trial and burdened right now with the coronavirus. But we hope in the God Who has given us His Holy Spirit to empower us to live with the power that animated Jesus to the cross and raised Him from the dead. The gifts we’ve received from God, whether that be gifts now in this time or gifts He’s given to us in general, we can be sure God will not revoke them as we seek Christ. We can be sure that God will complete His plan of redemption in the future coming of His Son. No circumstance will change God, no obstacle will thwart Him, no virus will scare Him. He is the unchanging One Who gives His people His Spirit, to be, as James says, “the first fruits of his creatures (1:18). Our life in Christ as His Body, even and especially now, is a foretaste of the coming Kingdom. That’s what’s offered to us, God’s people. That’s what God gives us as gift. And that truth on offer to us will not change, because God does not change. Praise Him.

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