A man looks around him and is astounded by what he sees. His life has gone by quickly and the world around him has changed so rapidly he can scarcely comprehend it. The buildings and streets of his home town have changed almost beyond recognition. The demands on his career have changed constantly so that he has had to struggle to keep up with new technology and new ideas. His children have grown from babies to adults seemingly overnight. Entire ways of thinking have changed-old traditional values have been discarded by society and new trends embraced. He has watched other family and friends grow old. Some have died. The man is bewildered. Where can he go to escape constant, tumultuous, seemingly chaotic change?
The answer, of course, is in the peaceful refuge of faith in the eternal, loving and unchanging God of the Holy Bible.
"O my God," I say, "take me not away
in the midst of my days-
you whose years endure throughout all generations!"
Of old you laid the foundations of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe,
and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.
The children of your servants shall dwell secure;
their offspring shall be established before you.
(Psalm 102: 24-28). (ESV).
The Psalmist here seems to be asking for assurance from the Lord, in the face of his own mortality. He is also acknowledging the eternal greatness of God.
Theologians have given a great deal of thought to the unchanging nature, or immutability of God. Augustus Strong has described this concept as follows:
By this we mean that the nature, attributes and will of God are exempt from all change. Reason teaches us that no change is possible in God, whether of increase or decrease, progress or deterioration, contraction or development. All change must be to better or worse. But God is absolute perfection, and no change to better is possible. Change to worse would be equally inconsistent with perfection.
The immutability of God and the perfection of God seem to be closely related ideas.
This is nevertheless a bit more complicated than it seems. After all, when we pray to God, aren't we usually asking him to do something he might not otherwise do? Aren't we, in effect, asking him to change his mind? Louis Berkhof discusses the matter as follows:
The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God.... The Bible teaches us that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their life with them. There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises.
Because humanity is so profoundly imperfect, we cannot expect to understand every aspect of God's divine plan.
The Book of Jonah is an interesting example. First, God asks Jonah to "call out" against the city of Nineveh (Jonah 1:2). Jonah tries to evade this responsibility, and winds up getting hurled into the ocean and swallowed by a great fish. Jonah prays to the Lord while in the fish, and is rewarded by being cast up onto dry land (2:10). Jonah then obeys God and warns Nineveh of impending disaster. The city repents of its sins and God spares the city. This bewilders Jonah to a great degree. God continues to deal with Jonah, teaching him to have compassion.
In this remarkable story, we observe God calling us to serve, providing us with adventure, allowing us to participate in the saving of lives and souls, and teaching us to have compassion. Was God changing his mind at every turn or did he have it all planned in advance? The answer is surely the latter, even though we cannot possibly understand fully the mind or plans of God.
J. I. Packer acknowledges that there is an obstacle to faith for some people; that while they might read and enjoy what they find in the Bible, they cannot get past a sense of remoteness. The events concerning Moses, Abraham, Jesus-these all took place over two thousand years ago, in a very different place and culture than the one we inhabit. Understanding the immutability of God is the way to overcome this obstacle:
Where is the sense of distance and difference, then, between believers in Bible times and ourselves? It is excluded. On what grounds? On the grounds that God does not change. Fellowship with Him, trust in His word, living by faith, 'standing on the promises of God', are essentially the same realities for us today as they were for Old and New Testament believers.
There is nothing preventing us from drawing as near to God as anyone we read about in the Bible, subject to the grace and providence of God. Praise the Lord!
In faith and fellowship,