- Nothing out of his control - The sovereignty of God (1)
- Clinging to the Rock - the immutability of God (2)
Depending on the unchanging God in a changing world
The earth under your feet is spinning at over 1,000 miles an hour. We don’t notice it, of course, but it’s happening even at this very moment. The world around us is constantly moving. Change happens all the time. Just turn the news on – a new political crisis, another Premier League manager sacked, a no-name celebrity does something to get the tabloids excited. It’s hard to keep up.
Our lives are changing too. Nothing stays the same. Life marches on, and who knows what tomorrow will bring. Will the lab report come back with bad news? Am I going to lose my job in the next round of redundancies? Is a family member going to die?
We live in an ever-changing and uncertain world. But the Bible says one thing remains constant: God. He is the rock that never changes. Theologians call this his immutability. But how does God being unchangeable help us navigate the changes of life?
What is immutability?
A few years ago I was sorting through some things with my wife before we moved to a new house. As we looked through our stuff, we found our old wedding pictures. When we found them, we’d only been married five years, and we showed them to our two-year-old son. ‘Who is this lady?’ my wife asked him. He confidently answered, ‘Mummy!’ Clearly, she still looked as good as she did on her wedding day. But when she asked, ‘And who’s this man next to Mummy?’ our son was completely silent. He didn’t recognise me at all. Even when she told him he was unconvinced. Time had obviously not been kind to me.
All of us are changing. It’s human nature. But God doesn’t change. He is immutable. The Bible says it in countless places. For example:
You remain the same, and your years will never end (Psalm 102:27).
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
And one of my favourite verses,
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).
Just think about shadows for a moment. They change. When the sun is overhead, shadows are short. When the sun is low in the sky, they are longer. They are never constant. They are always changing. But James says that is precisely what God is not like. He is not like a shadow that shifts over time. God remains constant, unmoving, unshifting.
In his book Confessions, Augustine said that God was ‘Most high, most excellent… unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, never old, making all things new.’ Augustine is right. Because God is the maker of all things, he must be immutable. God is eternal and infinite, outside of the shifting sands of time. He’s not like us. He can’t change. God simply declares, ‘I the Lord do not change’ (Malachi 3:6). He is immutable.
Does God change his mind?
There are, however, some passages in the Bible which suggest that God has changed, occasions when God changed his mind. We’ll explore those next.
Do you have regrets? It’s natural for us because we don’t know the future. And since we don’t know how things will turn out, we often regret our actions.
But does God have regrets? Instinctively we might say no, but some passages say yes. One example is the story of Saul’s demise as king. God says, ‘I regret that I have made Saul king’ (1 Sam. 15:11).
Here’s the problem. We’ve seen that Scripture says God doesn’t change. But it also says that God regretted something. Did he have a change of mind over Saul, thereby undergoing some emotional change and so threatening his immutability?
Thankfully not. Occasionally Scripture says God regretted something in order to make a point. The point in 1 Samuel 15 is that God opposes Saul’s sin and desires a godly king.
After all, when you stop and think about it, God can’t regret things, can he? If he’s infinite and eternal, he knows precisely what will happen in the future. There are no surprises for God. Saul’s sin was not new information that caused him to change his mind and alter his plans. He is all-knowing. It’s human nature to regret our actions, but it is not divine nature to do so. Samuel explicitly makes that point later in the chapter.
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 Sam 15:29).
God can’t regret something or change his mind because he is God, not a human. Humans change. God doesn’t.
What difference does any of this make?
Sometimes I wake up grumpy. My kids will tell you that. Our moods are fickle. That’s why we have the saying, ‘he got up on the wrong side of bed today.’ Our mood changes, but God’s mood doesn’t. ‘To say that God is immutable,’ AW Tozer wrote, ‘is to say that he never differs from himself.’
Try a thought experiment with me. Imagine what it would be like if God were changeable, instead of immutable. What would it be like to wake up tomorrow and not know if God was for us or against us, not to know if God had still forgiven our sins?
Could you face a serious illness, or a crisis in life, with no confidence that God cared for you anymore? Sure, he might have cared last week. But maybe this week he’s changed his mind, and his love has gone cold.
What a terrible thought. We could never trust in a changeable god, one who might alter his plans or abdicate on his promises at any given moment.
Thankfully, we don’t have to face that nightmare. God is unchangeable. He never differs from himself. And that means that his promises are steadfast because he is as good as his word. So whatever crisis we face, whatever uncertainty comes our way, we know that God is immutable, and so we can be confident that he is always for us in Christ, always merciful, always gracious.
It is clinging to God’s immutability that gives us the confidence to endure in an ever-changing world. God says in Malachi 3:6, ‘I the LORD do not change.’ But the verse doesn’t end there. It carries on, ‘So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.’ Our hope for salvation is built on the sure foundation of God’s immutability.