Monday, February 25, 2019

God's Immutability (Unchangeableness)

In the final section of the epistle to the Hebrews, where the author delineates the implications of our having received “a kingdom which cannot be moved,” we are told that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The character of Jesus as we find it depicted in the Gospels—loving and kind toward sinners, holy and utterly free from sin—has not changed one iota, even though He is now seated at the right hand of God and is the Sustainer of all that exists. Christ is eternal, holy love. If He were mutable, He simply would not be God. So the same has to be true of His Father (Ex. 34:6–7). God the Father also is immutable, and like His Son—and, we should add, the Holy Spirit—He is holy love.

God’s moral character is the same now as it was when He created the universe, when He called Abram to faith in Himself and when He led Israel out of bondage to the Promised Land. He has always hated sin and always loved righteousness—God never acts in ways that are contrary to His character (James 1:17). Therefore, God’s Word does not change: “Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89); it is “true from the beginning,” and every one of God’s “righteous judgments endureth for ever” (Ps. 119:160).

Neither do God’s plans and purposes change: God’s “counsel … standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:11). God never has to reevaluate his plans, for they are based on His absolutely exhaustive knowledge of all things past, present, and future. Men, on the other hand, even the best of them, are inconstant, for their knowledge is incomplete and they frequently have to make alternative plans. They are unable to prevent emergencies that alter the landscape of their lives entirely and force change upon them. Thus, God says of Himself by way of contrast with men: “the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent” (1 Sam. 15:29). Humanity, and indeed all of creation, is in this present time in the process of becoming. But not God.

Because God does not change, His people have hope: “I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed” (Mal. 3:6). It is for this reason, Herman Bavinck observed, that God is so frequently called “the Rock” in Scripture (e.g., Deut. 32:4, 15, 18, 30–31; 1 Sam. 2:2; 2 Sam. 22:32; Pss. 19:14; 31:3; 62:2, 7). In Bavinck’s words, “We humans can rely on him; he does not change in his being, knowing, or willing.”

Yes, there are passages in Holy Scripture that speak of God repenting (Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11; Amos 7:3, 6; Jonah 3:9–10; 4:2). How are we to understand such texts? Some contain what theologians call anthropomorphisms, that is, descriptions of God in human terms. Also, some of these texts involve changes in man’s relationship with God and thus depict changes in orientation on the part of God. So when the inhabitants of Nineveh repented God did not punish them. There was no alteration in God’s plan. He had intended to punish the city if its occupants did not repent of their sin. They changed and so were spared; thus, it was the people of Nineveh who changed, not God.

Therefore, those who argue today that God, like the rest of reality, is in the process of becoming (the advocates of so-called open theism and those who adhere to process theology) have no biblical justification. In the minds of these thinkers, God is learning and developing, ever changing into a more perfect being. This perspective not only flounders because of philosophical problems but also flies in the face of the clear biblical evidence noted above and in many other passages of Scripture.