Reflections on the Immutability of God
Does it matter much if God can change? Or to put it in other terms, is it important to you and me that we understand and embrace the truth of divine immutbility? Continue reading . . .
Does it matter much if God can change? Or to put it in other terms, is it important to you and me that we understand and embrace the truth of divine immutbility?
Although these next two texts speak specifically of God the Father, they apply equally to the other two persons in the Godhead, both the Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit:
"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).
"I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed" (Mal. 3:6).
Or consider these statements:
"In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end" (Ps. 102:25-27).
"Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God" (Ps. 90:2; cf. 93:2).
Let’s think for a moment about the plans or purposes of God as he is revealed in Jesus Christ. To deny immutability to God's purpose or plan would be no less an affront to Christ than to predicate change of his being, life, and character. There are, as I understand, only two reasons why God would ever be forced or need to alter his purpose:
(a) if he lacked the necessary foresight or knowledge to anticipate any and all contingencies (in which case he would not be omniscient; contrary to the claims of open theism); or
(b) assuming he had the needed foresight, he lacked the power or ability to effect what he had planned (in which case he would not be omnipotent).
But since God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge, there can be no error or oversight in the conception of his purpose. Also, since he is infinite in power (omnipotent), there can be no failure or frustration in the accomplishment of his purpose.
The many and varied changes in the relationship that God sustains to his creatures, as well as the more conspicuous events of redemptive history, are not to be thought of as indicating a change in God's being or purpose. They are, rather, the execution in time of purposes eternally existing in the mind of God. For example, the abolition of the Mosaic Covenant was no change in God's will; it was, in fact, the fulfillment of his will, an eternal will which decreed change (i.e., change from the Mosaic to the New Covenant). Christ's coming and work were no makeshift action to remedy unforeseen defects in the Old Testament scheme. They were but the realization (historical and concrete) of what God had from eternity decreed.
Consider these recurring declarations of the immutability of God’s plans and purposes:
"The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” (Ps. 33:10-11; cf. 110:4).
“The Lord of hosts has sworn: As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand” (Isa. 14:24).
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isa. 46:9-11).
“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Prov. 19:21).
“But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does” (Job 23:13).
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
“But Sam, doesn’t it say in the book of Jonah that when the people of Nineveh repented from their sin that God ‘changed his mind’ about his decision to judge and destroy them?”
Yes. But ironically enough, this is actually a proof that God does not change, that he always honors his promises and acts in perfect harmony with his character. Why do I say this?
Consider the fact that God has clearly revealed in his Word that unrepentant people will be judged and people who repent will be shown mercy. Right? Well, if that is true, there is no way that God could have judged and destroyed Nineveh once they repented. As long as they remained unrepentant and in rebellious unbelief, they were subject to divine judgment. But when they repented and turned to God from their sinful ways, God’s character demanded that he receive them with mercy.
Thus we see that it is a principle of God's immutable being (as revealed by him in Scripture) that he punishes the wicked and rebellious but blesses and forgives the righteous and repentant. If God were to reveal himself as such (as, in fact, he has done), only to punish the repentant and bless the rebellious, this would constitute real change and thus destroy immutability. God's declaration of intent to judge the Ninevites because of their sinful behavior and wickedness is based on the assumption that they are and will remain wicked. However, if and when they repent (as they did), to punish them notwithstanding would constitute a change, indeed reversal, in God's will and word, to the effect that he now, as over against the past, punishes rather than blesses the repentant.
Join me in praising God and giving thanks for the reassurance that he does not change. Where we would be if he did?