In contrast to the changeableness of human beings, God is seen as one who is changeless. The unchangeableness of God, sometimes called the immutability of God, means that God is always the same in His eternal being. James reminds his readers that “God never changes or casts a shifting shadow” (James 1:17/NL-f).
All that we are familiar with in the material world changes. Everything wears out, runs down, and is eventually exhausted. Even humans are born, grow old, and eventually die. We cannot rely upon fallen human nature. An example of human changeableness occurred in Bible times during Holy Week. The masses were crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” The next week they were crying, “Away with Him! Crucify Him!” Our God is not like that.
e doctrine of God’s immutability is very significant for several reasons. For one thing, God is unchangeable in His purposes. Psalm 33:11 says that “The counsel of the Lord stands forever.” In Isaiah 46:9-11 we are told that when God speaks, His counsel shall stand. He will bring to pass what He purposes to do.
It is also true that God is unchangeable in His promises. Balaam, who was told to speak only the words God gave him to speak, declared in Numbers 23:19 that when God speaks, He does not lie, but will bring to pass what He promises. God, in His grace, promised a new land to the Israelites (Exodus 12:25). God’s faithfulness urged Him to fulfill that promise in spite of the nation’s disobedience. And just so, God’s promise of salvation for those who repent and believe the gospel can be counted upon as secure (Ephesians 2:8).
Unlinked to this characteristic of God’s nature is the fact that faithful believers reject the idea that ethics should be related to the current environment, and instead, insist that God’s laws are unchanging absolutes. And furthermore, God’s promise is—that in death, when we quit living in the human body— there is the prospect of resurrection, reunion, and perfection in the full enjoyment of the Savior’s presence throughout all eternity (John 14:1-3; 2 Peter 1:10-11).
To boost your hope in these troubled times, read Eric Brubaker’s essay in this issue of the Witness.
—Harold S. Martin
Our Unchanging God
By Eric Brubaker
The Bible teaches that all good gifts come ultimately from God “who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17/NIV). The Bible also teaches that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). The Lord says “For I am the Lord, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). And so—as the years (and even the centuries) pass by, God remains constant and unchanging in His nature and purpose. All the while, though God does not change, we find ourselves in an ever-changing world, where we constantly have to adjust. The hymn-writer says, “Change and decay in all around I see. 0 Thou, who changest not, abide with me.”
This article attempts to look at the ever changing landscape of the present world, against the backdrop of the stability and unchangeable nature of God.
OUR CHANGING WORLD
The world we live in seems to be changing. There are many things to adapt to and things that we have to brush up on. We often use phrases like “get ahead of the curve,” or “anticipate the change,” or “be proactive,” or “get ahead of the game.” We live in a world of change. Very often the consequence of not adapting, not anticipating, or not being proactive–is that we can get “left in the dust” and then we are left to play “catch up.”
Much of the world believes that we must embrace change, and be innovative and on “the cutting edge.” A recent presidential campaign slogan was “Hope and change.” Many believe that if we don’t go along with the latest fad—that we are odd or backward and too reserved. It seems that there has been more change in the 20th century than in any other century in history. Think about all of the new things in the 20th century.
Transportation: For thousands of years, the horse was the preferred and fastest means of transportation. But during the 18th and 19th centuries transportation was changed forever by the development of the steam engine and then the internal combustion engine. And this was perfected in the 20th century so that we can now travel long distances at high rates of speed by burning fossil fuels. Transportation has gone from the horse, to the train, to the automobile, to the airplane. For thousands of years the only way across a body of water was by boat. Now we can fly over oceans at 30,000 feet, from continent to continent. These new modes of transportation have totally changed our world.
Electricity: The use of electricity, which really only became an essential tool of modern life in the late 1800s, has dramatically changed how we live. Instead of washing clothes by hand, we now do it in an electric washer and dryer. Instead of cooking by using wood or coal, we now use an electric oven or a microwave to heat food. Instead of heating our homes with wood or coal, we now often use electricity. And in the summer we can use an electric fan, or even air conditioning. The list is endless. Life without electricity was considerably simpler and slower.
Communication: In the late 1700s Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General in America. That was a time when people were used to communicating with each other by mail—by letters and cards. But then the telephone was invented. And then came the cell phone, and computers, and e-mails, and texting, and so forth. Also, there was television. The point is that the way we communicate has changed dramatically.
These are just three areas—transportation, electricity and communication. But it is easy to see in these three areas alone there have been tremendous changes in the 20th century. The point in listing all of these things, is not to be exhaustive and comprehensive, but to show how, drastic cultural change has been. The people who lived through the 20th century had to adapt to a tremendous amount of change. And changes took place not only in the society about us, but also in the church. The church of the 20th century had to wrestle with major social changes, and yet still interpret faithfully the Bible message in the midst of all of that change.
Adapting in this kind of environment is not easy, and in many ways we tend to resist it. There are Bible verses that can be used to support the idea of resisting change. For example, Proverbs 24:21 says, “My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those given to change.” This verse probably means that we are to avoid rebellious people who do not respect authority, but nonetheless, it does discourage association with those who are bent on change. First Corinthians 11:2 says, “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” And 2 Thessalonians 2:15 says, “Therefore brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” The word “traditions” speaks of those instructions, principles, ordinances, or rules of conduct which Paul had passed along in his teaching. Clearly the Bible tells us that Christians must stand fast in, and hold on to, the truth of the Scriptures—and not yield to the blowing cultural and contemporary theological winds. Clearly we must not let the world “squeeze us into its own mold” (Romans 12:2/Phillips), and we must not be conforming to the wrong desires we tried to satisfy as non-Christians (1 Peter 1:14).
And yet, even minimal interaction with people and institutions in our world today, whether through rubbing elbows with co-workers, or through the use of computers and the internet in our homes—we are often confronted with change on a regular basis. I was reminded of this recently when an Amish fellow asked me to e-mail him a document, so that he could read it on his smart phone. It reminded me of our changing world.
When I think of the word change, I think of words like; unpredictable, haphazard, unexpected, abnormal, fickle, different, new territory, and uncharted waters. If something is constantly changing, it is hard to know what to expect. It is hard to predict what’s coming down the road. If things are constantly changing, there is no normal. That’s why we hear the phrase “the new normal” in our day. Because things have a way of suddenly changing and we find ourselves in different circumstances, in new territory, and in unfamiliar surroundings— we discover that in the midst of constant change there is no routine. There is no rhythm. What is it that’s changing in your world? Do you like change? Do you do well with change? Would you say that you prefer to be in new territory? Well, perhaps you do. Perhaps you like adventure and worlds unknown. And yet it is very likely we all enjoy a certain level of the routine and feel most comfortable in the midst of the familiar.
A longing for the familiar is partially why we all like to go Home for Christmas and Thanksgiving and Easter. Home represents a shelter in the midst of the storm, a safe haven in a world of change—and a place of safety, where things are familiar and routine.
I don’t think we can really appreciate the unchangeable nature of God without setting Him against the backdrop of our ever-changing world. And so, while our world is often unpredictable, and is a place where we many times face the unexpected, and where we frequently find ourselves in different and unfamiliar and new territory, God himself does not change!
OUR UNCHANGING GOD
Psalm 102:25-27 says:
“Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of Your hands. They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; like a cloak You will change them, and they will be changed. But You are the same, and Your years will have no end.”
The text in Psalm 102 declares that God remains the same and His years do not end. God does not change. Even though the heavens and the earth which He created will some day be destroyed—even in the midst of all of that change, God himself will not change.
We read further, in the book of James: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning” (James 1:16-17). This tells us that God is not fickle. He does not change His mind. He is not haphazard. He is not unpredictable. He does not say one thing and do another. He does not say, “Oh, I changed my mind; I’m not going to do that anymore; I have decided to do something different.” In fact, Numbers 23:19 (ESV) says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?”
God does not change. And because of that we can trust Him. We can trust what He says. We can trust His word. When we base our lives and our destinies on an unchanging God and on His unchanging word, we have something to hold on to.
We have something to grab hold of. These Bible passages on the unchangeable purposes of God, lead to several very important conclusions.
a. We have a hope to hold on to
First of all, because our God is unchanging. He is a hope to hold on to. The book of Hebrews contains a great message (6:13-19a NIV): “When God made His promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for Him to swear by, He swore by Himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’ And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. Human beings swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Because God is unchanging, and His purposes are unchanging, and His promises are unchanging, and because it is impossible for God to lie, we can therefore flee to take hold of the hope offered to us. See here that Salvation and the Christian life is pictured as clinging to hope. Are you clinging to the hope found in Christ? God is unchanging and it is impossible for Him to lie, therefore we have a hope to hold on to.
b. We have an anchor for the soul
Secondly, we not only have a hope to hold on to, but we also have an anchor for the soul. Our souls need anchors. We need something to latch on to that will not move, that will not let us drift, and that will not let us be tossed around by the winds of change.
I have heard some people say that we need to embrace change, and that we should constantly be proactive and seek to bring about the change. But it seems to me that what we really need is an anchor for the soul. We need something that will hold us firm and secure.
Notice what the Hebrews 6 passage says in verse 19: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” This is what we need—stability and security. The winds will come, and the doubts will rise, and the waves will pound–but we have an anchor for the soul, something that is firm and secure. Hebrews 6:20 says, “Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Jesus is our anchor. He has become a high priest forever.
c. We have a rock to be trusted
God is also a rock to be trusted. Isaiah 26:4 (NIV) says, “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.” The NKJV footnote for “Rock eternal,” says “Rock of Ages.” God is the Rock that does not roll. He is the Rock that does not change. He does not shift. He does not wobble. He is the Rock of Ages. He can be trusted. He can be clung to. We can flee to Him for safety and security. The hymn writer captured this theme when he wrote, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.” Psalm 18:1-2 says, “I will love You, 0 Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength [literally, rock], in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.”
A large Rock can be stood on to gain sure footing. One can cling to it in order to keep from being swept away. And a person can crouch along side of the rock to find refuge from the storm. In Fiddler on the Roof, Reb Tevye’s world was falling apart. His world was being rocked. The traditions that held that community together had been discarded. And his family and his village were forever changed. Psalm 11:3, 4 (NIV) says: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne.”
In the midst of all of the change, in the midst of the storm, when the very foundations are being shaken and the building is on the verge of collapse, the Bible says that even then “The Lord is in His holy temple; the Lord is on His heavenly throne.” The Lord is still on His throne in heaven. He does not change.
We trust the same God who called Noah to build an ark. We trust the same God who called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldeans, and the same God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. We trust the same God who was with Joseph in Egypt, and Moses in the desert, and Joshua in Canaan, and Elijah on Mount Carmel. We trust the same God to whom David sang psalms, and the same God about whom Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied. We trust the same God who protected Daniel in the den of lions, and the same God who called John the Baptist in the desert, and Peter and Andrew by their boats, and Paul on the road to Damascus.
We trust in the God of the Bible. And as He has been, so He will be. He does not change. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end (Revelation 21:6). And if we want to withstand the storms of our times, the storms in our generation, there is no greater hope, there is no greater anchor, there is no greater rock to which we can cling than God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, the Lord of heaven and earth—the Rock of Ages.