Isaiah 46;9 Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is none other; I am God, and there is none like Me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure,’ 11 calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth My counsel from a far country. Yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
Psalm 33:11 The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.
Psalm 102:26 They shall perish, but Thou shalt endure; yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou change them, and they shall be changed. 27 But Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end.
James 1;17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.
All of these passages, and others like them that we will be referencing alike teach that there is no change in God.
The fact that God is changeless is called immutability. Theologians thus speak of the immutability of God.
“Whatever is changeable is not the most high God,” and “that which truly is is that which unchangeably abides.”
Augustine of Hippo
There is a reason that God speaks of Himself as immutable and that is because mutability in God … changing in God would imply that God was not a perfect being. Change implies as going from worse to better or from better to worse or as to something different but as God is perfection there can be no going from worse to better, better to worse or going to something different. God is absolute perfection and therefore improvement, deterioration, or transformation into something other is impossible.
Now before we get rolling here on God’s immutability we must note that all because we note that God is immutable that does not mean that we are teaching that God immobile. The God of the Bible is not the God of Aristotle… “The unmoved mover.” God enters into relations with man and He is active in the affairs of man working for the benefit of His people and the destruction of the wicked.
Berkhof offers here,
“There is change around God, 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 purpose.”
As we speak of the Aseity of God so it is true of God’s immutability. God is free from all change … all improvement. In the words of A. W. Tozer,
“All that God is He always has been, and all that He has been and is He ever will be.”
The theologian Theissen offers,
“In essence, attributes, consciousness, and will God is unchangeable.”
We might ask,
Where is God’s immutability seen in the doctrine of our salvation? Well, we know that God is perfectly Just. Crime must be visited with its penalty or God is unjust. God consistently promised throughout Scripture that the wages of sin is death. Sin deserves death and a God who has promised death for sin, being immutable must visit sin with death or else he is neither just nor immutable. In brief, if God doesn’t visit sin with penalty then God de-gods himself. But God is also merciful and as God is immutable in His mercy neither can His mercy be called into question. So, God being immutable visits sin with its Just consequence in offering up Himself in the 2nd person of the Trinity in order that His immutability is not brought into question as He reveals that He is both Just and Justifier … both just and merciful, to those who have faith in Jesus.
God’s immutability in His Holiness and Justice and mercy find their consistency in the death of Christ.
Christian, would you like to see God’s immutability? Then look to the Cross. There at the Cross, it is screamed that God changes not. If there ever may have been a place for God to renege on His immutability it would have been with the Cross, but there at the Cross we see that God changes not.
Because of God’s immutability, we can trust that God’s promises will come to pass. Whenever I lay a loved believer in the grave I think of God’s immutability. This is not the end. God has promised eternal life. God is immutable. There will be a resurrection from the dead.
Whenever I have troubles and trials I think of God’s immutability. He has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us. He has promised that all that comes from the Father’s providential hand is for my good. God is immutable. If God says that then it is true.
Now we may ask,
What about those times where Scripture uses language like, “God relented,” or “God repented,” or in some translations, “God changed His mind?”
Examples, (And we can’t get at them all)
Immutability and Abraham’s Prayer (Gen. 18:16-33)
1.) God from eternity past determined to destroy Sodom
2.) God also from eternity past determined that Abraham would intercede for Sodom
3.) God determined from eternity past upon His interaction with Abraham to the end that He would spare Sodom if 10 righteous could be found
So, here in this narrative passage, you have a God, if read one way, is constantly changing His mind (50, 45, 40, 30, 20, 10) but if read in the broader context that God predestines the end (Sodom’s destruction) as well as the means to the end (a prayer that Sodom not be destroyed if x amount of the righteous could be found in Sodom) than God’s immutability is seen as abiding.
As an aside this should encourage us in our prayer life. No, God’s mind is not changed by our prayers, as if we could bend the immutable God’s will to our mutable ends, but it may well be the case that the ordained end that God has ordained may well include the ordained prayers of God’s people to that end. So, God may well ordain some result but only in the context of His ordaining prayer as a temporal means to that result.
Then Moses pleaded with the LORD his God, and said: “LORD, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.” So the LORD relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people. (Exod. 32:11-14)
So, here we have in this narrative passage that “God relented,” but in other passages we get this,
“God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed, and I cannot reverse it. (Num. 23:19-20)
And again, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent”(1 Sam. 15:29).
So, how do we harmonize these kinds of passages so that God’s immutability is sustained?
Well, first note that most of the passages that teach that God’s repents, relents, or changes His mind come in the context of narrative passages … often passages that have to do with God relenting from visiting sin with judgment. While the places where we get the bald statements that God changeth not is what we might call didactic passages. Passages, that have as their express purpose to say something about the character of God. We would offer here that this is a case where the didactic passages are the more clear passages where the narrative passages are the less clear passages and so the less clear must be read in light of the more clear.
But aside from that observation, consider this prayer of Moses. If we understood this prayer of Moses the way that those who want to deny God’s immutability we would be left with a pretty small God and an awfully big Moses. Here we have the all-wise Sovereign of the universe resolved upon destroying Israel but Moses intervenes just in time to convince God how unreasonable that would be. Moses puts before God some truths that God didn’t think of. Whew, what a lucky God that He had Moses around. Do we really want to conclude that God
1.) In a fit of impulsive anger, God forgot the consequences of His proposed actions upon His reputation? (That Egypt would speak ill of Him)
2.) In a fit of impulsive anger, God forgot His promises to the patriarchs?
God forgetting consequences and promises would mean that God was not omniscient … not all knowing. So, to interpret these texts the way that some seek to do gives us a God that is neither
a.) Immutable b.) Omniscient c.) Longsuffering d.) Merciful
To make these narrative texts control the didactic texts is to give us a God who is pretty small.
So, we read these texts which seem to deny God’s immutability as texts that are using what is called phenomenological language. For example, Scripture speaks of God as having a might right arm. Scripture speaks of the finger of God. Scripture speaks of God having wings. But very few people I know want to make these passages contradict the passage that teaches that God is Spirit. No, we all understand that the text is describing God phenomenologically. God is being spoken of from the way man comprehends these matters. The purpose of the author of the text when it speaks of God’s mighty right arm is to communicate that God’s might is not limited. Just so we would say that the purpose of texts where God proposes instantaneous judgment, only to be “appealed to out of such judgment” is to communicate both God’s Holiness (He cannot abide sin) and God’s Mercy (God provides a High Priest to intercede). So, in the usage of phenomenological language God the inspired writer of Scripture is seeking to make a theological statement regarding the character and nature of God and His relation to man. The literature in these narratives that deal with Judgment and relenting is not used as a how-to manual to assemble a lawnmower but rather it is literature used to describe events as they appear to the observer.
This is not uncommon in Scripture. The Bible speaks of sunrises and sunsets as does the guy on the Weather channel. This is the way that it phenomenologically appears to us. Scripture frequently in its narratives describes events in terms of how they appear to the observer. But these phenomenological narrative descriptions cannot overturn the explicit didactic assertions.
“And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent”
“For I, the LORD, do not change; therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed.
It seems to me that the flavor of theology called Dispensationalism has a serious problem with God’s immutability because in their theology they actually believe that God’s real intent to set up the Messianic Kingdom was foiled by the Jews refusing Christ as their King. At that point, God went to plan “B” and introduced the Church. For the Dispensationalist God neither determined His will (there goes omnipotence) nor did God know His plan would be foiled (there goes omniscience) and God was forced to change His mind in favor of a new plan (there goes Immutability).
And of course Dispensationalism also has a problem with how God’s plan of salvation changes from dispensation to dispensation.
Those who fiddle and play with God’s law as applicable to and for man from the Old Covenant and the New Covenant need to be warned about this matter of God’s immutability. If God has one law for His people in the old Covenant and another law for His people in the new covenant well, some can easily see a denial of God’s immutability there. Yes, yes, I understand all the arguments that seek to escape that point but let the warning be raised that when you change God’s law in its applicability and enforcement, in ways inconsistent with an expressed Word you are treading on the thin ice of denying Gods immutability.
The Biblical understanding of Immutability stands as opposed to Arminian doctrines of the immutability of God. For the Arminian God does not change in His being but God does change in His knowledge and will. For example the Arminian believes that God will is changed all the time. God’s will is for all men to be saved but God’s will is not immutable because some men aren’t saved. God’s will is not immutable. God’s decisions are too a great extent dependent upon the actions of man. Man acts and God reacts.
The Biblical understanding of Immutability stands as opposed to pantheistic denials of the immutability of God. For the pantheist, God is in tandem with man eternally becoming as opposed to owning absolute being. In its Hegelian expression pantheism teaches that the unconscious absolute is gradually coming into conscious personality in man. God through and with man becomes God.
Cash value of this doctrine … wherein does this doctrine provide for us comfort and strength?
1.) The immutability of God guarantees that his character and all moral distinctions will never fail. God is and ever will be Holy, Just, Sovereign, Patient, Good, Merciful … Because God is immutable God will always be God. Immutability is implied in the “I am-ness” of God.
2.) The immutability of God is a great consolation to all who put their trust in Him. The immutable God will make good on all His promises.
3.) God is constant and His affections do not cool. He immutability is a stern warning to all who reject His mercy … to all who seek to make Him other than He is … to all who raise up Idols and call those idols God.