The God who is unchanging
Ken Totton, Cambridge, England
It has been said that nowadays ‘change is the only constant’. Whilst many scientific advances have benefitted humanity, many suffer stress stemming from the consequences of changes for the worse over which they have no control. At the level of morals, relativism has become a rampant philosophy, with erosion of absolutes, and confusion of right and wrong. How refreshing therefore to turn to scripture and consider the God of the absolute who is unchanging and unchangeable!
Unchanging in His nature
The Bible reveals God as eternally complete and perfect in Himself, above the limitations and constraints of nature and the universe, Ps. 90. 2. To Abraham He was known as ‘the Lord, the Eternal God’, Gen. 21. 33. To Moses at the bush, as ‘I will be what I will be’, Exod. 3. 14 ESV mg. – the tense denoting not simply self-existence, but also unchangeableness. Unlike fickle man, God does not change His nature, His will, or His plans, ‘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.
Yet, despite the elevation of God above all limitation, He is not aloof. Rather, the Bible presents Him as engaged with His creation, and, in particular, man, ‘for in Him we live and move and have our being’, Acts 17. 28. In the Song of Moses, God is referred to several times as the ‘Rock’, a metaphor of unchangeableness, Deut. 32. 4, 13, 18, 30, 31. This implies that He is an unchangeable refuge, who grants a firm defence and a sure resort to His people, by virtue of His impregnable firmness.
Unchanging in His plans
His purposes are steadfast; His plans can never fail; He knows the end from the beginning – what comfort this brings! ‘Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation’, Heb. 6. 17, 18.
Unchanging in His covenants
Our unchanging God is perfectly dependable in relation to the commitments He enters into. Israel, in spite of their faithlessness, discovered God to be utterly loyal to His covenant obligations. To David and his dynasty God affirmed, ‘My faithfulness and my steadfast love shall be with him’, Ps. 89. 24 ESV. In the new covenant, and in explicit contrast to the terms of the old, God pledges eternal blessings on His people, where the significant recurring phrase ‘I will . . .’ makes clear that all the covenanted blessings are guaranteed by God Himself, Heb. 8. 9-12.
Objections to the doctrine
A difficulty arises over scriptures that seem to imply change on the part of God. For example, when the Ninevites repented we read, ‘Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it’, Jonah 3. 10. We must remember, however, that God’s threatened judgements on evil are conditional: He looks for repentance, and His pardon and mercy on the penitent is fully consistent with His eternal nature to love and to bless. On the other hand, the unrepentant are afforded no ground of hope that, at the last, the unchanging God will somehow overlook their sins.
Consequences for the believer
What glorious assurances flow from this doctrine! To Israel, God said, ‘For I am the Lord, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob’, Mal. 3. 6. Our God is absolutely reliable, dependable, and trustworthy at all times. The Father who pities His children is the source of ‘every good gift and every perfect gift . . . the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning’, Jas. 1. 17. Our Saviour, ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever’, Heb. 13. 8. ‘His help, His grace, His power, His guidance are permanently at His people’s disposal; why then should they lose heart?’ F. F. BRUCE, The Epistle to the Hebrews. Moreover, all beneficiaries of God’s constancy and grace enjoy total security, ‘For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’, Rom. 11. 29. We should note, however, that our unchanging God also sets the standard for His people’s behaviour. Paul was accused by his opponents at Corinth of fickleness. On the contrary, his actions were absolutely consistent with the trustworthy character of the God revealed in the gospel, 2 Cor. 1. 17-24.
We should be completely dependable, people of our word, Matt. 5. 37, stable persons from whom others can take their bearings, Phil. 3. 17, contrast Jude 13.
Trust in Him, ye saints, for ever,
He is faithful, changing never;
Neither force nor guile can sever
Those He loves from Him.