One of the conditions of the material world is that all things change. We’re born, go through stages of growth, age, and eventually cease to exist. Nothing in this universe escapes the clutches of mutability. God, however, is immutable.
The Meaning of Immutability
The ancient pagan world was filled with an array of deities, many of which were known to change. They changed their desires almost capriciously, demanded one form of worship in one place and another form in another, and were well-known for their anthropomorphic characteristics.
They displayed fickleness, anger, jealousy, hatred, confusion, indecision, favoritism, lust, etc. All in exactly the same ways we humans do. They were mutable deities. That is, they were changeable, fluctuating, inconsistent, unpredictable, and even erratic. From Loki to Kokopelli, various pagan religions worshiped deities who were known as deceivers and tricksters.
The Celtic god Lugh would shapeshift, often taking the form of an elderly woman in order to trick people into thinking he was weak and harmless. In Native American lore, they have ancient tales of Wisakedjak, another shapeshifter who used his abilities to deceive people.
The ancient Roman goddess Laverna was known for lying, cheating, and stealing. In each case, the pagan deity was capable of being nice at one moment and completely bereft of any moral compass whatsoever.
It was in this cultural milieu that the gospel was first spread, and this meant the idea of a mutable deity would have to be countered. Until the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, no Gentile had ever heard of a God who never changed, or who wasn’t subject to the same foibles as humanity.
It must have sounded like utter madness to the ancient pagans when they first heard it, but thanks be to God, they embraced the gospel and the comfort that the one true immutable God gave them.
How God Is Immutable
Unlike these pagan deities, who exhibited emotional states in the exact same way we humans do, the God of Scripture was immutable. By immutable we mean that God is unchangeable either by process of time, external events, or internal knowledge.
He is unvarying, reliable, constant, and perpetual (Malachi 3:6; Numbers 23:19; Ezekiel 24:14; 1 Samuel 15:29; Isaiah 46:9-11). These attributes are logical and necessary if indeed God is eternal. If God were mutable, this would mean that He would be bound by the laws of time.
That is, He would have to experience events in a sequence as we do, with His existence being at a point in space and time before the change occurred and after it occurred. This would make God a temporal being like us.
Theophilus, an early Church Father, wrote that “God is unchangeable because He is eternal.” Athenagoras, another early Christian Father, wrote that the one true God is “immortal, and immovable, and unalterable.” As we know that God is eternal, He must then be immutable as well.
But what about God exhibiting emotion? Doesn’t that imply change? Certainly, in our limited human experience emotions are subject to change constantly. What we hate today, tomorrow we might tolerate. The person who infuriates us today, tomorrow is walking hand-in-hand with us through the park.
That isn’t how it is with God though. First, God’s exhibition of emotions is perfect and holy, because He is perfect and holy (Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 19:7; Matthew 5:48). We cannot compare our imperfect and often sinful displays of emotion to those of God.
Secondly, God’s emotions are also immutable. They are constant and unchangeable. He always hates sin (Proverbs 6:16-19; Psalm 11:5; Psalm 5:5), but He also always loves the sinner. (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:8; 1 John 4:16).
How do we reconcile two seemingly contradictory statements? Imagine yourself standing before a make-believe machine that can produce mud, water, fire, and wind from one of four different sides. One side produces mud, the other produces water, and so on.
If you position yourself in one spot, you experience the water splashing in your face. If you change your position, you experience mud flying at your head, and so forth, all depending on your position in relation to our make-believe machine.
It is the same way with God. God is eternally angry with sinners, loving of sinners, jealous of our worship of false gods, and so forth. Our experience of these divine emotions is totally dependent on our position before God.
If we are repentant, we experience His mercy; if we are rebellious, we experience his anger and wrath; and if we are faithful to His will, we experience His kindness and blessings. God hasn't changed, we have. We’re the mutable factor in the equation, not Him.
We change our behavior, our allegiance, and our priorities. Sometimes we change them for the better, and sometimes for the worst. We can add to our relationship with God, it subtracts from it because we’re mutable, but God never adds or subtracts from His character and emotions.
They are constant and unmoving. We should be forever grateful that God is immutable, as this provides an assurance of His love and mercy toward us sinners, who deserve nothing but the full penalty of our sins. As J.I. Packer wrote: “All my knowledge of Him depends on His sustained initiative in knowing me.”
How God's Immutability Is for Good
God’s immutability means He is consistent in seeking our highest good, reaching out to us in His unfathomable mercy, whispering our name in the frightening darkness of life’s most tragic events. Your only job is to position yourself to receive them from the Creator of all.
As Michael Abraham, associate pastor of Covenant Hope Church in Dubai, wrote: “In the midst of temptation, wandering sheep need the doctrine of God’s immutability. As doubts and fears assail, doubting sheep need a rock. And there is none in all the earth like our God — He never changes.”
J.I. Packer, Knowing God
Michael Abraham, The Privilege of Preaching God’s Immutability, Nov. 4. 2020, For The Church blog
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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