I usually write a new post every Christmas, but this year I’d like to direct you to a brief series on the topic that I wrote in 2018.
There’s another way we benefit because God doesn’t change.
Back before my Dad was saved—even before he was a Dad—a door-to-door salesman came by. When Dad answered his knock, the salesman had a large glass kitchen mixing bowl in each hand, and, without saying a word, he bashed them together vigorously. They didn’t break.
Dad bought a set.
That evening a bunch of his siblings came over, and they were playing cards and drinking beer, and generally behaving as they did in those days. As the evening went on, and Dad—in his own estimation—began thinking more creatively, he remembered those unbreakable bowls and thought he’d entertain the group with a demonstration. Without saying anything to anyone, he got up, went into the kitchen, grabbed a bowl in each hand, swept into the doorway, and cried, “Hey, everybody! Look at this!”
He bashed the two bowls together, and they shattered into a million pieces.
The fact that none of the spectators knew that the bowls weren’t supposed to break just adds to the magnificence of the scene.
Do you think my Dad got a refund for those bowls?
That salesman was long gone.
Years later, my Dad told me, “Buy from Sears. They’ll always be there if you have a problem with what you bought.”
Well, as it turns out, Dad was wrong about Sears too, but the principle is sound.
Deal with people who won’t disappear when you need them.
Now, the story’s ridiculous, and I considered not using it in this context. But I think it makes the point in a memorable way.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
the plans of his heart to all generations (Ps 33.11).
God doesn’t change.
And because he doesn’t change,
Now, what’s the only natural response to that kind of faithfulness?
It’s the infinite, perfect analog to the confidence of a man who’s worked for the same people at the same company for 40 years, or a man who’s been married to the same woman for 50.
It’s the settled state of knowing that this relationship is good, and that it will last—that things will be as they should be, now and forever.
The Hebrew Bible calls that concept shalom—“peace.”
In his first epistle, the Apostle John talks a lot about confidence, or knowing, or having assurance. Many commentators have noted that he bases our confidence on a tripod of factors:
All of those are things that God works in us—and he works those things in us because he is unchanging in his love for us, his forgiveness of us, and his promises to us.
In June 1944, the Allied armies began their assault on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” by getting boots on the ground at the beaches of Normandy. “D-Day,” they called it.
From that moment, the outcome of the war was never in doubt. Oh, there was a lot of fighting yet to be done—another year in Europe—and some of the fiercest fighting of the war, including the infamous Battle of the Bulge. But with Allied soldiers, and their equipment, on European soil, Hitler could hold out only so long. It was just a matter of time.
In the person of his Son, God has entered enemy territory and declared his intentions. His plans will never change, and his power—unlike that of the Allied armies—is unlimited.
Your circumstances may be dark, even terrifying. But God is directing your steps according to his perfect plan, and nothing will deflect or deter him. You can endure in the confidence that comes from an unchanging God.
There’s another way we benefit because God doesn’t change.
We noted last time that God keeps his promises to us, because (among other things) he’s never surprised by circumstances that prevent him from keeping them.
There’s another side to that principle, one that has benefited us infinitely and continues to benefit us every day.
Sometimes other people surprise us. We do nice things to them, and they take no notice—or worse, they begin to expect those things. They don’t respond in kind. And they leave us wondering, “What is wrong with people like that? How can they return evil for good? Well, see if I ever do anything for them …”
That’s a typical human response. Tit for tat. Eye for an eye. Don’t cry for people who won’t cry for you.
And in a way, there’s a certain kind of justice in that. He mistreated me; he gets what he deserves. What goes around comes around.
We excuse ourselves by calling it justice, but in fact we’ve changed. We were inclined to do the right thing, to be kind, to be generous, to be caring. And a circumstance—the way we were treated—changed us. Now we’re not so inclined.
That change of attitude and inclination tells us something. It tells us that our original motives weren’t philanthropic or altruistic at all. We were expecting payback.
We were motivated not by love for our neighbor, but by love for ourselves.
God’s not that way. At all.
He is motivated, as always, by his own nature—in this case, his nature to be perfectly, consistently, eternally, selflessly loving.
He treats us well. And by “us,” I mean all of us. He placed our first parents into a world perfectly designed for them. And thousands of years later, he sends rain to the just and also to the unjust (Mt 5.45). He gives us—all—everything we need, for free.
How did we respond to his kindness? We turned on him like utter ingrates, rebelling against him, rejecting his offer of relationship, denying his goodness, insisting that we were wiser than he.
If you and I were God—I speak as a fool—how would we have responded in that situation?
Ah, but that’s the difference, you see. We are changed by our circumstances, slaves to our own limited knowledge, victims of surprise.
God is not. He is not surprised; he is not changed.
He knew, when he made us, how we would turn out. He loved us before we rebelled, and he loves us after. On the day he made our first father, he committed to an eternal relationship with us—committed, in fact, to becoming one of us, forever, offering himself in mortal flesh as the infinite and morally perfect sacrifice for our sin.
We would strike out at those who mistreat us, and do it in the name of Justice.
He withholds that judgment, taking it upon himself, so that Justice is done, but not at our expense.
He withholds from us the evil consequences that we justly deserve.
The technical term for that is Mercy.
And he offers that gift to anyone who wants it. For free.
It comes to us, because our God does not change, even in the
face of our rebellion.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow (Jam 1.17).
The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Ro 11.29).
God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. 19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, 20 where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (He 6.17-20).
Because God doesn’t change, certain benefits accrue to his people.
I’d like to begin with the obvious observation that an unchanging God is trustworthy, or reliable. He tells the truth. He doesn’t lie, or even change his mind. And his word comes true; he never fails in a promise or a prediction.
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? (Nu 23.19).
The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind (1S 15.29).
The Lord of hosts has sworn saying, “Surely, just as I have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand” (Is 14.24).
“I, the Lord, have spoken; it is coming and I will act. I will not relent, and I will not pity and I will not be sorry; according to your ways and according to your deeds I will judge you,” declares the Lord God (Ezk 24.14).
Sceptics have often observed that the Scripture seems to contradict itself on this point. Sometimes it says that God doesn’t change his mind (“repent”) and sometimes it says that he does.
I won’t dispute that. That’s what the various verses say. But I note something else: three of the allegedly contradictory verses occur in the same passage, 1 Samuel 15. Specifically, in verse 11 God himself says that he has repented; then in verse 29 Samuel says that God (“the Glory of Israel”) will not change his mind; then in verse 35 the author says that God (Yahweh) repented.
Now, what are the odds that the author of Samuel was so incompetent, so inattentive, so stupid, that he made a boneheaded mistake like that, yet produced overall a book of such high historical and literary quality?
I can only conclude that he interplayed these terms intentionally—similarly to what Solomon did in Proverbs 26.4-5, placing two directly contradictory statements right next to each other, to make the reader stop and think: “When should I answer a fool? And when should I not?”
So what is the author of Samuel doing here? In what sense has a God who cannot change or lie or be surprised “changed his mind” with reference to Saul? What is the author communicating to us by this literary device?
This post isn’t about 1 Samuel 15; we can work through that application another time. My only point here is that God is not the sort of person whose thoughts, plans, and promises are unreliable. He doesn’t change; he keeps his promises, and you can trust him with your life on this earth and your life into eternity. You may not understand his purposes during the difficult times, or his reasons for choosing this tactic or that outcome, but you can be sure that he won’t say one thing and do another, or make a promise he cannot or will not keep.
Our most practical response to this truth is to make a point of hearing and remembering his promises. As you read your Bible, highlight the promises, particularly the ones that are given to God’s people in general. (When the ascended Jesus tells Saul in Acts 9.6 that someone will tell him what he’s to do, that’s a promise, all right, but not one made to us.)
Think through these promises, carefully considering how they can be fulfilled in your life, praying for God’s wisdom in discerning when the fulfillments come, and living in gratitude for those fulfillments. God’s people don’t simply rejoice at occasions of “good luck”; they recognize the personal source of those blessings, and they consciously allow their gratitude to strengthen and deepen their love for, and trust in, the Giver of all good gifts—and Keeper of all his promises.
There’s one more cause of change that I’d like to consider.
For several summers I took teams of students on short-term mission trips in Africa. Several of those trips were to the same place, an orphanage just south of Mwanza, Tanzania; and for the same purpose, to tutor the children during their school break, to ensure that they didn’t fall behind in their studies. I was happy to take along any students with character, but I was especially looking for Education majors, because they had some learning about learning, and they always did a good job with the children.
On one of those trips, I saw one of the guys—Matt was his name—with a group of 5 or 6 children down by the outdoor fireplace we called the incinerator, where we burned the burnable trash. They had taken a load down there, and he had lit it up. He was explaining what was happening—oxidation, of a rapid sort. The compounds in the trash were chemically uniting—or something—with oxygen in the air, and the output was gases and particulate matter, a different chemical form.
A few minutes later the group was up by the choo—that’s “cho,” like “slow,” and means “toilet.” He had the metal door open and was pointing out the rust, which in a few places had eaten all the way through the door. Same process, he said. Oxidation. But this is much slower; you can’t really see it happening, but it is.
That swingset I bought for my girls when they were little has long since become random clumps of iron oxide and a few chips of paint.
Everything in the world is decaying. Any walk in the woods will confirm that. There’s a cycle of growth, death, decay, and rebirth all throughout nature.
We see it in people as well as things. You and I have been dying since the day we were born—and technically even before. At any given moment we don’t feel the aging process, but when we see a friend after a long absence, we can’t but notice. Going to a high-school reunion, as I did in October, will impress that truth on you.
Our possessions are on a determined course to the landfill, and we are on a determined course to the grave.
I don’t say that to depress anyone; it’s the cycle of life, where new life comes from death, in both the physical and the spiritual worlds. For believers in Christ, the grave is no threat, for it has no victory (1Co 15.53-57).
I recount all this in order to make the point that none of it applies to God.
He doesn’t age; he doesn’t weaken; he doesn’t die; he doesn’t decay.
I find it interesting that even when Jesus died, his body was not allowed to decay. His friend Lazarus’s body had begun to decay after 4 days in the tomb (Jn 11.39), but Jesus was in his tomb only for parts of 3 days. A few weeks later, in his sermon at Pentecost, Peter noted that Jesus’ body had not decayed (Ac 2.31), and he noted that this fact had been predicted a thousand years earlier (Ac 2.27).
No, God doesn’t age, despite the passage of time. At the age of infinity (yes, I know that statement is technically problematic; work with me here), he is as strong and clear-headed as he ever was, and he always will be.
He doesn’t change.
That means that you don’t have to wonder how he’ll interact with you, or whether he’s still good, or whether his posture toward you will change, or whether he’s getting cranky. You don’t need to walk on eggshells. He is always great, and he is always, only good.
Beginning next time, we’ll expand on these thoughts and delineate some consequences and applications of God’s immutability.
Another reason that God doesn’t change, again based on his perfection, is that he doesn’t face any power greater than himself.
Often we’re changed by outside forces greater than we are. Poverty. Crime. Disease. Politics. Even weather.
We fret about these things. We rage against the machine. Some of us obsess over one or more of them, I suppose as a way of feeling stronger against them. Both my mother and my brother died of cancer, and I well remember how all-consuming that battle became for each of them. I’ve known a lot of people who have survived cancer and lived long and happy lives afterwards. That wasn’t the outcome for my two family members.
I’ve written before about my visit to the little farming community of Spencer, South Dakota, a week after a tornado had changed the whole place from a town to an empty field in less than 10 minutes. There was literally nothing anyone there could do, other than wait for it to be over, and then rebuild.
Which they did.
I suppose politics is one powerful force where we (at least, those of us in democratic countries) feel as though we can make a difference—and perhaps that’s the reason why so many of us obsess in that area.
I’m all for doing what we can. I’ve been politically involved in multiple ways over the years. But I’ve also noticed that no matter who wins—“our” side or “theirs”—the leaders don’t become messiahs, and they are no substitute for the Real One.
God, you see, God is the Most High, the Most Powerful, the Mighty Warrior. There is no force in the universe—or outside of it—that is greater than he is. He is never between a rock and a hard place. His holdings are never decreased by the advance of enemy armies. He is not moved; he is not threatened; he is not set back; he is not frustrated in any of his purposes.
He is absolutely great, absolutely powerful.
The history of the world is the story of the rise and fall of kingdoms.
Sumer. Akkad. Assyria. Babylon. Persia. Greece. Rome. The Mongols. The medieval Church. The Holy Roman Empire (OK, not quite so impressive as the others). The British Empire. The French Republic. The Third Reich. The USA. The …
On and on it will go, for as long as the King of Kings allows. But whether the remaining time is half a decade or a hundred thousand years, one thing is certain.
Leaders will rise, and then they will fall. Enslaved peoples will be liberated, and free peoples will be enslaved. Pendulums will swing.
And none of those leaders will deliver us. None of them will be reliable. No social contract will endure. No human utopia will ever come.
But one day, oh, one day, the King will rise from his throne, where he has silently but surely and powerfully been orchestrating earthly kingdoms for all of time, and he will shake the heaven and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and he will establish his kingdom forever.
I happen to think he will do so visibly and politically. Many of my friends—and they are friends—do not. They’re not moved by my arguments, even as I am not moved by theirs. As thus will it ever be, until the King rises and speaks.
But he will rise, and he will speak. And all the forces in the universe, including that old serpent himself, will fall, silent and powerless, before him.
And then, eternally, justice will be done, and peace will prevail, for the King is greater than any force outside himself.
And we will never die. For he is greater, too, than death. We need not rage against the dying of the light, either.
Now if someone is that powerful, we had better hope that he is Good.
And he is.
Another reason that God doesn’t change, again based on his perfection, is that he doesn’t aspire to anything he doesn’t already have.
Now that we’re past Thanksgiving here in the States, the Christmas season is in full swing. Decorations are going up, lights are adorning the houses, and the retailers, who live or die by Christmas sales, are blasting their names out of every media outlet, hoping beyond hope that customers will come streaming into their stores, whether physical or virtual.
And those customers—assuming they show up—are there, mostly, for the children, the ones with visions of sugar plums, and Barbie Little Dream Houses, and Jurassic World Inflatable T-Rexes dancing in their heads.
There’s a part of me that heaves a sigh of relief that our children are grown now. And yet there’s another part that remembers those times fondly—the looks on their little faces when they saw the Hot Wheels tricycle or the big doll house or the lights on the Christmas tree or (later) the French onion clam dip with all the chips they wanted.
There’s something special about a little child’s scrawled Christmas list, and there’s something in every parent—I really think there is—that wants to get them everything they’re asking for. As a parent of young children I was honestly surprised at how aggressively tempted I was to spoil them.
I’m not talking about the bratty child in the grocery store checkout line who screams when he doesn’t get the candy he sees there. I’m talking about the stars in the eyes of the little beloved one who really wants something, over time, in an extraordinary way.
When our kids were small, I was planning a summer vacation and asked if there was any place in particular they’d like to go. The younger one, who was maybe 9 or 10, said, without hesitation, “Chicago.”
I thought it odd that a child of that age would have such a strong preference for a specific large city, so I asked, “Why?”
She said, “That’s where the American Girl Doll Place is.”
So that summer our travel loop included the Windy City, and we spent a full day at the AGDP.
We also ate at our first Cheesecake Factory there. I think they liked that even better.
We love our children, and we love their aspirations—not just for Christmas gifts, but for life. Later I bought that same younger daughter a Middle English grammar, because she really wanted one. And her love for the Medieval has had far-reaching consequences in her life.
I remember taking the older daughter to her first opera at age 6—how at the overture she scooted forward in her seat and didn’t move for the rest of the performance, drinking it all in. That, too, changed her life.
Just as we want our progeny to mature and grow, we also want them to aspire, to reach, to advance, because we know that without aspiration of some kind, people fall far short of their potential.
But here’s the thing. God is fundamentally different. He doesn’t have aspirations for himself. He doesn’t need to improve his providential leadership skills. He doesn’t need to learn something new, just to broaden his mind. He doesn’t need to travel. He doesn’t need to learn a new language. He doesn’t need to read more kinds of books.
God doesn’t need anything. He is utterly complete in himself.
And that makes it all the more puzzling, amazing, that a long time ago he created. He created the cosmos, filled with all kinds of beauty and power. And in that cosmos, on (as far as we know) just one of its planets, he created life, along with all the elements and compounds necessary to sustain it. And into one species of that life, he placed his very own image.
And for that species, he aspires. He wants them—us—to achieve great things, big things, eternally significant things. He provides us with all the physical and spiritual power to do so.
Do you know the one thing that the Bible says that God “seeks”?
He seeks human beings, to worship him. He seeks them so committedly that in the person of his Son he became one of them, forever. And it is that God-Man who has told us this (Jn 4.23).
God doesn’t change, because he doesn’t aspire for himself.
But he does aspire for us.
God doesn’t change.
I’d suggest that we approach this question through the back door. Let’s think about why other things do change, and then postulate that God is not like those other things.
I suppose the first reason for change that would occur to us is the one that’s right before our eyes, every day.
We see children changing all the time—and if we don’t see those children every day, then the change is all the more apparent when we do see them. Every day on social media I see someone ask, “How can my child be 3 [or 9, or 15] already?!” These days parents of small children have taken to buying a blanket with numbers on it, and taking a photo every month with their child lying on the blanket, and the appropriate number circled.
They change so fast.
And while we teasingly ask them to stay little forever, we really don’t want that.
We really, REALLY don’t want that.
We don’t want them to be helpless and dependent forever—if for no other reason than that we’re likely to be helpless and dependent someday, and we want somebody making the decisions who knows and loves us. And who owes us. 🙂
We revel in the things our growing children learn and the skills they acquire.
First it’s as simple a thing as rolling over, then sitting up, then standing, cruising, walking, running.
People need to change because they start out so limited in their knowledge and skills. Because they are, in that sense, imperfect, uncompleted.
Even as adults we feel the need to keep learning and growing. The first day at a new job we feel intimidated and useless, asking lots of questions and feeling clumsy both physically and intellectually. We love progressing to the point where we know what we’re doing and we accomplish it well.
We read books. We watch YouTube videos. We take adult education classes. We travel.
Always growing. Till the day we die.
Why is that? Why the constant push to get better—at the things we’re already doing, or at new things we’ve never tried before?
Because we’re incomplete, undeveloped, short of our potential. We have things to learn. We can always get better at something.
Okay, we’re in the back door; now let’s take it out on the front porch, where everyone can see it.
One reason that God doesn’t change is that he doesn’t need any of what we’ve just described.
He doesn’t need to grow; he doesn’t need to mature; he doesn’t need to get better at anything.
He has always existed, and he has always existed in perfection. He didn’t need his infinite past to get infinitely good at an infinite number of things; he has always been infinitely good at everything. It’s his nature; he can’t be less than perfectly good, and great, and wise. There’s nothing he had to learn, no skill he had to polish.
That means that he satisfies your needs perfectly now; he won’t be better at it later. You never need to wait for a “better time” to go to him with this or that problem or request.
That also means that his will for you is perfect right this minute; he won’t have to change it later because he realized something then that he doesn’t realize now.
He doesn’t change, because he’s perfect.
What a liberating and peace-giving truth.
Everything changes, except God.
The Psalmist meditates lyrically on this idea:
24 I said, O my God, take me not away in the midst of my days: Thy years are throughout all generations. 25 Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: And the heavens are the work of thy hands. 26 They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: Yea, all of them shall wax old like a garment; 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. 28 The children of thy servants shall continue, And their seed shall be established before thee (Ps 102.24-28).
Generations change. Heaven and earth change. But not God.
And because God is changeless, his children will continue, because his promises last forever.
Incidentally, the writer of Hebrews applies this passage to Jesus (He 1.10-12). He’s listing a number of passages from the Hebrew Scripture that demonstrate that the Son is greater than the angels—
And then he cites this passage from Psalm 102.
And he’s not done. He begins his epistle/sermon with this idea, and he ends it with the same idea:
Bookending a document with parallel ideas like that is called an inclusio, and among other things it tells us that this idea is a key part of the writer’s message.
Now, this is surprising, because we all know that at a point in time the Son, who was always God, took on human flesh and became incarnate—permanently. He lived on earth, and died, and rose again, and ascended back to the Father. We could say, to use the terminology of Hebrews 13.8, that “yesterday” he was the Creator and Redeemer, and “today” he is our Mediator and Intercessor, and “forever” he will be our King.
How is that not change?
That’s a good question.
Part of our problem understanding this is that it involves the biblical teaching of the Trinity, the very nature of the Godhead, and our finite minds are just not good at wrapping themselves around it. (If you think you understand it, then there’s something you’re missing.)
The standard view is that Jesus added to his eternal, and unchanging, divine nature a human nature that had not been there before.
How does that work?
Well, some of the smartest people on the planet wrestled with that question for 400 years, and when they were done, they chose to state what happened but to not even try to explain how it happened.
You and I are probably not going to do better than that.
But however it all works, this we know: God is the same. He is faithful. He will never forget. He will never leave. He will never change.
This isn’t just some theological abstract coming down from an ivory tower somewhere. This is highly practical, every day, and truly life changing.
I’d like to consider two questions for the rest of this series:
The world’s gone crazy, hasn’t it?
Culture has changed. Government has changed. Politics has changed. Society has changed. Church has changed.
Some would observe that this is nothing new, that these things change constantly. And indeed they do.
But it does seem as though the pace of change is accelerating, doesn’t it?
Closer to home, there’s change in our individual lives as well: you change jobs; you change bosses; you change residences; you face a financial setback; a family member dies; your marriage breaks up.
I see a lot of angst over this.
A lot of people are bewildered, scared, frustrated about all this change.
And they should be. The change is real and often devastating, and we’re not designed to live in constant chaos.
The Scripture doesn’t ignore this problem, and it doesn’t try to “pep talk” us out of our distress with platitudes. But it does offer two truths that can stabilize us despite the instability of our world.
The first is the simple fact that instability is temporary. Most of us find that we can endure all kinds of things if there’s light at the end of the tunnel. (And yes, we all know the joke about the oncoming train.) The brokenness of our world, which is the cause of its instability and pain, has already been reckoned with, and Scripture promises an eventual onset of permanent peace, shalom (Re 21.1-7)—regardless of your eschatological system. 🙂
That’s not pie in the sky, meant to keep the proletariat in bondage; it’s the promise of God.
Which brings me to the second truth, and the focus of this series.
God doesn’t change.
I change; you change; our loved ones change, as do our friends, our suppliers, our lawyers, our pastors, and every one of our circumstances.
But not God.
His very nature is to be stable, to be steady, to be faithful, to be reliable.
Theologians call this divine attribute “immutability”—God doesn’t mutate. It’s closely associated with his attribute of faithfulness. The Hebrew word for the latter is ‘emunah, the source of our word “Amen”—“may it ever be so.”
Interestingly, this idea is part of the personal name that God chose for himself; as he told Moses at the burning bush, “I AM THAT I AM” (Ex 3.14). He says, “This is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations” (Ex 3.15). In context, God’s point is that centuries earlier he had made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and now he was going to see that those promises were kept—the descendants of those patriarchs were now going to enter the land that God had promised them.
Faithful. That’s essentially his name.
More to come.
Part 2: Jesus Included | Part 3: No Need to Grow | Part 4: No Need to Aspire | Part 5: No Greater Force | Part 6: No Decay | Part 7: Trustworthiness | Part 8: Mercy | Part 9: Confidence | Part 10: Victory