10 Things You should Know about the Immutability of God2
Some see the concept of immutability as a threat to the biblical portrait of God who appears in some sense to change. Others are equally concerned that a careless tampering with this attribute of God will reduce him to a fickle, unfaithful, and ultimately unworthy object of our affection and worship. It is imperative, therefore, that we proceed cautiously, and yet with conviction, in articulating these ten truths about divine immutability. Continue reading . . .
Some see the concept of immutability as a threat to the biblical portrait of God who appears in some sense to change. Others are equally concerned that a careless tampering with this attribute of God will reduce him to a fickle, unfaithful, and ultimately unworthy object of our affection and worship. It is imperative, therefore, that we proceed cautiously, and yet with conviction, in articulating these ten truths about divine immutability.
(1) To say that God is immutable is to declare that his character is eternally consistent. Immutability means that God is consistently the same in his eternal moral being. He will never get “better” than he has been for eternity. He will by no means ever get “worse”.
(2) This affirmation of unchangeableness, however, is not designed to deny that there is change and development in God's relations to his creatures. We who were once his enemies are now by the grace of Christ his friends (Rom. 5:6-11). Divine immutability must never be interpreted in such a way that the reality of the "Word became flesh" is threatened (John 1:14). We must acknowledge that he who is in his eternal being very God became, in space-time history, very man. Yet the Word who became flesh did not cease to be the Word. The second person of the Trinity has taken unto himself or assumed a human nature, yet without alteration or reduction of his essential deity. He is now what he has always been: very God. He is now what he once was not: very man. He is now and forever will be both: the God-man.
(3) To say that God is immutable is not to say that he is immobile or static, for whereas all change is activity, not all activity is change. It is simply to affirm that God always is and acts in perfect harmony with the revelation of himself and his will in Scripture.
For example, Scripture tells us that God is good, just, and loving. Immutability, or constancy, simply asserts that when the circumstances in any situation call for goodness, justice, or love as the appropriate response on the part of the Deity, that is precisely what God will be (or do, as the case maybe). To say the same thing, but negatively, if God ought to be good, just, or loving as the circumstances may demand, or as his promises would require, he will by no means ever be evil, unfair, or hateful. Immutability means that the God who in Scripture is said to be omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent, has not, is not, and never will be under any and all imaginable circumstances, localized, ignorant, or impotent. What he is, he always is.
(4) God is immutable in respect to his essential being. Immutability is a property which belongs to the divine essence in the sense that God can neither gain new attributes, which he didn't have before, nor lose those already his. To put it crudely, God doesn’t grow. There is no increase or decrease in the Divine Being. He neither evolves nor devolves. His attributes, considered individually, can never be greater or less than what they are and have always been. God will never be wiser, more loving, more powerful, or holier than he ever has been and ever must be (Exod. 3:14; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8; James 1:17).
(5) God’s life is immutable, which is to say he eternally is. God never began to be nor will he ever cease to be. His life simply is. He did not come into existence (for to become existent is a change from nothing to something), nor will he go out of existence (for to cease existing is a change from something to nothing). God is not young or old. He simply is (Exod. 3:14; Ps. 90:2; 93:2; 102:25-27).
(6) God is immutable with respect to his plan in redemptive history. There are only two reasons why God would ever be forced or need to alter his purpose: (a) if he lacked the necessary foresight or knowledge to anticipate any and all contingencies (in which case he would not be omniscient); or (b) assuming he had the needed foresight, he lacked the power or ability to effect what he had planned (in which case he would not be omnipotent).
But since God is infinite in wisdom and knowledge, there can be no error or oversight in the conception of his purpose. Also, since he is infinite in power (omnipotent), there can be no failure or frustration in the accomplishment of his purpose.
The many and varied changes in the relationship that God sustains to his creatures, as well as the more conspicuous events of redemptive history, are not to be thought of as indicating a change in God's being or purpose. They are, rather, the execution in time of purposes eternally existing in the mind of God. For example, the abolition of the Mosaic Covenant was no change in God's will; it was, in fact, the fulfillment of his will, an eternal will which decreed change (i.e., change from the Mosaic to the New Covenant). Christ's coming and work were no makeshift action to remedy unforeseen defects in the Old Testament scheme. They were but the realization (historical and concrete) of what God had from eternity decreed. See Ps. 33:10-11; 110:4; Isa. 14:24; 46:9-11; 48:8-11; Prov. 19:21; Job 23:13; 42:2; Heb. 6:17.
(7) Two passages should always be kept in mind when speaking of God’s immutability:
"God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?" (Num. 23:19).
“So Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today, and has given it to your neighbor who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind” (1 Sam. 15:28-29).
(8) A proper and biblical grasp of divine immutability must recognize the difference between unconditional divine decrees and conditional divine announcements (or warnings). The former will occur irrespective of other factors. The latter may occur, dependent on the response of the person or persons to whom they apply. Examples of an unconditional decree would be Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Psalm 110:4; Jeremiah 4:28; Ezek. 24:14; Zech. 8:14. Examples of conditional announcements or warnings would be Exodus 32:12,14; Amos 7:3,6; Jeremiah 15:6; 18:8,10; 26:3,13,19; Joel 2:13-14; Jonah 3:9-10; 4:2.
(9) A principle of God's immutable being (as revealed by him in Scripture) is that he punishes the wicked and recalcitrant but blesses and forgives the righteous and repentant. If God were to reveal himself as such (as, in fact, he has done), only to punish the repentant and bless the recalcitrant, this would constitute real change and thus destroy immutability. God's declaration of intent to punish the Ninevites because of their sinful behavior and wickedness is based on the assumption that they are and will remain wicked. However, if and when they repent (as they did), to punish them notwithstanding would constitute a change, indeed reversal, in God's will and word, to the effect that he now, as over against the past, punishes rather than blesses the repentant. See especially Jeremiah 18:5-12.
(10) What all this means, very simply, is that God is dependable! Our trust in him is therefore a confident trust, for we know that he will not, indeed cannot, change. His purposes are unfailing, his promises unassailable. It is because the God who promised us eternal life is immutable that we may rest assured that nothing, not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword shall separate us from the love of Christ. It is because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever that neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, not even powers, height, depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:35-39)!