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Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Immutability of God

Immutability is defined as "God's freedom from all change, understood to emphasize God's changeless perfection and divine constancy".  The word that causes people difficulty in the Scripture is the word relent/repent.  When people get to a passage where it is said that God relents/repents they want to conclude that God changes his mind or he changes in some way or the other.  For example, in the book of Jonah God is said to relent/repent of the disaster that he was going to bring upon Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).  People will look at that passage and say that God changed His mind about what He said that He was going to do. 

One of the first rules of hermeneutics is that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.  In order to get a right understanding of Jonah 3:10 one would necessarily look to Jeremiah 18:7-8.  In Jeremiah it is explicitly clear that if God decrees to bring judgment upon a nation and that nation turns from its evil, then God will relent of the disaster that He intended to do.  Thus, in Jonah God is being perfectly consistent with His Word and there is absolutely no change in the mind of God.  Second, in the book of Malachi it is stated, "For I the LORD do not change" (3:6).  When a passage is difficult to understand it is of necessity to go to one that is clearly understood.  If the difficulty is to determine the way to define relent/repent then the interpreter can go to Malachi 3:6; Psa. 102:25-27; James 1:17; Psa. 33:11; Isa. 46:9-11; Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Rom. 11:29; and Heb. 13:8.  Knowing that Scripture cannot, has not, and will not contradict itself the interpreter is helped to see that whatever relent/repent means, it does not mean that God changed His mind.

Another problem that surfaces with people who believe that God can and does change His mind is the problem of misunderstanding the omniscience of God.  God's knowledge is perfect.  He knows eternity past, present, and future uno intuito, at once.  Since God's knowledge is perfect it would be a contradiction of His character to change His mind.  If He changed His mind He would have to change for the better or for the worse.  If He changed for the better then His previous decision would be inferior and we would be trusting in a God who is improving as He goes along.  If He changed to the worse, what type of being would He become?  What type of being would He be if He is improving or digressing?  He would necessarily not be as good as He can be at this moment or He is tainted with some level of evil.  These thoughts are utterly repulsive to the nature and being of the God of Scripture. 

Lastly, it is helpful to look at things from a different angle.  There are things that seem to change from our perspective, but perhaps to look through a new set of lenses will help.  The puritan Thomas Watson uses two different analogies.  First, he refers to the sun that hardens the clay and melts the wax.  A person could observe the effects of the sun upon the clay one day and on the next day observe the wax melting under the heat of the sun and conclude that the sun changed.  The change was not in the sun, but rather in the objects that were heated.  The other illustration that Watson uses is the example of the clouds passing in front of the sun.  One day it is bright and glorious outside and the next it is dull and dreary.  However, there is no change in the sun.  God has more than enough ability to have a variety of effects upon men without ever changing anything in who He is and what He does from eternity past. 

In contrast to the entire universe, that changes we are confronted in Scripture by  the God who never changes.  "You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed, But you are the same, and your years will have no end" (Heb. 1:10-12).  The phrase "you are the same" comes from the Greek word "I AM".  God is the eternal I AM. 

1 comment:

  1. So true! He never changes...and you haven't changed much. Was looking up names from the past...need a full-time children's evangelist/juggler to come to your church soon? ;-) email me or give me a call--this is Nathan Dorrell