We live in a world that never stops changing. But there is One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Today, Barry Cooper spells out the security we have in knowing the unchanging God.
I recently watched a short film that still haunts me. It was actually from a comedy show, but it had such a sense of sadness to it.
A man goes into a train station. At the counter, he holds up a photo for the ticket agent and says, “This is a bit of a strange question, but can you tell me how to get there?”
The ticket agent looks at the photo and she says: “Oh yes, that’s Millport. What you’ve got to do is get the train to a place called Largs, then you get the ferry . . .” And the man says: “No, I know how to get to Millport. But can you tell me how to get to there?” And he points to the photo again.
He says: “I took that photo when I was about 16; that’s me there. That summer was amazing. Hanging out with friends all day, not worrying about tomorrow, just laughing, having a great time, jumping off the pier, swimming around, and it was like summer seemed to go on forever.” And after he reminisces about it for a while, he goes quiet. And then he says: “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to be there. So can you tell me . . . how do I get there?”
And she looks at him and says, “You can’t do that; I’m sorry.”
So he says, “Ah, just give me a return to Largs then.”
Places never stop changing. People too. They can’t stay the same, and neither can we. Often, that simple fact is enough to break our heart.
But there is One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
When we talk about God like this, we’re talking about His immutability. Immutability is the biblical idea that God is unchanging in His character, will, and His promises.
James chapter 1, verse 17 puts it like this: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”
Numbers chapter 2 says, “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.” In Malachi chapter 3, God says, “I the Lord do not change.” Hebrews talks about “the unchangeable character of his purpose,” and in 2 Timothy we read that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for [God] cannot deny himself.” (In other words, God cannot deny His own immutability. His unchangeability is unchangeable.)
The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it like this:
God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
Just think about that for a moment. There is no “before” or “after” with God, as there is with us. There’s no “He used to be like that, but now He’s like this.” There’s no such thing as “the Old Testament God” and “the New Testament God.” He was good, He is good, and He always will be good. And the same can be said about His power, His wisdom, His love, and so on.
So how are we to understand those biblical passages that seem to speak of God as changing? Think for example of 1 Samuel chapter 15, where God is said to “regret” having made Saul king. Doesn’t that imply that He has changed His mind about Saul?
No. In fact, in that very same chapter—1 Samuel chapter 15—is quite explicit in saying that “[God] is not a man, that he should have regret.”
How can an all-knowing God, who is eternal and outside time and knows everything before it happens, suddenly realize that Saul isn’t fit to be king? It’s not as if any new information has come to light that God didn’t already know. So God’s mind hasn’t changed. What has changed, of course, is Saul’s behavior.
Where it comes to describing the way God relates to His creatures, there is great variety. But that variety is down to the variety in them, not in Him. The same sun hardens clay but also melts wax. “Well,” we might say, “the sun clearly changes: sometimes it hardens; sometimes it melts.” No, it’s still the same sun; the character of the sun hasn’t changed. What does change is the nature of the object on which the sun is shining.
Another way to talk about God’s immutability is that whereas you and I are always “becoming,” God is always “being.” We’re always traveling; God is already there and has always been. We can develop or deteriorate, grow or decay, progress or regress. But with God, there is no room for improvement. He has always been, and always will be, utterly and delightfully perfect in every way. One theologian puts it like this: “All that is creaturely is in [the] process of becoming. [The creature] is changeable, constantly striving, in search of rest and satisfaction, and finds this rest only in him who is pure being without becoming.”
What a glorious prospect that is. Psalm 18 says:
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
He can only be these things for us precisely because He is immutable.
So yes, there are places we long to return. We want to know how to get there. That longing to return to a place which we will find to be perfect and unchanging and just as it has always been—that longing has been put in our hearts so that we might seek the One who put it there. The Lord who is perfect and unchanging and just as He has always been.