Change is one of the most threatening things many of us face in life, and yet we encounter it every day. The universe itself is changing. Scientists tell us that all observed systems are continually changing from order to disorder, and that every transformation of energy is accompanied by a loss in the availability of energy for future use. In other words, our universe is running down.
Besides that, the world we live in is changing. Highly sophisticated technical developments have radically altered our lifestyle, and now they threaten our very existence. Ideological developments have changed the balance of world power and threaten our freedom as a nation. Governments are toppled and new ones established overnight, and sometimes it seems as though revolutions are as common as eating and sleeping. Every day the news reports focus on some new changes occurring in our world.
People change. One day we may be in a good mood, the next day in an ugly mood. And it is disconcerting if we never know what to expect from our wives, our husbands, our parents, or our bosses. Nice people sometimes get irritable and touchy. Fortunately, grouchy people sometimes get nicer. But we all change. That is the nature of creaturehood, and that is the nature of life. We find it unpleasant and intimidating at times. We would rather keep things the way they always were because the old and the familiar are more secure and comfortable, like an old shoe. But shoes wear out and need to be replaced, as does most everything else in life. So we struggle to adjust to change.
We grow and we strive to better ourselves, and that is change. Sometimes our sense of well-being collapses around us; we lose our health, our loved ones, our money, or our material possessions, and that is change. Our bodies begin to wear out; we can no longer do the things we used to do, and that is change. It is all unsettling and unnerving, but it is inevitable. What can we do about it? Is there anything unchanging that we can hold on to in a world where everything is so tenuous and transitory?
An unnamed psalmist asked that question in a moment of great trial. The inspired title of Psalm 102 says, “A Prayer of the Afflicted, when he is faint, and pours out his complaint before the LORD.” This man is in trouble. He is facing some devastating changes in his life. Listen to his lament.
Do not hide Thy face from me in the day of my distress; Incline Thine ear to me; In the day when I call answer me quickly. For my days have been consumed in smoke, And my bones have been scorched like a hearth. My heart has been smitten like grass and withered away, Indeed, I forget to eat my bread. Because of the loudness of my groaning My bones cling to my flesh (verses 2-5).
My enemies have reproached me all day long; Those who deride me have used my name as a curse (verse 8).
My days are like a lengthened shadow; And I wither away like grass (verse 11).
Is there some kind of life preserver a person can hang on to when, like this psalmist, he feels as though he is about to go under? Is there something solid, stable, and unchanging? There is, and he is going to tell us about it.
But Thou, O LORD, dost abide forever; And Thy name to all generations (verse 12).
There is a God who will never cease to exist. But He is more than eternal. He is absolutely unchanging.
Of old Thou didst found the earth; And the heavens are the work of Thy hands. Even they will perish, but Thou dost endure; And all of them will wear out like a garment; Like clothing Thou wilt change them, and they will be changed. But Thou art the same, And Thy years will not come to an end (verses 25-27).
This is one of the first great Biblical statements of God’s immutability. Simply stated, that means God is unchangeable. He is neither capable of nor susceptible to change. And that makes sense. Any change would probably be for the better or for the worse. God cannot change for the better because He is already perfect. And He cannot change for the worse, for then He would be imperfect and would therefore no longer be God. Created things change; they run down or wear out. It is part of their constitutional nature. But God has no beginning or end. Therefore He cannot change.
People sometimes think He changes, especially when they experience trying circumstances. The people of Israel felt that way. Their prophets warned them that God would chasten them for their rebelliousness and sin, and they assumed that such discipline would indicate that He was changing, that He was getting more harsh and less fair. For example, Malachi predicted that Messiah would come suddenly like a refiner’s fire and a purifier of silver and judge the sinners among them (Malachi 3:15). The people were probably wondering when God began to develop such a concern about their sin. Malachi reminded them that He always has been concerned. That is His nature. He is unchangeably holy and righteous and just. God Himself declared, “For I, the LORD, do not change” (verse 6).
God’s immutability not only brought Israel discipline. It also guaranteed her continued national existence. After establishing His immutability God goes on to say, “Therefore you, O sons of Jacob, are not consumed” (verse 6). He is unchangeably holy and righteous but He is also unchangeably merciful and faithful. He promised Abraham that his seed would endure forever (Genesis 13:15), and He cannot go back on His Word because He is immutable. The existence of the nation Israel to this day is a testimony to God’s immutability.
We may begin to think God has changed when trials invade our lives. We say to ourselves, “God used to be good to me, but this surely doesn’t seem very good.” The Apostle James had some penetrating observations for a group of persecuted people who were beginning to think like that. Listen to James encourage them: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (James 1:16-17).
The “Father of lights” is the God who created the heavenly bodies. They move and turn and cast shadows on the earth and on each other. They are created things, so they change. But the God who made them does not change. There is absolutely no variation with Him, no eclipse of His loving kindness and care. His gifts always turn out to be good, even when, for the present, we cannot figure out how. He will give nothing but what is best. We can count on that. It is the promise of an unchanging God.
If Jesus Christ is God in flesh, then we would expect Him likewise to be unchanging. That truth was revealed to another group of people who were suffering for their faith. The writer to the Hebrews said, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Hebrews 12:7-8). He wanted them to know that the unchanging Saviour who was at work in the lives of the men who taught them the Word of God could do a supernatural work in their lives as well. He is the same Saviour that He always was, and what He has done for others He can do for you.
Some will protest, “But He seems to do more for my Christian friends than He does for me. They seem to be so spiritually stable, and I’m so up and down, so hot and cold. You say God is consistent. I say He’s different in the way He deals with me.” Things may never be any better for us until we believe that He truly is unchangeable, and acknowledge that the problem lies with us rather than with Him. That is why the writer to the Hebrews exhorted us to imitate the faith of our spiritual leaders. As we learn to believe that God is what He claims to be, we shall begin to enjoy the stability and steadiness which His immutability can minister to our lives. Most of us find it easier to be calm and steady in turbulent circumstances when we believe that those around us, particularly those in charge, are calm and steady. Well, God is in charge; He has complete control of every situation, and His hand never gets shaky. Trust Him, and enjoy a consistency and a constancy you may not have known before.
We have seen the doctrine clearly revealed, but what does it involve? Obviously, it includes everything about God of which we can possibly conceive. All that God ever was, He always will be. But look at a few Biblical examples:
The Word of God Is Unchanging. “Forever, O LORD, Thy word is settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). That is not true of our word. We often change our minds about things and find that we can no longer honor what we said in the past. Sometimes we say things we do not mean or we say things which later prove to be wrong and which must be retracted. But when God speaks it is always true. He never speaks in error. He never changes His mind. He never said anything He was sorry for or had to take back. His Word is settled and unchanging.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8).
The Plans of God are Unchanging. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations” (Psalm 33:11 NIV). God’s plans are firm. His purposes will always be carried out. Our plans and purposes change. Sometimes they are not very realistic and we must alter them. On other occasions somebody frustrates them. But God’s plans are perfect and nobody can thwart them. So there is no reason to change them.
The writer to the Hebrews had something to say about this aspect of God’s immutability: “In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, in order that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we may have strong encouragement, we who have fled for refuge in laying hold of the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18). God’s purpose and His oath are both unchangeable. It is comforting to know that God’s plan for this world will never change, and that He will carry it out right on schedule according to His own good pleasure. As He said through Isaiah,
Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, “My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
What God established before the foundation of the earth as the goal of human history will inevitably come to pass. What a comforting thing it is to know that no amount of satanic opposition can change that!
The Knowledge of God Is Unchanging. There are other applications of God’s immutability in Scripture, but look at one more: “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18 KJV). We could have figured that out even if the Apostle James had not said it at the Jerusalem council. If God is unchanging and nothing about Him varies, then obviously His knowledge never increases or decreases. He knows everything and always has known everything. Anything less would make Him less than God. For example, if there ever was a time when God did not know what I would write on this page of this book, then He was not complete at that time and, therefore, He was not God. But you can be sure He did know. His knowledge is unchanging.
That is surely different from my knowledge. It has grown (hopefully). Yet I still know only a minute fraction of what there is to know. Quite frankly, I have forgotten more than I have remembered. So my knowledge also decreases. But it is a consolation to know a God who possesses complete and unchanging knowledge of everything. He can never lose anything. He will never forget to do anything He wants to do. And He has our lives in His unchanging care.
Not everybody believes what you are reading right now. They point to Scriptures that tell us God repents and they say, “You see, God is mutable. He does change His mind. Therefore, He may not keep His Word. He may not carry out His purposes. He may not know everything.” We need not read more than a few pages in our Bibles before coming to a passage that raises that question. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (Genesis 6:5-6).
But there are other passages, however, assuring us that God will not change His mind:
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? (Numbers 23:19)
“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 Samuel 15:29). Is that a contradiction in the Bible? I do not think so.
We need to understand that, while God’s character never changes, His methods of dealing with men and administering His program on earth may vary. Whatever He does will be consistent with His eternal nature and will have been known to Him from eternity past. But He does do things differently at different times. The same writer who reminded us of God’s immutable counsel and oath (Hebrews 6:17-18) also told us that God changed the priesthood and the law (Hebrews 7:12), and that He took the old covenant away that He might establish the new (Hebrews 10:9).
God sometimes acts on the basis of what man does, and Scripture may picture that as God changing His mind in order to help us understand what is happening. But man’s actions did not take God by surprise. He knew what man would do from eternity past, and He knew how He would respond. His actions, which appear to be a change of mind and are so described for our help, are fully consistent with His unchanging nature (Genesis 6:6; 1 Samuel 15:11). Sometimes Scripture portrays God as changing His mind when He threatens some punishment in order to demonstrate how strongly He feels about sin, then withholds that punishment as an act of mercy (Exodus 32:14; Jonah 3:10). Sometimes He reduces His sentence because His good purposes have been accomplished (2 Samuel 24:16). That hardly destroys the doctrine of immutability. God’s immutability simply requires that He always act in accord with His eternal nature.
The obvious question is, “So God is immutable. What does that mean to me?” If we really want to know Him, then it means everything, for a God who changes would not be worth knowing. We would not be able to trust Him. Do you trust a friend who changes his attitudes or actions toward you from one day to the next? Of course not. You are not going to open your heart to him, share your feelings with him, or tell him your weaknesses and your needs. If he is sympathetic and helpful on some occasions but disinterested or judgmental on others, you probably will not take the chance. If he keeps your intimate secrets to himself sometimes but spreads them around on other occasions, you are not going to confide in him anymore. Human friends sometimes act that way but God never changes. We can trust Him.
And He is never in a bad mood. That is different from us. We get disagreeable periodically. We growl at our spouses, snap at our children, criticize our fellow workers. Not God! His mood never changes. What a pleasure to know that whenever we approach Him through the merits of His Son He receives us warmly and lovingly.
That is one thing that makes prayer such a pleasure. We know that He is always open to our requests. He never gets tired of our coming to Him. In fact, He keeps inviting us to come. “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). “Ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive that your joy may be made full” (John 16:24). “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6).
We would have little interest in praying to a God who might be listening, but who, on the other hand, might be out for a walk or taking a nap. Elijah taunted the prophets of Baal with the possibility that their god might be doing one of those very things (1 Kings 18:27). But we have the assurance that the Lord’s ear is always open to our prayers.
The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous,
And His ears are open to their cry (Psalm 84:15).
Some will object, “What sense is there in praying to an unchangeable God? Hasn’t He already made up His mind what He is going to do? How can our prayers change anything?” We know that prayer changes things because God told us that it does. He decided in eternity past that He would take certain actions, provide certain benefits, and bestow certain blessings when we come to Him in prayer. So we come because He asked us to come and we make our requests known because He promised us that it would make a difference. We have the assurance that if we ask anything according to His will He hears and answers us (1 John 5:14-15). We can count on Him to be faithful to His promise.
Maybe we can understand what difference prayer makes by visualizing a mother caring for her sick child. Before she tucks him in bed for the night she gives him his medicine and quietly reassures him of her presence. She knows he will cry out to her during the night, and when the cry comes it does not change her mind about anything. She responds exactly as she planned to respond and does precisely what she knew would be best for him. But her help comes in answer to his request. That is the way she planned it. God has some good things prepared for us, but His plan is to give them to us in answer to our prayers. So ask and you will receive.
Since God is immutable we can always count on Him. We cannot consistently count on our human friends. They let us down at times. Their actions are sometimes affected by how they feel or how we have treated them. Their love is conditioned on our performance. But not God’s. His love is everlasting and therefore unchanging (Jeremiah 31:3). He always acts on the basis of love. Likewise, His kindness is everlasting and therefore unchanging (Isaiah 54:10). He always acts on the basis of kindness. We can count on it. The better we know Him as the immutable God, the more we shall be able to trust Him and hold on to Him for stability and strength when everything around us is changing.
This is a great doctrine, and it would be beneficial for us to keep it in mind. But unfortunately one of our most glaring defects as mortal human beings is our inability to remember what we have learned about God when we need it most. Did you know that God has given us a visible sign to help us remember His immutability? It is the rainbow. When Noah and his family emerged from the ark God promised them that He would never again destroy the whole earth with a flood. He said, “I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth” (Genesis 9:13). He has not destroyed the whole earth by water again. He is a God of His Word. He always does what He says He will do. He never changes.
Every time you see a rainbow remind yourself that you know the immutable God. And remind yourself that a God who is unchanging in His love and kindness to you deserves your unchanging love, loyalty, devotion, and service.