Monday, May 3, 2010

Repost: The Immutability of God: Its Truth and Relevancy - Scriptural Foundations

What is the biblical foundation in favor of the Immutability of God?  Study any sound theological book and you will find catalogs of texts that point us to this wonderful doctrine.  As always, anytime we are doing theology, we must watch out for many pitfalls.  One of those pitfalls is to isolate texts out of context.  In order to avoid doing that, each of the following verses will have the context explained in order to bring to light its implications and why the author found it necessary to discuss God's Immutability.

Numbers 23:19-21God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it. Behold, I received a command to bless: he has blessed, and I cannot revoke it.  He has not beheld misfortune in Jacob, nor has he seen trouble in Israel. The LORD their God is with them, and the shout of a king is among them.

The context here is Balaam and the crazy story that surrounds him.  At this point, God has commanded Balaam to deliver a message to Balak and this is the message.  What a fascinating way to begin.  God essentially defines Himself in this direct revelation.  The first thing that God tells Balak:  I am immutable and I do not change.  That should get our attention!  This means that what God says, He does.  God cannot and does not lie and therefore no matter how hard we might try, we cannot and will not change God.  The LORD is the God of Israel and this will not change.

Psalm 102:25-27of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.

In this Psalm, the writer is pouring heart out to God like so many of the other Psalms.  He is leaning on God's Sovereignty and Justice.  Near the end of this Psalm, the writer writes these words boldly proclaiming the immutability of God.  Or maybe that's not the best way of putting it.  Instead of simply laying out a dry fact about God, the writer is leaning on this doctrine.  This is what makes this passage so fascinating and why the poetry is so powerful.

What the Psalmist is doing is trying to find a rock in which to stand on.  Did you notice the language?  A rock in which to stand on.  Even today we use language of nature to speak of foundations that cannot be shaken or changed but the Psalmist disagrees.  In his pursuit of certainty and hope he points out that though we oftentimes see the earth itself as unchanging, it is in fact not.  The earth moves, changes, and goes through seasons.  The writer is not looking for something like this.  Such "rocks" are not what he is looking for.

This is fascinating.  The Psalmists sets us up for the great reveal; the great Hope.  We think the things of this earth are permanent, but they aren't.  They are just one more thing to add to the list of disappointment and uncertainty.  What is unshakable, unmoving, and unchanging?  God.  God remains.  God doesn't change and though the world may pass away, the Lord will remain the same.  A powerful message in the midst of sorrow.

Malachi 3:6-7aThen I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner and do not fear me says the LORD of hosts. For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts.

The context?  Judgment.  Mercy.  Is this not the message of the Bible?  God judges what is contrary to His holiness and yet at the same time offers mercy to those who repent.  This is an important passage as we'll see in future posts.  Because God is immutable, He has and will always judge sin and grant grace to the repentant.  The God that offered this message in the times of the Bible is the same God today.  If we repent, we will be given grace.  But if we remember in our sins, God's judgment remains.  And who can stand the judgment of God?

Romans 11:28-36As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy b/c of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has
been his counselor?’ “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?’ For from him and through him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen

What can you add to the book of Romans?  Much has been written on this book, but perhaps we would benefit greatly if we just let it speak.  The phrase that is most important here is that God's call is irrevocable.  Here we have the apostle Paul dealing with the difficult issues of Gentile and Jewish relations and ends with an amazing passage extolling the grace and mystery of God.  In the midst of that, Paul reminds us that God's calling and gifts are irrevocable.  No one can rob God.  God will not take back what He has declared.

Hebrews 13:8Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

The context is hard to find here outside of the purpose of the entire book.  Chapter 13 of Hebrews is a collection of applications in light of the theology laid out in the book.  Briefly, the book of Hebrews is a letter of encouragement primarily to Jewish Christians who are facing persecution due to their faith who are tempted to return to the legalistic religion of Judaism.  The writer of Hebrews seeks to prevent that.  Those this is only one verse in all 13 chapters, this verse speaks volumes and is one of the more famous verses in this book.  Here we see that Jesus Himself is immutable, not just God the Father.  This should be encouraging.  If Christ is immutable then so is the gospel.  Praise God!

James 1:17Ever 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.

 The context is wonderful.  James begins his letter rather strange by jumping right into the midst of the recipients troubles.  The people are suffering for the cause of Christ and are tempted to say that God is tempting them.  James is quick to warn that God doesn't tempt, rather everything that is good comes from God in whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.  Why does James point us to the immutability of God?  Because it seals up what he has just said about God.  If God does not tempt, He will never tempt.  Get that?  So whenever we read of a definitive nature of God or know about something He does or does not do, it will always be that way.  Therefore, if God grants mercy to the truly repentant, He will always do that.


Perhaps we can best summarize all of this by discussing God's perfection.  Is it to elementary to say that God is perfect?  I hope not.  I am going to assume that most readers agree that God is perfect.  Perhaps we can use language like Holy, Light, Beautiful, etc.  Either way, God is perfect.

Now if anything that is perfect changes, how does it change?  For example, if a team has a perfect record and that record changes, what does that mean?  They lost.  When something that is perfect changes, it can only change in the negative sense.  If water is perfectly pure and it changes what happened?  Its no longer perfect.  Likewise, if a perfect God changes, then how does He change?  To imperfection.

A changing God, therefore, is an imperfect God.  At the end of the day whenever we argue that God changes, evolves, or whatever, what we are really saying is that God is not perfect.  Likewise, whenever we suggest that God evolves with human culture what we are doing is lifting us up and pulling God down.  If God changes with history and culture, then we become gods or at the very least make God in our own image.  If God changes then He is not perfect.

Furthermore, if God can get better (through evolution of His character or whatever) then He is not perfect now and will likely not be perfect once He changes.  This, too, raises serious problems.

To many, an imperfect God is something that we may want.  An imperfect God can perhaps relate to us in our imperfect.  But does this really offer the hope we really want?  I want a God who is greater than I can fathom who transcends time, culture, race, epoch, and language.  I don't want a God like me.  Rather, I want to be more like God.  But if we undermine God's immutability out of convenience, then we are offering a world a God that does not offer them the help they need.  God is omnipotent and He always will be.  God is sovereign and He always will be.  God is loving and He always will be.  God is omnipresent and He always will be.  God does not change.  God is immutable.  The same God that saved Israel is still in the saving business.  The God who raised Christ will raise for Himself a Bride resurrected without any impurity to dwell in His Holy presence!

For more:
Theology - The Immutability of God:  Its Truth and Relevancy - Introduction (Part 1)
Sermon Podcast - April 26, 2010 - The Immutability of God 
Sermon Podcast - November 29, 2009 - The Transcendence of the Gospel
Commentary - Accomodationism Breed Irrelevancy:  Why Liberalism Fails and the Transcendent Gospel Triumphs
Theology - A Fad Within a Movement:   What is the Emerging Church and Where is it Going
Theology - SBTS and McLaren:  A Response to SBTS Panel Discussion
Reviews - "Manifold Witness" by John Franke

This originally appeared on my Theology Blog.

No comments: