Friday, September 6, 2013

Like an Anchor — or a Rock

That God is immutable means he doesn’t change. There is constancy about him, a steadfast unchangeability in who he is and what he does. One of my favorite passages of scripture is from Hebrews 6, a text that points to two ways God is immutable:
So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. (Hebrews 6:17-18 ESV)
God’s purpose, or his counsel — the plan he is carrying out in creation — is unchangeable. If God determines that He will do something, then it will certainly be done.

It seems logical that God’s plans are immutable. God’s plans aren't like my plans, which are subject to change because of unforeseen circumstances, like plumbing disasters, for instance, or even unpredictable feelings like tiredness or crankiness. The conditions that make my plans changeable don’t apply to an all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful God.

This text in Hebrews grounds the immutability of God’s purpose in something else. When God promises that something will happen, and doubly, when he takes an oath guaranteeing it, it will surely come about because it is impossible for God to lie. That God cannot lie points us to the unchanging nature of his character: He is constantly truthful and immutably so.

Scripture points to the steadfast character of God in many other places. James 1:13 says God can’t be tempted with evil, and he doesn't ever tempt anyone with evil. His immutable righteousness makes tempting and being tempted impossible for him. According to Isaiah 40:13-14, God can’t be taught anything, so we know his knowledge is complete and unchanging. His mercy can be counted on to be enduringly consistent as well (Psalm 107:1).

Just as it makes sense that God’s counsel is immutable, it makes sense that His character is changeless. God is what he is completely, perfectly. To change would mean increase or decrease, growth or loss, improvement or corruption, and these are are incompatible with completeness and perfection.

When we think of God as immutable, however, we shouldn’t think of him as inactive. His character and his plans are unchanging, but he doesn't just sit back to watch his perfect plans unfold. He is working constantly in creation to accomplish everything he has planned.

And while it seems certain that God doesn't have emotions exactly like ours, according to scripture he does express love, joy, and anger, etc. But instead of showing changeability in God, these affections* reveal his immutable character. He always takes pleasure in righteousness, and is always displeased with sin. What we experience from God, then, is different when we are obedient than it is when we sin, but this is not because God changes. Rather, it's God's unchanging character that assures us that when we change our attitude and actions, his attitude and actions toward us are different than they were.

What does it mean for us that God is immutable? The biggest benefit is that an immutable God can be trusted. In the passage quoted at the start of this post, it says that if we’ve taken refuge in God, his immutability gives us strong encouragement to hold on to his promises to us, trusting that he will keep his promises for sure.  

Because God is unchanging in both his counsel and his character, the hope we have is a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” We may think of hope as something elusive, like a helium balloon bobbing in the wind, dancing away from us just beyond our grasp. But the hope we have in God is no balloon; it's an anchor, because God is like an anchor — or a rock.

Our God can be counted on to be as he is forever, and to do what he says forever. He is faithful because his character is steadfast and his counsel stands.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

(Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)

*I struggle with a word to use. States of mind? Emotions? Affections? Nothing seems quite right. Our emotions are analogous to something found in God, but God does not have emotions like ours. We are like him, but he is not like us.

This was first posted at my personal blog several years ago — although I've changed it so much I'm not sure it qualifies as a "repost." (See! My posts change; I change; but God doesn't.)

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