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March 2021 Credo

In December 1993, forty eight people died when a high rise apartment building in Kuala Lumpur collapsed because its foundations gave way in a landslide. This tragic incident is a sobering reminder to Christians to ensure that their faith is set on secure foundations as they will inevitably face trials and tribulations in life. Whatever the circumstances, scripture assures us that our faith is secure when it is resting on the immutable God who is the Rock of our salvation.

2 Samuel 22:2-3. “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 and my refuge.”

Psalm 62:2. “He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”

Malachi 3:6. “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

 

God’s Immutability and Perfection

Classical theology describes God as the self-existing being who is independent of anything outside of himself. God is independent in his activity because all that is actual, apart from himself, exists by his will alone. The self-existence (aseity) of God is not just a philosophical presupposition; it is revealed when God declares his name to be Yahweh, “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). The Septuagint translation of Exodus 3:14 uses the phrase “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν” [ego eimi ho on] to denote unalterable Being as the chief characteristic of the deity. Walter Eichrodt observes that in the book of Isaiah, God’s name becomes especially understood as referring to God’s eternal and independent existence apart from the creation (e.g., Isaiah 40:28; 41:4; 43:10-20; 44:6; 48:12).

God’s aseity entails that he is perfect; he is being and not becoming. God has no potentiality so that he can become something more than he is. There is nothing in God that is not God. The immutability of God is a necessary concomitant of his perfection. It is the perfection of God by which he is devoid of all change in his Being, in his attributes, and in his purposes and promises. God is maximal perfection and goodness. He has all life, glory and blessedness, in and of himself. He is self-sufficient. Creation does not add anything to God.

God is omnipotent. God does not increase or decrease in strength. Any change in God’s power would suggest that God is not in control of his creation. God does not have to wrestle with new events that emerge independently of his will. In truth, God is the eternal Creator who brings to pass all that comes to pass. Precisely, as God is irresistible in his power, he is immutable in his being.

God is all-knowing (omniscient) and wise. God is all-knowing because he is the one sovereign God who orders all of creation and brings everything to pass. God’s knowledge is exact and complete. God cannot grow in knowledge for this would suggest that there was a time when he was ignorant of something. God’s knowledge would then partial, inaccurate and possibly flawed. In contrast, God is wise because his good acts are perfectly informed by his omniscience.

God’s character does not change. Adversities of life can cause people to become hardened and bitter. People often change when they gain power and success. Friends may betray us one day. But God remains the same yesterday, today and forever. He is ever just, loyal, good and generous to his people. As the Apostle James writes, “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” (James 1:17).

God’s purposes do not change. God is always dependable and does not change because he is ever holy and just. Hence, Moses declares that God is “The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are just. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Sadly, we sometimes experience miscarriage of justice when judges are guilty of dereliction of duty or corruption, but God’s judgments are always just and good. The reason is because God’s justice is undergirded by the unchanging love of God. Only the eternal wise and just God can assure us that good will eventually triumph over evil in the world.

For Herman Bavinck, only an immutable God who is the “Rock of Salvation” provides a firm foundation for faith.  “[God] rests within himself and is for that very reason the ultimate goal and resting place of all creatures, the Rock of their salvation, whose work is complete. Those who predicate any change whatsoever of God, whether with respect to his essence, knowledge, or will, diminish all his attributes: independence, simplicity, eternity, omniscience, and omnipotence. This robs God of his divine nature, and religion of its firm foundation and assured comfort.”

 

God’s immutability is not a rigid immobility

Some philosophers object to divine immutability on the ground that it renders God unable to relate to his creation. Their argument goes as follows: Since God is immutable, there can be no addition to or subtraction from his nature. Genuine interaction between God and his creature entails real relations. Therefore, there can be no relations or interactions between an immutable God and his creature.

This objection rests on a misunderstanding. The immutability of God is not like the immutability of a rock. While God and rocks appear to share a common feature of unchangeability, the reason for their unchangeableness is due to opposite reasons. The Rock of Gibraltar is an inert object incapable of initiating action or change. In contrast, God is unchangeable not because he is inert, but because he is so dynamic, so active that no change can make him more active. In the language of scholastic theology, God is pure actuality. Being perfect, he does not need to act to become more of what he is. God does not become more in his being when he creates new relationships with his creatures. He does not become less when he gives himself to them. The critics wrongly assume that God’s immutability is opposed to his vitality. They fail to understand that the immutability of God is a positive concept, that is to say, God’s immutability is really the perfection of an absolute life and activity.

Another argument against divine immutability goes as follows. Since God is immutable, his plan for the salvation of the world (eternal decree) does not change. Since the plan is eternally fixed, human action is irrelevant. God’s interaction with humans cannot be genuine since human action has no significance to his decree. However, John Frame notes that although God’s eternal decree does not change, it does ordain change. It is precisely because God’s decree is undergirded by immutable goodness that God maintains his moral consistency even as he responds to the unfolding events of human history and interacts with the changing behavior of his creatures.

It has been suggested that the immutable God can never be moved or touched by human suffering or human sorrows as he dwells in a state of holy calm and unchangeable blessedness. Creatures certainly do not have the power to inflict suffering or pain on God, but neither can they love a God who remains inaccessible in his splendid transcendence. However, Scripture tells us that God does feel and love. It is God’s love that led him to entered into this world to engage with the sorrows of his creatures and to bear the suffering of the cross in order to procure salvation for his creatures. More importantly, since it is God who took the initiative to bring about events that culminated in sinful men crucifying his Son, God is never a hapless victim of his creatures. Indeed, it is God’s sovereignty and immutability which guarantee that God will certainly bring to fulfilment the salvation that he has eternally ordained (Acts 2:23-24).

 

References

James E. Dolezal. All That Is in God. Reformation Heritage Books. 2017.

Thomas Weinandy. Does God Change? St. Bede’s Publications. 1985.

 

Dr. Ng Kam Weng

Kairos Research Centre Sept 2020

 

Dr Ng Kam Weng is Research Director of Kairos Research Centre in Kuala Lumpur. Previously, he had been a fellow at the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies and a member of the Center for Theological Inquiry at Princeton University. From 1989 to 1992 he taught at the Malaysia Bible Seminary Graduate School. He has a PhD from Cambridge University.