Certain doctrines should “just click” with those who seek to know God as He has revealed Himself in His special revelation to those who are His people.
For instance, that God is immutable (unchangeable) should preclude any teaching on the Doctrine of God that even comes close to suggesting that He has made Himself mutable (changeable) in any manner. The Scripture is just too clear on the fact that God does not change, period, and any suggested relational or analogical arguments to the contrary are based on a number of philosophies of man that, while seeking to guise themselves in the veneer of being based on the Biblical facts, in fact, ignore the overall context of His Scriptures.
There are some Scripture passages that actually do “stand on their own” (Although I would be one who is quick to assert that although some passages stand on their own, no single passage of Scripture stands alone). Among them are passages we value greatly, to our finite and eternal comfort and standing.
Malachi 3:6: “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
How does one circumvent such a passage as this with appeals to isolated anthropomorphisms and/or anthropopathisms, even when such an appeal is to various Scripture references that those so proposing these malleable qualities to our God are multiplied, without consideration of the overall context of Scripture?
The answer is, of course, that such a plain passage cannot, in fact, be circumvented, and no matter the character of those who seek to do so in the pursuit of understanding our relationship with God, there will not come any Scriptural evidence to the contrary that our God, indeed, “does not change.”
Please notice, although a large body of literature by past and present biblical scholars exists, I do not make my appeal to them. It is not that there would not be many more in defense of the classical doctrine of God, or that there are some in defense of various forms of the modified doctrine of God; no, rather, I do not wish to bias the appeal to Scripture at this point with an argument from authority, for I believe (as any unbiased reader of the Scripture must believe, at this point), that there is no ambiguity or verifiable change wrought by the corpus of the entirety of Scripture to this simple statement of our God: “I do not change.”
Wherein, then, inclusive of the entirety of the body of Scripture, are we to understand that our God means, by this unequivocal statement (that He does not change), as to His unique essence, or being, but that He does change as to His relation to His creation? Where is this distinction of ontological meaning given us in the Scripture, if it indeed is given (which I purport it is not)?
As a “for instance,” in Genesis 6:6, we are told, “And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” This seems to indicate an actual change in the manner in which God viewed those He created, but in view of His proclamations that we are saved because He does not change, are we to see this statement as if it were indicative of His changing relationally to those He has created? In other words, do we manipulate the Scriptural data in a manner wherein God seemingly contradicts Himself?
Is not the very fact that our God does not change the foundation of our comfort in His promises?
This is not intended to be an exhaustive article on the various anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms of Scripture; rather, it is an invitation for us to view our God as He has presented Himself within that Scripture, for our comfort and benefit.
What it boils down to is whether or not God changes in His intrinsic character – all arguments from anthropomorphisms or anthropopathisms in Scripture do, and indeed must, not only pale, but become the finite representations of aspects of God which they are intended to be, if God, as He presents Himself in Holy Writ, in reality, declares that He does not change, whether intrinsically (as to His infinite, eternal self), or relationally (as those who argue that the anthropomorphisms and anthropopathisms given to us to describe characteristics of our God insist is the case, thereby differentiating between God’s eternal, infinite character, and the manner in which He relates to His creation after He, in fact, created).
This is, after all, the crux of the matter: if God changes, those who are His cannot expect His infinite, eternal promises to be effectual, regardless of explanations of His relationship with His creation being in flux because He has, indeed, created. The foundation of our hope is that God cannot lie, and cannot fail to keep His promises, in accordance with His character. If, at any time, His attributes can ebb or increase, or He adds new attributes to Himself to relate to us, our foundation has become that which we are: mutable, like the creation, not the Creator.
The plain fact of the matter is that, despite analogical language (wherein God reveals eternal, infinite aspects of Himself to us by use of terminology we understand in relation to ourselves), we have the assurance of Scripture that tells us, quite plainly, our God does not change.
There are those who appeal to the incarnation, wherein God the Son took upon Himself human form, to show that God, prior to the incarnation, after creating, also took upon Himself relational attributes in order to properly communicate Himself to His creation. However, again, going to the Scripture, we have a plain statement, as to the divinity of God the Son:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
That this verse is speaking about our Lord’s divinity is apparent, because even during His incarnation, as to His humanity, He “increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” (Luke 2:52) This does not presuppose any change to the divine, but rather, the human nature. Our Lord, living as a man, was subject to temptations, suffering, and eventually, death on the cross, as ordained before the world began. All these things establish the fact that our Lord, as to His humanity, was fully human (though without sin), but when we consider His divinity, we are assured that He does not change.
Since this is a short and simple article, at this point, one wonders, why would anyone wish to prove that God, whether the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, indeed does undergo change, in relation to His creation?
One brother whom I respect greatly said that he thought such a modified version of the doctrine of God better explained the biblical data. He then went on to address the passages where God demonstrates aspects of Himself to us in terms which we would use to describe ourselves as proof that such analogical language surely could not be used to simply show us that God does not change, but, in fact, shows us that He does have changes (such as mutable emotions). Passages such as God repenting (being sorry, regretting) that He had made man (Genesis 6:6) and being grieved in His heart for doing so, certainly must mean that God had emotions similar to those we experience, right?
Also, are we not told we can grieve the Holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30)?
We certainly are, and certainly God intends us to understand from such passages that He has emotions (this will be further addressed below), but the question would be, at this point, that although God uses such anthropopathic expressions to define aspects of His eternal, infinite, immutable being to us, are we to assume He intends us to comprehend such as contradicting those other passages which tell us he does not change?
Again, going to the Scripture, we find God stating the difference between Him and His created creatures, through the prophet Balaam:
Numbers 23:19: God 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?
The point of the passage is rather obvious. Although God uses analogical language to describe aspects of His eternal, infinite, unchanging character to His creatures, He is not like His creatures in any aspect or respect. Therefore, when we read again that He is not a man that He should repent (have regret) in 1 Samuel 15:29, and that statement comes after God telling Samuel that He regrets having made Saul king (1 Samuel 15:11), we do not understand this as God having emotions such as those He created experience, nor do we understand it as God contradicting Himself. Consequently, because God states so categorically in His Scriptures that He cannot change, and that He is not like His creatures, we must look for evidence in those Scriptures that inform us what, exactly, He means by using such analogical language to define those aspects of Himself which are definitively not like man’s.
Isaiah 46:9-10: Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.
Psalm 50 is very instructive in showing the difference between God and those He created. After reciting that which is proper before Him, and that which is not, and what He, as the only One who can and will judge the peoples, He makes this statement:
Psalm 50:21: These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
This is the verdict from God, who is not such a one as those whom He is judging, to those who lived in a manner where they said they served the Lord, yet were themselves liars, spurned His precepts, agreed with and practiced thievery, and spoke evil and slandered all those around them. His judgment is based in who He is, which never changes, and so is righteous, against those who are the epitome of inconstancy.
Furthermore, God declares He has decreed the end from the beginning, and that His counsel will stand. In that counsel, we know that He decreed, at a certain point and time in redemptive history, to have His Son pay the penalty for the sins of His people. Is it so difficult to understand that God expresses those divine emotions He defines in a manner which sounds similar to His creatures according to decreeing so from evermore? Is it so difficult to believe that this God, who has unequivocally told us that He does not change (and that such immutability is the reason that His decreed mercy keeps us from being consumed by His decreed wrath), has purposed, within that eternal counsel, to express divine anger, love, etc. at specific times and points in His creation, towards various of His creatures, in accord with His will?
In this way, we understand that although God expresses emotions, these are not mutable expressions of change in His being, but decreed expressions of His willed intentions towards various of His creatures, and in this way, we may, indeed, understand that He is not like us whom He created. These decreed expressions are, according to His omniscience, given to interact with His creatures at specific times, in specific places, according to that same active foreknowledge of all the events He decreed coming to pass at those intersections of finite time and space, in order to communicate His will and Himself to His finite creatures, to accomplish His willed ends.
This is perfectly in accord with the language of His decreeing the end from the beginning, and makes perfect sense of the biblical data, so that we do not have to seek to accommodate His manner of being, which has no beginning or end, and cannot be acted upon by an outside agent or force, with the finite means of our understanding.
Indeed, with the apostle, all we can do is behold the infinite, eternal, unchanging God with awestruck wonder, and it seems fitting to end this short article with his words:
Romans 11:33-36: 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 and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
SDG – Bill