“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”
– Malachi 3:6
Lofty words and expressions we ascribe to God can easily get lost on me. Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, transcendent, immanent, majestic…. the list goes on. Some might use these words to sound smart (me); others might not understand what they mean (also me). Recently, I caught a Q&A with N.T. Wright after his address to the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. In true bishop form, he made a comment about how “some thought they could offer a few [more] sacrifices to manipulate the gods.” The comment wasn’t central to his point, but it struck me… manipulate the gods. That led me to think about the ‘immutability’ of God; or God’s unchanging nature. The mountains and the earth will perish, but you remain the same, declares Psalm 102. Every good gift comes from God, who does not change like shifting shadows, says James (1:17). Deuteronomy 32:4 might say it simplest: God is a rock.
The preacher can easily, and correctly, say, “if God could change, he would cease to be God!” Great. I don’t know about you, but that means almost nothing to me. What does Gods unchanging nature have to do with me? I’ve been in the habit recently of taking seriously Jesus’ call to be an evangelist; a spreader of the euangelion. I truly want to be in the business of spreading joyful news in whatever situation I find myself. So, it’s great that “God is immutable,” but can we at least ask ourselves how exactly is this good news? Let’s just start with the verse at the top of this page: “I don’t change… therefore, you are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6). Perhaps said another way, “If I was changeable, you would be destroyed.” God’s immutability is good news because that means we won’t be destroyed. Well, that’s certainly a start.
How often do we think we can manipulate God through our behavior? What about through our religious behavior? You did something wrong so God is upset with you, you say? Fast and pray more. You want God to ‘move in power’ in your life? Offer a few more sacrifices. As a pastor at Fresno Pacific University, I come across a fair number of students who “feel empty,” who “don’t feel God’s presence”…. But they are quick to note that they are doing their ‘quiet time’ every morning! They haven’t missed a small group. They might have even fasted and prayed. When times get tough, ramp up the religious behavior… and God will move. But, too often, they conclude, it’s not working.
This disposition is human nature. You get what you give, so if I “give” more to God, I will “get” more from him. Not so fast. God is immutable. And, as NT Wright alluded to, ‘you can’t manipulate God with more sacrifices.’ If we think we can change God based on what we “give” to him, who is really in power here? God, or you? To say that God will change his thoughts toward you, his interaction with you, his presence with you – all based on your activity – this actually puts YOU in control of the situation. This, in my opinion, removes God from the throne of the universe and from the throne of your life to a pathetic deity who can be manipulated based on what you do.
But the good news is that God is immutable… he does not change like shifting shadows… he is a rock… and that is joyful news because God’s opinions, actions, feelings toward us, and presence with us can’t change based on what we do. You can’t manipulate God with sacrifices. Continue the Malachi passage: “ever since the time of your ancestors, you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them.” If God were manipulated by our actions – considering our actions consistently betray God – we would be destroyed. I’m thankful I don’t serve a God who fly’s off the handle when I screw up (somewhere there’s a parenting lesson in here). God is immutable, and that is great news.
“if we are faithless…he will remain faithful, because he cannot disown himself.”
– 2 Timothy 2:13