Sunday, January 1, 2012

Immutability

Happy New Year! 
May 2012 Be Blessed & Prosperous For All!


Malachi 3:6 ~ "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed."
The nature, actions and purpose of God is the ultimate puzzle of all generations. Many have attempted to define these things in many ways. Attempts have given rise to multiple thousands of religions, religious beliefs and interpretive systems  over time.

One of the ways in which God is described within scripture is as unchanging. The term that is used in the New Testament is a term translated as "immutable". The Greek word is "ametathetos", which literally means unchangeable. It is a legal term, an adjective, describing  an unalterable or unabridged position, intent or will. One of the biblical proofs that Jesus is God and not merely a lesser being such as an angel, is that he is also described as immutable in the same fashion that  God is described as immutable in the Old Testament. Example:

Hebrews 13:8 ~ "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."

How is God Immutable Or Unchangeable? 

As referenced above, God clearly describes that he is not changeable. However God also deals with man in a continuum where there is constant and consistent change. There is physical, social, and moral change among men and mankind. Many things that men thought were right yesterday or in another age and epoch, are not necessarily right today. Yet the bible describes that God is unchanging and delivers an objective and unchanging truth. 


To begin with, God has clearly described that he is not a man and does not have the inconsistencies of men:

Numbers 23:19 ~  "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?"

Here God states the difference between he and man affirming that unlike man, he has the intent and the ability to make good on his promises and does not fail in doing so. It is important that one doesn't get confused over this very important point. Why? Because scripture is full of instances where God has clearly modified or changed in his stance in dealing with men and mankind.

Lets look at some examples: 

Using the Hebrew word "wə·yin·nā·ḥêm" or the transliteration "nacham" in the book of Genesis God stated that he has "repented" as it pertains to his actions in dealing with the evil of mankind that man had perpetuated within his creation:

Genesis 6:6-7 ~ "6-And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.7-And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them."

In Exodus 32, Moses pleads with God to not destroy the people for their idol worship after they have been delivered from Egypt. Moses asks God to "repent" of the evil he intended to do (Ex. 32:12) and remember his covenant of promise to Abraham (Ex. 32:13) Then we see v. 14:

Exodus 32:14 ~ "And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."

In addition we can point to the time when Abraham negotiated with God over the destruction of Sodom in Genesis 18. Although God destroyed Sodom, Abraham was able to change the mind of God (or so it appears) over the number of righteous individuals found in order to  avoid destruction. 

More Apparent Changes

In 2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21, God was moved to judge the nation because of David's sin of "numbering the people". This may have been an effort to create a tax of the inhabitants of the nation which was common during the period, or simply an effort to count his strength or appease his human sense of pride. At either rate God then sends an angel, in the form of a plague, to smite Israel and further moves to destroy Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 24:16 ~  "And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite." (Also See: 1 Chron. 21:15)

After being granted the opportunity, repentance is made and offerings are delivered. God then removes his hand of destruction and and blesses the people. He obviously changes his plan and course of action in dealing with man. Psalms 106:45 reminisces how God remembered his covenant, repenting of his intent to destroy man and mankind in the previous instances mentioned and then some. Once again the word "nacham" is used to describe the actions of God. 

In Jeremiah 26, the Lord speaks to Jeremiah challenging the people to repent so that he (God) would "repent" of the evil he had purposed to cause to fall upon the people for their rebellion. 

Jeremiah 26:3 ~ "If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings"

In v.13 Jeremiah states that God would repent of the destruction that he intends to bring if they would hear and obey God. Of course, the people didn't want to hear Jeremiah and were intent on killing him. The people who were intent on killing Jeremiah for his prophecy were reminded by certain Elders of Micha's prophecy (Micha 3:12) during the reign of Hezekiah in which the Lord promised the destruction of Jerusalem. What is interesting is that toward the end of Micha's prophecy, after prophesying destruction of Jerusalem, Micha begins to praise God for his mercy and states the following:

Micah 7:18-20 ~ 18-Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, and passeth by the transgression of the remnant of his heritage? he retaineth not his anger for ever, because he delighteth in mercy. 19-He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea. 20-Thou wilt perform the truth to Jacob, and the mercy to Abraham, which thou hast sworn unto our fathers from the days of old.

The phrase "turn again" indicates that God would change from the path of previous dealings into a new path remembering and emphasizing what he had promised previously.

In the book of Jonah, God goes to great lengths to instruct Jonah to warn Ninevah of the promised upcoming destruction. God tells Jonah that they have 40 days before he destroys them (Jonah 3:4) Ninevah repents of evil and God does not destroy them:

Jonah 3:10 ~ "And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not."

Now some have alluded to the fact that Ninevah was destroyed years later indicating that repentance of the people only delayed the actions of God. In other words God was going to destroy them, by course of action and that it was only just a matter of time. Aside from the fact that sentiments such as that are full of determinism, such interpretations are also a highly questionable.  The fact is that God told Jonah in his time, that destruction would fall upon Ninevah, and further gave a time frame that he did not ultimately follow because the people repented. This indicates that God changed something no matter how one looks at it.
   
Unalterable Actions vs. Unalterable Purpose

So when God says that he doesn't change, the questions are first, in what way do those statements apply to God? Secondly, we could ask is it necessary or is it the intent of scripture to communicate that the immutability of God applies to God's actions or dealings with man and mankind or does it apply to God's nature, being, essence and purpose only?

What we can readily observe from scripture is that God changes his dealings with man and mankind, based on mankind's response to him. So, as it pertains to the inability of God to change, I believe that scripture is communicating a deeper message than that of stasis in a particular or predetermined course of action.

On the other hand, the writer of the book of Hebrews is certainly convinced of God's immutability as he states the following:

Hebrews 6:17-1917-Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: 18-That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us: 19-Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;

Two Immutable Things

The "two immutable things" that the writer of Hebrews is actually referring to seem to be outlined in v.14 of the chapter. Here is the verse:

Hebrews 6: 1414-Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee.

Let's walk this back a minute: These things are actually referring to the Abrahamic promise found in Genesis after Abraham had proven his faith and obedience to God by his willingness to place all things, including his life and the life of his son (representing his future), before his own will and desire. When the Lord stopped him, which is what God would have done anyway, before Abraham realized that God did not want this type of sacrifice, Genesis recorded the following statements:

Genesis 22:15-1815-And the angel of the LORD called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16-And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: >>>17-That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore;<<<<< and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18-And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice

Hebrews 6:14 repeats part of v. 17 and followed by the 2 immutable promises found within the latter half of v. 17 and the first part of v.18:

1- "thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies"
2- "in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed"

These blessings indicate the deliverance of Israel and the messianic promise that will be delivered to the world. This is defines the statements "in blessing I shall bless thee" and "in multiplying I shall multiply thee". The conclusion then is that the providence or purpose of God was the element that was static, or immutable. The goodness or God or his ability to bring about the blessing was unalterable.   

Immutability of Nature & Character

When we put this together the picture begins to emerge that God's nature is constant throughout the complete struggle of man's existence and God alters his dealings with mankind based on his unalterable nature. Let's briefly look at a few instances where the notion of God's stability in character are challenged.

Israel In The Wilderness

As noted earlier, God delayed and turned from the destruction of Israel in the wilderness. This was because there was a deeper and more unalterable principle at work. Moses displayed the character of selfless love (Exodus 32:13) when he asked God to not destroy the encampment of Israel. He displayed the righteousness and justice of God when he commanded that those who had partaken in false worship and riotousness be put to death (Exodus 32:27)  and he displayed the holiness and mercy of God when he required that the people repent and consecrate themselves. (Exodus 32:29) When the people responded to God in repentance, God altered his dealings toward the people as we have already mentioned. Notice on the other hand however, when the people forsook him, his nature did not simply adjust to their sins. God was grieved and moved to deal with the issues in a manner consistent with a holy nature or a nature that wasn't appeased by sin and unrighteousness.

Marriage & Polygamy

Some say, "Well look at polygamy and divorce...God allowed both then and now both are considered to be a sin. So God's character has changed towards these two practices." 

Although I won't deal with a full scriptural treatment of those two examples in this writing, I will call your attention to the steadfast facts consistent with both of those behaviors. First, God never condoned those who divorced without cause (Matt. 19:8) or those who lived in polygamous relationships. (Matt.19:5) Taking the latter, if we examine every polygamous relationship outlined within scripture, we find that there was always a negative outcome for the families involved. There was no "blessing" pronounced on individuals who engaged in the practice. As to marriage, it was a blessed relationship and union since it's inception and honored by God. (Heb. 13:4

Given the evidence contained within scripture we begin to see that the character of God was always about holiness, righteousness and blessing mankind and that never changed neither was it altered. It was and yet remains immutable. 

Conclusion

When these things are taken into consideration the declaration of Malachi becomes more clear. Malachi indicates that the people of God (Jacob) is not consumed because the Lord DOESN'T change. So this verse emphasizes the unalterable nature of God's character in dealing with man and mankind. God may change his actions or methods in dealing with men, but the ultimate end is consistent and in line with an unalterable purpose and immutable character.   

God's mind does not change from the intent of doing good towards his people. Although in many instances people do things that violate the nature of God and frustrate his purpose. Even then, God yet allows the opportunity for repentance and restoration. In fact, within scripture, many times God changes from the destruction that the people brought upon themselves to apply mercy and a pardon of sins. This is an undeserved and unearned revelation of God's character. It is called grace, and we thank God for it! 

Blessed!

Additional Reading:

The character of God is a topic of high discussion in debate circles. We have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with some leading atheists and those who view God and Christianity negatively. The following dialogue with atheist Dr. Hector Avalos may offer some insightful information as you continue to study this and related topics concerning the character and nature of God. 


We got pretty deep and the content may be somewhat advanced in some areas, but the conversation was a spirited and gracious one. Thank you.    

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please send me an email if you try to post a comment and cannot do so. Dunamis1@netzero.com. Thanks.