Why I Love God’s ImmutabilitySeptember 2011
by Kathy Keller
I hate change. I hated it as a child, when I dressed my Shirley Temple doll in her nicest outfit and sat her on my dresser, never to comb her hair (my sisters did, and it ruined it) or change her clothes (why trade down?) again.
I hated it as a teenager, when I had a bedroom to myself for the first time. I chose the matching curtains and bedspread (blue and green) and the lamps (faux Spanish wrought iron) and once completed, the furniture stayed in the same place and with the same appointments until the house was sold 37 years later!
I hate it even more, now that age is creeping up. Having turned the corner into my 60’s, all I see around me is change. And underneath my dislike of change is a fear of change—maybe what I have today I’ll lose tomorrow. Or what comes next may not be a good as what came before.
All of this is caused, of course, because I ground my happiness in circumstances, particularly stable circumstances, ones that don’t change and therefore don’t have the potential to disappoint me. No two proverbs are more terrifying to me than: “This, too, will pass,” and what has been described as an ancient Middle Eastern curse: “May you live in interesting times.” A curse, indeed.
All that said, it is no surprise that the attribute of God that I find myself clinging to most frequently is his immutability. First a word about divine attributes. These are the classic characteristics of God that theologians have long used to describe the nature of God. They include the incommunicable attributes of God (meaning the ones that are his alone) such as omnipotence (he is all-powerful), omniscience (he is all-knowing), and omnipresence (he is present everywhere). Then there are the communicable attribute, which, like the flu, are ones we can “catch” by being close to God: his holiness, love, justice, wisdom, mercy, grace, and righteousness.
God’s immutability is one of his incommunicable attributes. We change, but God does not. The scriptures make this clear. “You remain the same, and your years will never end.” (Psalm 102:27). “I the Lord do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change…” (James 1:17)
God is showing his tender care for his fragile and changeable creatures by stressing his own changelessness. We will have to accept change, whether we like it or not, because in this world nothing stays the same. Change will come, whether we like it or not, whether we plan for it or not, and so we need to anchor our security and happiness firmly in God’s unchangeability. He will not be transient. He will not be one way today and another way tomorrow. He doesn’t have moods, or bad days, or whims, or “new, improved” anything. Being perfect, any change would be a move away from perfection. He is a burning, shining love: holy, solid, dependable, the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Even his personal, covenant name proclaims this: Yahweh can be translated accurately as all of these: I am who I am. I will be who I will be. I have been what I have been.
What can this mean to you and me? For one thing, when we see things slipping out of our grasp, we need not mourn their loss. Children grow up. They change from darling little babies to difficult teens and independent adults. Jobs come and go. So do money, fame, looks, health, and every other facet of our reality. But God can be depended upon to be the same loving savior today, tomorrow and into eternity. We can let go of the rest, because we will always have him. Augustine famously said of God, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee.” As one writer paraphrased it, “only love of the immutable can yield tranquility.”
I try to practice this truth by not giving into the very large dollop of sentimentality that makes up my personality. I never saved my children’s artwork. I don’t take many pictures or keep mementos, because I don’t want to find myself sifting through a box of keepsakes and grieving over the past when God is with me in the present. (This doesn’t mean, by the way, that scrapbooking or taking photos is in any way wrong; I just know what a temptation it will be for me personally to look backwards with yearning, rather than forward with anticipation.)
Finally, as Redeemer moves into a new stage of growth, I want to apply this truth to all the changes that many accompany becoming four collegiate congregations. First, change is always a bumpy ride. Not every decision will be the right one, nor will every alteration be for the best. And every change—even the best and right ones—will be experienced by some people as a loss. And yet ultimately our goal is even more of the same, gospel-centered ministry in the future that has born so much fruit in the past. Since we are all brothers and sisters, we can give feedback constructively, but without acrimony or resentment if our suggestions aren’t adopted. As one lead pastor recently told me “Feedback is our friend.” It was said in a joking tone, but he was serious.
Let us be patient with changes, give them a chance, and not spend time thinking about the “good ‘ole days.” God will continue to lead Redeemer, and though the scenery may change, he will not.
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