I’m sure over the course of time as a Christian you’ve heard the phrase, “but God never changes.” A variation of this phrase is repeated several times in Scripture (See for example, Mal 3:6, Heb 13:8, James 1:17).
However, it is my contention that we often do not actually understand what this phrase means. At times we unintentionally misapply the concept to soothe tension in the Bible. Other times, we say “but God never changes” as a way to win a theological argument.
For example, I cannot count the times when my fellow Christians have quoted the Law of Moses and either insisted the Law still applies to Christians, or contended that the Law somehow reveals God’s true and unchanging character.
It usually works like this: I say, “Jesus taught us to love our enemies” and they say “But there’s all sorts of violence and enemy killing in the Old Testament, and God never changes.” This fancy trick can be applied to a host of issues– just quote a random verse, add to it “God never changes” and poof, the debate is supposedly settled.
(I take that back. I bet if you told them, “There was polygamy in the Old Testament, and God never changes!” they’d reject the argument.)
We use it in other ways that misapply the concept, but with perhaps less intentionality than as a debate winning strategy. For example, we might look at how God acted within a particular story in Scripture and insist that God would act that same way in other scenarios, because of course, “God never changes.” This too, I believe, is a mistaken use of the concept.
But, the Bible does say that God never changes. Like, a bunch of times. If we affirm Scripture, we affirm the truth of the statement– but what does it actually mean? What if the whole thing is a paradox and affirming that God never changes is actually an affirmation that God is always changing?
I believe affirming that God never changes is simply an affirmation of the central essence that makes God who God is. However, this doesn’t mean that God always acts the same from one situation to the next, or even that God doesn’t change his mind. It is simply an affirmation that God’s core essence is unchanging.
For example, I could say, “I am Benjamin L. Corey, and I never change” and this would be a true statement if I were speaking of the core essence of what makes me, me. My core essence is that I am a human being made up of all the molecules and DNA that makes a human a human. My core essence is also that I am an image bearer of God. In that regard, I never change. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t change my mind or that how I interact with the world around me, or in relationships, is always the same. Clearly, it’s not.
I believe the same can be said of God: God never changes because the essence of God never changes. In the Bible we are told that this essence is pure and complete love (1 John 4:8). Thus, we can say that God never changes because God is always love and nothing can make him less than love. Furthermore, we can say that God never changes because God is unable to act in any way that would be unloving. (For more on this concept, see the Uncontrolling Love of God by Dr. Thomas Jay Oord.) Thus, God is unchanging because God is love and God always acts in loving ways.
However, beyond the constraints of God’s love-essence, God does change. In Scripture we see both that God does change his mind, and does change in how he interacts with the world within given scenarios. Greg Boyd outlines some examples of God changing in this way:
“The Lord frequently changes his mind in the light of changing circumstances, or as a result of prayer (Exod. 32:14; Num. 14:12–20; Deut. 9:13–14, 18–20, 25; 1 Sam. 2:27–36; 2 Kings 20:1–7; 1 Chron. 21:15; Jer. 26:19; Ezek. 20:5–22; Amos 7:1–6; Jonah 1:2; 3:2, 4–10). At other times he explicitly states that he will change his mind if circumstances change (Jer. 18:7–11; 26:2–3; Ezek. 33:13–15). This willingness to change is portrayed as one of God’s attributes of greatness (Joel 2:13–14; Jonah 4:2).”
Now, why does any of this matter for the average Christian?
I think it matters a lot, but more than anything because it invites us to ask the same question that God is always asking: “What is the most loving choice out of all of the options available to me?”
God is unchanging love. But the way he loves changes all the time depending on the circumstance. In fact, love invites us to be constantly changing and adapting to achieve the most beauty that’s possible– even if that means we love in ways that contradict how we loved in the past. Ironically, the unchanging nature of God is the very thing that causes God to be constantly changing— because love always grows, changes, and surprises us in beautiful ways.
Yes, God changes. His unchanging essence of love demands it. That’s the paradox of love.
In Scripture I see a God who is always changing– not in essence, but in how to love a world that’s constantly changing. The reason God changes is due to a combination of his unchanging essence of perfect love, and the divine constraint that requires God to always seek the options that lead to the most beauty. As situations change, the options as to how to love best also change.
It’s how we went from Gentiles being out to Gentiles being in. It’s how the outcasts became the guests at God’s banquet. It’s how the late vineyard workers got paid a full day’s wage. It’s how the unclean became clean.
It’s why the excluded progressively become the included, even today.
Love changes as other variables change– even unchanging love.
And here’s where that ultimately matters: the Bible invites us to be imitators of God, and God it seems, is always asking: “What’s the most loving choice out of all the options available to me?”
Call me crazy, but I think maybe we should all ask that question a little more often.
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Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!
Interesting article. It does differ somewhat from my own personal belief, but it is not in conflict with it. Actually, it may further along my own thoughts, and for that I thank you for sharing. I have always felt that God does not change, but that we humans are evolving to understand Him better. I actually believe that is the point, is it not? We are trying to draw closer to Him and I believe we have had successes in some areas and failures in others. However, when I reconsider my own position I do believe that God’s unchanging attribute is that He does not change at His core as you describe. He will not respond to similar situations the same because similar does mean identical. There are no two identical situations and the repercussions of each situation will be different causing God to address them differently.
So brother Benjamin you “see a God who is always changing– not in essence, but in how to love a world that’s constantly changing” and that “the reason God changes is due to a combination of his unchanging essence of perfect love, and the divine constraint that requires God to always seek the options that lead to the most beauty. As situations change, the options as to how to love best also change.”
And this position you hold is quite evident in your belief that God has affirmed gay and lesbian Christians, despite what the word of God says about homosexuality, because our God is “always changing.”
So brother Benjamin is it your view that our God view has changed with regards to incest or bestiality? Would our God affirm any Christian who engages in either one of these acts so long as they are in a committed monogamous relationship and that heaven doors would be opened to them upon dying? Since you hold the belief that our God is “constantly changing” so that he now affirms gay unions because most of the world nations has changed to accept homosexuality, then simple logic would hold that you would view that our God now affirms incest, bestiality, or any sexual act that the word of God condemns correct?
Why is it that nearly Every. Single. Time homosexuality is mentioned, the whole “incest and bestiality” argument pops up? I remember history class teaching that these were pretty much the same arguments against interracial marriage…I’ve seen scripture used to justify that view too. Interracial marriage been allowed for decades and the world hasn’t ended yet. I don’t see it ending this time either.
I’d personally argue that God doesn’t change, even in the way God loves; but our understanding of God does change. A lot of the old testament (and a fair bit of the new) is people’s perception of how God is, so just because someone in the OT says “God changes his mind” doesn’t necessarily mean that’s true. Revelation is progressive, but God doesn’t change.
No conservative wants to answer this…..
Did God change His mind on killing gay people and is it an immoral law (think ISIS)?
“But, the Bible does say that God never changes. Like, a bunch
of times. If we affirm Scripture, we affirm the truth of the statement–
but what does it actually mean? What if the whole thing is a paradox and
affirming that God never changes is actually an affirmation that God is always changing?”
I would respond that God is unity, which would include everything. In that unity of one nothing changes, but what is inside that unity would change; therefore we have duality in unity.
How can any parent ever believe our Father and Brother in heaven cannot change with Their children that They love more dearly than any carnal parent (all combined as one) has ever yet learned to love? How can any real teacher who has stayed and related in relationship with her/his class for even a semester not know that in the end the Teacher learns more from that class than His disciples?
We have been graced the seed of a spirit in the image of our Creator that They may harvest the fruit that can only come from the spontaneous and dynamic relationship of free choice granted a child by his/her parent. I had the choice, at the beginning, to keep my children in a rubber room sterile from any new ideas and perspectives other than what was of my ideas and perspectives. My children would have, to this day forty years later, no scars from struggling to learn to be responsible for themselves and theirs.
I grew and changed with my children as does my Father and Brother in heaven grow and change with me. Oh, the memories of non-coerced or rehearsed laughter, joy, heartache when sharing each unpredictable moment with my children in reciprocal love…
What would we, God and us, do for an eternity together if not share all we can together as we learn, change accordingly, and learn again to change accordingly? We are each in God unpredictable except in our love for each other.
There is no value to me in inheriting eternal life if all it is singing robotic praises to God or having to be all alone on my cloud strumming my harp. My God loves sharing the newness of each new unpredictable day that I wake right here on earth while with and in me. I don’t want this divine relationship I know today to end but yearn for it to continue to grow well beyond the limitations of this carnal earth as I am ready; always subject to change according to the influential contributions of each of us who are learning to love as we are loved more each day by God.
“What’s the most loving choice out of all the options available to me?”
This is a very good article with a very good message.
Another way of looking at it is that God is Unchangeable but the world, that is not Divine but contains the Divine, is constantly in flux. Our ability to describe what is Unchangeable is hampered by a language that can only describe that which is in constant flux. We say “God is angry” “God has changed God’s Mind” etc. because that is all we can conceive of and that is all our language is able to do. The way we describe God is similar to the way people used to think the sky moved but the earth was still. We change, God the Perfect One does not.
What if the whole thing is a paradox and affirming that God never changes is actually an affirmation that God is always changing?
Could God change from a being that hated something to a being that loved that which he had before hated? I think this is what scares the average person who could even bring himself to think about such things. Could I become unloving to God and therefore become unloved by Him?
The problem with those who adhere to ‘open theism’ is that they often reduce God. And they ignore the fact that God is not subject to time – space and time are interlinked as shown by Einstein, and as God is not limited by space so He is not limited to or affected by time. The idea that the future is unknowable, even by God, is ludicrous.
‘Its how we went from Gentiles being out to Gentiles being in…’. Yes but that was God’s plan all along. We just didnt understand it. He didnt change His mind.
I tend to say God’s character never changes. He’s not loving one day, unloving the next. He’s not idealistic in public, pragmatic in secret (no matter how Calvinists like to describe the “secret will” of his they’ve invented). He’s the same, in this sense, yesterday today and forever.
But change of plans? Change of mind? Sure; happens all over the bible.
“…love invites us to be constantly changing and adapting to achieve the most beauty that’s possible– even if that means we love in ways that contradict how we loved in the past.”
Such a beautiful way of explaining this concept!