I is for Immutability and Impassibility

“God is unchangeable!”

You’ve said it; I’ve said it; we’ve all said it. But, at least for most of us, we don’t believe it.

You see, in many Christian circles, that I have been a part of, to say that God is unchangeable or unchanging seems to be pious. In other words, if you deny that God is unchanging then you are somehow “lesser” or not even Christian at all.

I think that this is because the Christian tradition (I speak for Western Christianity) has been hijacked, at times, by Greco-Roman philosophical values. These values, namely immutability (inability to mutate or change), has been imposed on God; this value is a foreign invader.

Let me get something straight. I do not deny God’s immutability; I just define it differently. I believe that God is wholly unchanging in his most basic character (loving, good, kind, wise, strong, etc). However, I do deny that God is entirely immutable. To say that God cannot change whatsoever is to affirm that God is static rather than relational, that he is un-involved rather than reactionary.

Perhaps an example would be helpful. Let’s say that you pray to God for something. If God is totally unchangeable then God cannot respond to your prayer. He has already decreed that whatever will happen will happen. However, if God is reactionary and changeable, although not in his essential character, then God can both listen to and answer your prayers and petitions.

And because God is unchangeable then God cannot experience emotions. If God cannot change then God is emotionless (impassible). Some suggest that God is impassible because that would imply that God can be better or worse than God already is. Though this is a great point, it would suggest that God could not experience sadness or sorrow. This would mean that God does not actually grieve over death, rape, and destruction. This would mean that God could also not be joyful. If God is impassible then God cannot delight in our obedience to him or that our songs of praise do not tickle his ears (metaphorically, of course). Some suggest that the emotion language of the Bible is just anthropomorphic, or giving human language to God. To that, all I can say is, “Humbug.”

And so if God is both unchangeable, therefore implying that God is also emotionless, I might suggest that this is a God entirely different from the one that I read about in the Bible.

And if God could not change in any sense, what do we make of the incarnation; what do we make of Jesus? Didn’t God have to self-limit in some capacity (jury’s still out on this debate) in order to become human? Wouldn’t God have to change in order to put on human form? And if God did not come in human flesh, where would our full and total salvation come from?

Frankly, I am glad that God changes just enough so that I can have an intimate relationship with him and to know that he truly cares for me.

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