Growth & Change Back to blog list
We are called to change and the pursuit of perfection, but by way of contrast God is often described as unchanging, as perfect. This distinction is worth a few moments’ reflection.
God was described by classical theologians in terms such as uncreated, unbegotten, immortal, infinite, unalterable, passionless and unchanging. The argument for God’s unchanging nature came both from scripture (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17) and from Greek philosophy. It was thought that any quantitative or qualitative change in God’s being would negate his perfection. Certainly a perfect God cannot be more perfect, and anything less than perfection would imperil his deity. The argument was therefore advanced that God must be unchangeable. However, this view has been challenged.
Unchangeability seemed to suggest that God cannot be moved emotionally, nor is he able to suffer. God, it was declared, acts completely freely, and is not moved by any of the passions and feelings that affect or sway our decisions. However, this attempt to protect the perfection of God raised problems. It prevented us from ascribing compassion to God; a characteristic that seems to be a major part of the biblical revelation of God. It also brought into question the suffering of Christ. If Christ were truly divine how could he suffer? The solution seemed to be that the eternal Son of God did not suffer on the cross, but only his humanity was subject to suffering. Yet this seemed to divide the person of the Son in ways not supported by the biblical account. The incarnate Son of God is never seen as two persons; he is the one person, Christ Jesus, with two natures. If the Son suffers, then God must suffer. Furthermore, the death of Christ on the cross is not an action isolated from God the Father and the Holy Spirit, but the Triune God acting in unity to redeem mankind. The work of the Son is to do the will of the Father. Of course, the suffering of the Son is not the same as the suffering of the Father. The Father’s suffering came as ‘he did not spare his own son’. The son’s suffering came as he laid down his life for us.
If you are still with me and have not thrown up your hands at those who attempt to understand what God is like, it seems we need to think more carefully about the unchangeable nature of God. God, we would agree, is unchangeable in his eternal nature, his sovereignty, his power, his holiness and his character. However, this does not mean that he is inactive or passive. It does not mean that he is incapable of feeling, of suffering and of compassion. So perhaps a better word to describe his character would be ‘constant’ rather than ‘unchangeable’. He is constant and consistent in his character and faithfulness, constant in his love and grace. His constancy brings the assurance that what he starts he will finish, that he will bring creation to the conclusion that he has promised.
God entered into human history with a decisive action. ‘The word became flesh and dwelt among us.’
Whatever this ‘becoming flesh’ means, in the final analysis the one sitting at the right hand of God the Father is the Son of man. Through his incarnation, death and resurrection he is eternally clothed in humanity, the first of many to rise from the dead. Somehow, in a way we can hardly comprehend, God embraced change for us.
In seeking to grow in our relationship with God and to grow as the community of God’s people, it seems that our salvation must be worked out in both constancy and change. The challenge to embrace constancy speaks to our character, to the embracing of the disciplines of the spiritual life. Consistent, constant faithfulness on our part will build a persistent resilience in us to resist the pressure of this world to conform to its way of life, and instead, to be changed into the likeness of Christ.