The Doctrine of Immutability: Does God Change His Mind?

Each week I am assigned a theological reflection on a particular doctrine. I was personally encouraged by my assignment this week and thought I would share my reflection with you. May the immutability of God bring joy, peace, and assurance to your faith.

Millard Erickson posits that the basis for the doctrine of immutability is both biblical and philosophical. (God the Father Almighty, 96-97) Three passages provide the biblical support for immutability or God’s changelessness: Psalm 102:25-27, Malachi 3:6, and James 1:17. James 1:17 more fully encompasses the doctrine. James reminds his reader that God and the Father of Lights are the same being.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” (NKJV)

Although the above passage indicates there is no change with God contemporary interpreters must interact with other passages that appear to connote a change in God’s actions toward humanity. Philosophy can function as an interpretive tool for problem passages.

Erickson includes philosophy as the basis for the doctrine of immutability by referring to how Greeks understood reality. Platonic thinkers perceived reality as divided into two levels: the upper level of reality includes the invisible but intelligible, is absolute and therefore more real, and the lower level which includes ideas or forms that are subject to change and therefore less real. Aristotelian thinkers on the other hand understand reality in terms of potentiality and actuality. In Aristotelianism “God” is static and does not change. Erickson summarizes the Aristotelian understanding thusly, “God” being fully actual cannot change because he has no potentiality no fully realized.” (God the Father Almighty, 99) How one understands reality directly or indirectly affects his understanding of the doctrine of immutability. Erickson properly reminds us that “God is an active, dynamic being at work in the world and that [his activity] is “stable rather than unstable.”  (God the Father Almighty, 112) Scripture and philosophy do not necessarily contradict one another when discussing the immutability of God, but rather complement one another. Contemporary interpreters can and should discuss this doctrine by engaging with philosophical conversation. Erickson provides us with three solutions to passages that seem to indicate that God changed his mind.

These three solutions are ways of understanding God’s relationship to humanity. Problem passages should be understood as anthropomorphisms or anthropropathisms. The biblical writer sought to describe God’s actions and feelings in human terms to convey God’s message to his people. Erickson also posits that apparent changes of mind are really only new stages in the working out of God’s [redemptive] plan. He includes the example of God’s offer of salvation to the Gentiles, which was originally offered to Israel. Other apparent changes of mind are “changes of orientation resulting from humans’ move into a different relationship with God.” (Erickson, 249-51) Dissertations can be written in favor of Erickson’s third solution highlighting the significance of human prayer in relationship to Divine acts.

Conclusion

Some passages of Scripture seem to indicate that God changes his mind. Interpreters must carefully interact with Biblical and philosophical content. Millard Erickson has provided the church with helpful solutions to the apparent changes in God. His conclusion functions as an encouragement to the Christian and the church. “God is dependable. He will be the same tomorrow as He is today.” (Erickson, 250, Lam.3:22-23) Peter Geach also provides a helpful conclusion when he says, “Confidence in God and his promises that Christians have can only be experienced and justified on the basis of the immutability of God. This guarantees that God can and will fulfill His promises.” (Cited by Erickson in God the Father Almighty, 100) We serve an amazing God.

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