No Variableness, Neither Shadow of Turning

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

James 1:17, KJV

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”

Malachi 3:6, ESV

The immutability and impassibility of God are two doctrines that are under constant fire. Immutability is the idea that God does not change. Impassibility is the idea that God does not experience emotions. These are beginning definitions. Truthfully, these are oversimplifications of complex doctrines.  The doctrines of impassibility and immutability are considered suspect because they do not with what we believe the psychology of God should be. Also, there is evidence in Scripture that God both changes and is affected emotionally by what happens in this world. Finally, they are considered suspect because we believe that these doctrines are a Greek imposition on Christianity that is foreign to the Hebrew conception of God. The quote from Malachi would certainly be an argument against this notion as would other passages from the Old Testament. The quote from James would also be an argument against that belief as well. James is certainly steeped in the wisdom tradition of the Old Testament. The practice of writing off these doctrines can also be attributed to an attempt resolve tensions in Scripture as it describes the nature of God.

The importance of these doctrines is bound up with how the world is held together. It is important to note that the Lord says he does not change and that is why Israel is not consumed. It is the immutability and impassibility of God that holds creation together. Impassibility is the doctrine that God is not mastered by his emotions. Discussions of the emotions of God throughout Scripture should be read with the understanding that God’s wrath is not our wrath and God’s jealousy is not our jealousy. Indeed, God’s love is not our love. When we speak of these aspects of God, we are attempting to describe him so that we can get a glimpse of the glory of the Lord. Our God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is wholly other. He has made us in his image, but we are not God. Therefore, the words we use to describe God are mere reflections of the glory that lies beyond our understanding.

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