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October 24, 2007 / Daniel

God is immutable

What do we mean when we say that God is immutable?  I’ve been wrestling over this in my mind as I write my doctrinal statement for Christian Theology.   Here’s what I have so far. 

As an immutable being, He does not change in regard to His character and purposes. He cannot call something evil for one moment and then call it good in the next. God’s unchanging nature does not mean that God is impassive or immobile. Rather, as a relational being, God deals with humanity in different ways at different times.  But as He interacts with us, He always remains true to the essence of His being.

 Feedback?  I would love to hear from both Reformed folks and open theists.

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6 Comments

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  1. Bryan L / Oct 24 2007 2:09 pm

    As an open theists I can agree with everything you just said. I wondered though if this is the traditional description of immutable? I’ve always been a bit confused and thought impassive was kind of the same thing as immutable or that they overlapped a lot. Would those throughout church history (especially the early church) agree with your definition or would they need to add a lot more to it?

    Blessings,
    Bryan L

  2. fiester25 / Oct 24 2007 7:55 pm

    Bryan,

    It’s good to hear from you.

    I thought that Bill Craig’s Philosophical Foundations was pretty helpful in explaining this. He talked about the difference between external changes and internal changes.

    Wayne Grudem’s Theology said that the Westminister Confession holds to divine impassivity, but he rejected it because it makes God immobile. And besides that, Scripture speaks of His different emotional reactions to different things.

    Daniel

  3. Levi Michael / Oct 25 2007 1:33 pm

    In the Orthodox Church the whole thing is treated differently, in that we/they distinguish between the essence and the energies of God. Basically, the essence of God is what we are describing when we talk about the immutability/impassability of God. The energies are the ways in which the fullness of God condescends to interact with us. Bear in mind that the energies of God are as much God as the essence.
    For instance, are the OT manifestations of God or the preincarnate Christ actually God or are they creatures? Blessed Augustine said they were creatures. In the east they are as much God as God is in His essence.
    Dr. David Bradshaw, a philosopher professor at University of Kentucky, has written extensively on these deep theological differences between East and West.

  4. Levi Michael / Oct 25 2007 1:34 pm

    Dr. David Bradshaw, a philosophy professor at University of Kentucky, has written extensively on these deep theological differences between East and West.

  5. fiester25 / Oct 25 2007 5:31 pm

    How does the Orthodox church define the impassability of God?

    According to Grudem, the Westminister Confession meant that God doesn’t have emotions. That seems too much for me.

  6. Steve Bradley / Feb 23 2008 4:58 pm

    Just a point of clarification from a Reformed guy…

    I’d like to respond to the quote from Grudem. It was stated above:

    “Wayne Grudem’s Theology said that the Westminister Confession holds to divine impassivity, but he rejected it because it makes God immobile. And besides that, Scripture speaks of His different emotional reactions to different things.”

    Yes, the WCF does teach the impassivity of God, but it’s incorrect to charge us with believing God is immobile. Indeed, our Lord does act in many ways; in a certain sense it could be said that He’s always in action to some degree. Impassivity does not require the belief that God is immobile. It simply means that God is not moved by anything outside Himself…

    The fact that Scripture speaks about God having emotions (anger, wrath, jealousy, pleasure, etc.) doesn’t necessitate that we understand God to have emotions like us. God is immutable, meaning He never changes. He forever remains in a state of perfect blessedness. With us, our emotions change from moment to moment corresponding to what’s going on in us or around us, but not so with God. That would be for Him to change, which we know He doesn’t. Nothing can cause God to do anything; He only does whatsoever He has purposed to do from all eternity. He doesn’t react to anything. He has decreed all things that come to pass. He’s never surprised by anything because He’s immutable in His knowledge. He knows what we’re going to do from eternity past. When we read about our God having emotions, we do well to understand such descriptions as language of condescension; the Lord reveals Himself to us in this way. It’s similar to the way that we might speak to an infant with “baby language” or something like this. Remember, the Scriptures also refer to God as having wings, arms, hands, eyes, etc., yet we know God is a Spirit. These are what we refer to in theology as anthropomorphisms; attributing things to God for the sake of conveying a truth about Him in language that we can understand.

    Thanks for the opportunity to try and clarify the Reformed understanding…

    Blessings!

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