Greg Boyd recently wrote an article introducing a series in which he will explore the question, “Is God Immutable?” He explains that God’s immutability is a Platonian concept that reasoned if a perfect being cannot be improved or diminished, then God must be unchanging. Boyd explains that the view became popular in Christianity, but he suggests that the Bible does not present an immutable, or unchanging, God. “Even more fundamentally,” Boyd asks, “where in the Bible do we find the slightest hint that God is unaffected by what takes place in our lives or that he is timeless?”
He asks this question as if the answer is “nowhere.”
He continues, “The entire biblical narrative rather reveals a God who dynamically interacts with his people. We are greatly affected by God, but God is also greatly affected by us.”
He’s right, but he couldn't be more wrong. God certainly experiences emotions. He regretted making man. He has been angry with his people. He rejoices in salvation and redemption. But his experiences and emotions are not suggestions that he did not know what was coming or that he ever learns something new. And they certainly don’t suggest that he changes. “Where in the Bible do we find the slightest hint that God is unaffected by us?”
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Even when they perish, but You endure;
And all of them will wear out like a garment;
Like clothing You will change them and they will be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.
Greg Boyd is one of, if not the, greatest advocate for open theism, a doctrine that suggests that the future is open and that God cannot know the future because it has not yet been determined. Personally, I believe open theism is the logical outworking of Classical Arminianism and libertarian freedom. But that’s an argument for a different day. The point is that Boyd believes that if God has given man a truly free will, then God can’t know with certainty what man will choose.
One of the fallacies of Boyd’s argument is that he critiques those with a closed/settled view by saying that they follow the philosophy of Plato but do not follow Scripture and then uses a philosophical argument to refute it. He suggests that God’s immutability and God’s experience of emotion are incompatible.
There’s no perfect parallel to relate God’s nature and man’s nature, but let me give you one practical example of how it’s not necessarily true that God’s experiences and God’s immutability are not incompatible.
A father is teaching his son to ride a bike. He knows that his son is going to fall down on the first few attempts. He knows that his son is going to, at times, get frustrated and want to give up. However, even when the boy falls, the father feels bad for his son. When the boy wants to give up, the father pleads with his son to keep trying. The father goes through this experience with his son, but is the father’s nature necessarily changed by this experience? No. And this is even more true with a Father who knows all things. He is with us in our experiences, but he is not changed by us.
Is God Immutable? Yes, absolutely. Does he have experiences of emotion and suffering and joy? Yes, absolutely.
Bruce Ware is one of Greg Boyd’s biggest critics. One of the things he often says is that if open theism is true, then, in His plan for Christ on the cross, God got really lucky. If open theism is true, then prophecy is ultimately guesswork. If open theism is true, then God has no way of truly assuring his people of anything. Ware wrote a book called, “God’s Lesser Glory,” to refute open theism. He talks about the daily dangers of this doctrine:
“While open theists claim that their view enhances the reality and genuineness of relationship with God, the truth is that the gains they propose are not real, while the losses incurred are tragically great. In a word, what is lost in open theism is the Christian’s confidence in God. Think about it. When we are told that God: can only guess what much of the future will bring; is relatively reliable only when predicting things close at hand; cannot be trusted to give accurate guidance on matters that are far into the future; constantly sees many of his beliefs about the future proved wrong by what in fact transpires; reevaluates the rightness or wrongness of his own past conduct based on what he learned moment by moment; even regrets at times that his own decisions or his counsel to those who have trusted him have actually resulted in harm instead of the good he intended — given this portrayal of God, what happens to the believer’s sense of confidence before God?…While claiming to offer meaningfulness to Christian living, open theism strips the believer of the one thing needed most for a meaningful and vibrant life of faith: absolute confidence in God’s character wisdom, word, promise, and the sure fulfillment of his will.”
It is easy to see why many liberal theologians are drawn to open theism. Many of them will readily admit that there are passages in the Bible that are troubling. They are uncomfortable with God’s wrath. They are uncomfortable with what Scripture says about suffering. They are uncomfortable with what Scripture says about sin. If we serve a God who is open, then the doctrine of God suddenly becomes more palatable. Liberal theologians ultimately need a God who changes if their understanding of sin, man’s nature, God’s nature, and man’s relationship with God is going to hold water.
The problem for liberal theologians is that Scripture presents an unchanging God who knows all things. Scripture presents a God whose providence reigns over all things. Scripture presents a God who is eternal. Scripture presents a God who makes promises and is faithful to keep them. God’s nature does not change, and that is an incredibly good thing for us.
To liberal theologians, I offer this response: God uses our sin and our suffering to draw us closer to himself. Consider the first three verses of Hosea 6 (emphasis mine):
“Come, let us return to LORD.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
So let us know, let us press on to know the LORD.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.”
If we have any true hope, then we must answer, “Yes!” to the question, “Is God immutable?” In all of your experience, God is with you. In all of your suffering, God is with you. In all of your joy, God is with you. May the immutability of God be a comfort for you as you rest in his promises.