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An Unchanging God in a Changing World

Battling Pain with an Unchanging God:

We know from experience that evil and suffering can leave us feeling unloved and at times doubting God, but it is at these moments when the doctrine of God can most lift us up. The Bible is filled with all of God’s glorious attributes, but the attribute of divine immutability can help us battle pain and build trust in God. This doctrine teaches that God’s nature does not change (cf. Mal 3:6; 1 Sam 15:29; Isa 46:9-11; Jas 1:17). Herman Bavinck explains that, “The contrast between being and becoming marks the difference between the Creator and creature…”.[1] What does this mean for us? We experience change because we are created creatures who are becoming. God, on the other hand, cannot change because he is the Creator who is being. Inevitably, what changes and what remains the same is contingent on its nature. For this reason, understanding God’s immutability can help us overcome pain.


God Has Not Changed His Mind:


No matter how difficult our situations may be, God has not changed his mind about his love for us. Take for example when God said, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands” (1 Samuel 15:10-11). Did God really regret? It appears that God has changed His mind about Saul, but remember, God is immutable. How can this be reconciled? Consider the logic of Saint Anselm of Canterbury, when he explained how God is merciful and yet, not merciful:

In fact, You are (merciful) according to our way of looking at things and not according to Your way. For when You look upon us in our misery it is we who feel the effect of Your mercy, but You do not experience the feeling. Therefore, You are both merciful because You save the sorrowful and pardon sinners against You; and You are not merciful because You do not experience any feeling of compassion for misery.[2]

To be clear, Anselm is not saying that God is “…devoid of true feeling or has no affections, but in the sense that his emotions are active and deliberate expressions of his holy dispositions, not involuntary passions by which he is driven.”[3] God’s emotions do not correspond to our situations, but is a reflection of who He is. In the case with 1 Samuel 15, God regrets and He does not regret. From God’s perspective, he does not regret because He cannot experience regret, but from the perspective of man, God appears to have regretted. Hermeneutically, we call this the use of “anthropomorphic language.” [4] This is when God is described with humanlike characteristics. Furthermore, the context later clarifies that, “…the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.” Whatever hardships we may face, let us battle with the reminder that God has not changed His mind. God’s love is not based upon our performance, but upon His own nature of love. For this reason, He does not undergo emotional change to which His love could waver. If we are honest with ourselves, it may be that our love for Him has changed and not God’s.


The Battle is More than Just Pain:


While we pray and ask God to alleviate pain, we must realize that the battle requires us to look beyond our pain and trust God. The Bible explains that, “…our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). The battle we face is not just in the pain itself, but ultimately, is a battle of spiritual warfare. The creation account reveals that the culprit behind doubt is Satan. He intends to blind people from seeing the gospel (2 Cor 4:4) and his deception is ongoing. Ed Welch explains, “If you suspect that you are vulnerable to Satan’s lies … rephrase those lies and see that they are more about God than they are about you.”[5] Who will we believe, Satan or God? Our pain is real, but if we give into Satan’s deceptive lies, we will begin to think that God has changed. As a result, we will be plagued with doubt. Our situations may change, but God does not. He does not become weak when we need Him most, nor does He abandon us. God’s provision and care has not changed, and to overcome adversaries, we must trust Him, not run from Him. While we desire instant gratification, God desires ongoing faithful satisfaction. The Bible instructs us to, “…lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us and to fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfector of our faith” (Heb 12:2). Satan may try to drown us with doubt in God, but we keep our minds above the pain, and eyes fixed on Jesus.


Hang onto Truth:


So, what exactly can we trust God with? When dealing with pain, we need to ask, “Is the Bible enough?” One of the greatest challenges for Christians today is knowing how to navigate pain with trust in God’s words. If Bible study is not already a discipline in our lives, this battle will more than likely end in one way; we will lose. Dealing with pain is not easy, and the road to recovery may be long, but understand that the battle begins and ends with how much we are committed to studying and trusting God’s words. While the Bible is not a spell book to cast away pain, it is the tower of truth against all misguided beliefs. Remember, pain makes us vulnerable to deception, and the best way to fight it is to hold onto to God’s unchanging truth. Consider the numerous examples of men and women, like the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, who have suffered and yet remained faithful to God. How were they able to get through their difficulties? By trusting in God’s words! J.I. Packer argues that God’s immutability is the link between Christians then and now. He concludes, “Fellowship with Him, trust in His word, living by faith, standing on the promises of God, are essentially the same realities for us today as they were for Old and New Testament believers.”[6] God’s immutability guarantees that the Bible is trustworthy and enough for us to battle pain. Do not lose hope and “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Romans 12:2). When faced with pain, do not ease off the pedal of Bible study, but go full throttle.


The Victory:


The doctrines of God are not meant for the academia only, but for practical life applications. As we have seen, God’s immutability has tremendous meaning for our battles against evil and suffering. Let us arm ourselves with more knowledge of God and nothing less. Dealing with pain is no easy task but let us remember that the greatest battle has already been won for us in Jesus. When we confess our sins and trust in Jesus for salvation, we are eternally saved. God’s love has been gifted fully at the cross, and this love will never change. How comforting it is to know that when God calls us, He does not change His mind! How assuring it is to read Romans 8:1 and know that there is “no condemnation in Christ.”

 

***footnotes***


[1] Bavinck, Herman, The Doctrine of God, trans. William Hendriksen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth), 149.


[2] Anselm of Canterbury, The Major Works , ed. Brian Davies and G.R. Evans (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 91.


[3] Ibid.


[4] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue. Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 170.


[5] Edward T. Welch, Depression, Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2011), 54. Kindle


[6] J.I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 73. Kindle

 

Lou Her (BS, Toccoa Falls College) is a husband to Jennifer and a father to two beautiful daughters. He has served faithfully in the Hmong District of the Christian and Missionary Alliance for over seven years and is currently a full-time MDiv student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. Lou and Jennifer are passionate about the proclamation of the Gospel, the health of the church, and the development of families.


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