The words to the beloved hymn “Abide With Me” were written by Howard F. Lyte as he was dying of tuberculosis. In this song he declares:
Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day; Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
The dying hymn writer found comfort in the fact that God does not change. The theologians refer to this as the attribute of immutability. James speaks of it when he characterizes God as “the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
Unlike the world around us, which is marked by decay and “shifting shadows,” God’s character and faithfulness are constant. As the Giver of every good and perfect gift, He can always be trusted. The gods of pagan mythology were capricious and given to selfish whims. They might be appeased by sacrifice but could not be trusted. Those who worshiped such gods believed they might receive good things from their hands one day and evil things the next. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, is incapable of doing evil. He cannot sin and does not entice others to sin (James 1:13–15).
By describing God as the Father of heavenly lights, James links the attribute of immutability with divine power. The God we worship and serve created the universe and controls it. Every changing circumstance we face must first pass through the gate of His good purpose for our lives.
Why Theology Matters
Theologian Herman Bavinck has observed, “If God were not immutable, He would not be God.” His essence, attributes, and understanding do not change. He is never in a quandary, never in doubt about what the future holds, and never uncertain of what He will do about it. He will never be less than He is and does not need to be more. He will always be worthy of our worship.
FOR FURTHER READING
Read more about the immutability of God in The Doctrine of God by Herman Bavinck (Baker).