16 February, 2020

FAQ — God’s Unchangeableness/Immutability

Q. 1. “It has been argued by some, in answer to the claim that common grace conflicts with God’s absolute immutability/unchangeableness, that God can sovereignly and immutably decree a sequence of dispositionsi.e., God can eternally decree to hate the reprobate in time, and not want to save them, and then decree that, when the world is created, and when people are conceived and born, that He will also have a ‘love’ and ‘favourable disposition’ towards them (a love and favour shown to them in all manner of earthly good things) … and then decree that, after their death, He will have nothing but hatred’ towards them and not want to save them.”

“This view has God not only changing, but has God decreeing to change Himself! God’s decree pertains to everything outside Himself. He doesn’t decree HimselfHe is Himself (“I am that I am”—Exod. 3:14); and what God decrees or purposes or counsels pertains to the world that He made, everything in it, and what will happen. This view makes [God] decree to change Himself—whereas [according to James 1:17], there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning in God, in His attributes, in His attitudes, in His decree, in His persons, in His being, etc.” (Rev. Angus Stewart, sermon on James 1:17-18 [trans.])


Q. 2. “When Jesus received the wrath of God for sin was this a new experience for God, who is an unchanging (non-contingent) Being? How could God be angry with God?”

This issue is, while difficult for us to understand, extremely important. It assumes that Christ, who is the eternal Son of God, bore God’s wrath against sin. That is, God was angry with God. How can that be? … And if it is true that God was angry with Christ, does this anger of God mean that God is changeable? Yet Scripture very clearly teaches that God is unchangeable, but wrath towards Christ, the eternal Son of God, would seem to indicate change, for God also loved His Son.
As “non-contingent,” God is in Himself independent; that is, He depends on no being or power outside Himself for His existence. He is eternal. The creation is contingent; that is, the creation is dependent upon God for its existence … [U]nchangeability is rooted in non-contingency; while contingency means changeableness.
We must distinguish, first, between the Triune God and our Lord Jesus Christ. While it is true that Christ is personally the Second Person of the Holy Trinity and, as Nicea put it so forcibly, “true God of true God,” He is the eternal and unchangeable Son of God in our flesh. He united the divine nature with the human nature in the one Person of the Son. He is both true God and true man. This is the mystery of the incarnation.
The relation between our Lord Jesus Christ and God is a father-son relation. The Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. When Gabriel described to Mary how she would be the mother of the Lord, he said, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
The Triune God eternally appointed Christ to be the mediator of the covenant and to accomplish full and complete redemption on behalf of the elect. He was chosen to accomplish God’s purpose as God’s Son in our flesh, so that God Himself accomplishes redemption. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (II Cor. 5:19).
Christ fulfilled His calling by coming into our flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary, suffering the wrath of God, dying on the cross, rising from the dead and ascending into heaven where He is exalted as Lord of all.
We are told by the Scriptures that Christ bore the wrath of God against sin from the beginning of His incarnation to the end of His life on earth. Here is a wonder: while Christ bore the wrath of God throughout His life, He was also conscious of God’s approval. At His baptism and in the presence of His enemies, a voice sounded from heaven: “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Christ heard that voice and rejoiced in it. Thus Christ experienced both God’s wrath and God’s favour.
How can this experience of wrath and favour be present at the same time? The explanation seems to be along these lines. It was indeed possible for Christ to know and experience both the wrath and the favour of God at the same time, because in bearing God’s wrath, He was obeying the will of God, fulfilling His calling and accomplishing His Father’s purpose. He knew God’s favour because He was obedient to God. That continued all His life. Perhaps an analogy can be found in a son who is punished by his father for some misdeed, but knows that the punishment is rooted in his father’s love for him.
However, as Christ neared the cross, the consciousness of God’s wrath grew greater and greater, while the consciousness of God’s favour grew dimmer. While on the cross, during those awful hours when Christ suffered all the torments of hell, the consciousness of God’s favour was completely swallowed up in the fury of God’s wrath. All Christ knew was wrath.
That consciousness of wrath is expressed in Christ’s cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). Christ did not dare to call God “Father;” He could only say, “God,” because the wrath was too great. Christ was conscious only of being forsaken in the deep, dark pit of the suffering of hell on the cross. So great was that overwhelming wrath of God which Christ endured, that He could no longer understand the necessity of bearing God’s wrath. That heart-rending “Why?” pierces our souls.
And yet, at that moment, when God’s wrath was all-consuming, God was, if I may put it that way, most pleased with His Son. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased; for He is obedient even unto the death of the cross!”
But Christ knew only wrath, even though behind it was God’s infinite love for Him. So with us in our relation to our earthly fathers. Wrath is not incompatible with love. Our fathers can love us and be very angry with us. In fact, their anger may be a manifestation of their love, for they desire that we walk in God’s ways, and we have been sinful. So it was with Christ.
And so, gradually, Christ crawled out of hell’s pit into the presence of God. “It is finished!” (John 19:30). And then, so beautifully: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). The wrath was gone, the favour was restored. Atonement for sin and redemption was accomplished.
There is no change in God. He had appointed His Son to accomplish our redemption. Christ perfectly bore the wrath of God and accomplished all the Father’s purpose. He is now exalted on high as our redeemer and saviour.
Let us marvel at the greatness of the suffering of Christ, for in it is the measure of our sin, which required such awful anguish. Let us marvel at the riches of divine grace displayed in God’s gift of His own beloved Son to accomplish for us what we could never accomplish ourselves.


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