To hit the point hard, I quoted the late Dominican theologian, Herbert McCabe:
‘In a fairly literal sense, God doesn’t give a damn about your sin. It’s we who give the damns.’
God, by definition of the word ‘God,’ does not change.
That’s been the consensus belief of most of Christianity since the time of Christ and continues to be so in most of the Church catholic.
To unpack the idea of immutability, I thought it would be helpful to go back to the sources; namely to the most famous of the Dominicans: St Thomas Aquinas and his tome, the Summa Theologica, wherein Thomas reasons his way through the question.
It comes early in the Summa for Thomas believed almost everything we say about God relies upon that God not to be a being bound in time, a being that changes.
So in question 9 of the Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas asks whether or not God is immutable; that is, does God change?
For Aquinas God’s immutability is logically connected with God’s eternity, a topic he tackles in the proceeding question.
Before Aquinas can establish that God is eternal, however, he must demonstrate that God is immutable for only if God is pure actuality- there is no potentiality in God- can God be considered eternal.
Aquinas begins as he does throughout the Summa by acknowledging the possible objections to his topic.
Aquinas recalls that scripture appears to talk in terms of God changing in some way. God is said to have emotions for Israel, for example. However, there are also contrary passages such as Malachi 3:6
“I am God, and I do not change.”
Where Aquinas sees this as an essential description of God’s nature, he suggests we see the passages that speak of changing as metaphor.
Indeed, the implication of God’s immutability are a logical consequence of what Aquinas has already proved in Q’s 1-8:
God is pure actuality- all things are present and actual in God at all times.
God is the cause of all things and holds all things existence at every moment of existence.
God is not caused by any other being but is Being itself.
Anything that undergoes change is, by definition, moving from potentiality to actuality, for ‘change’ implies that is present now in something was previously missing or absent.
But no-thing can be missing or absent from God- in fact, God creates from no-thing.
God cannot undergo change.
An object, Aquinas says, undergoing change only changes in respect of certain properties; but in order to retain its identity it must remain the same with respect to other properties. Therefore such the object must be a composite. However, we know that whatever we mean by the word ‘God’ it’s that God is not a composite in any way whatsoever, therefore God cannot undergo change.
Finally to change is to acquire something new; but God has the fullness of perfection already and therefore cannot acquire anything new.
God cannot change.
Aquinas then moves on to wonder whether God is the only thing that is unchangeable, which he affirms. All members of creation are changeable in the sense that their continued existence depends upon God keeping them in existence. If God were to withdraw his support from a thing, that thing would go out of existence immediately. Therefore all created things can change in the sense of coming into and going out of existence and owing every moment of their existence upon God.
Incidentally, you can see here already how Aquinas allows us to dismiss most debates about ‘creationism vs evolution’ as stupid and a giant adventure in missing the point.
For to call God ‘Creator’ is not to say he ‘began’ something; it’s to say he holds all things in existence at all times.
God is pure actuality and therefore He cannot change in any way; God is the fullness of perfection, so there is no way in which God could change. Loving us, for instance, does not change God, make God more loving, because God is LOVE.
Love is not an attribute of God but is full and always complete already in God.
I know how easy it is to hear this completely wrong.
You might argue, as many have and do, that if God were immutable then God must be static and impersonal; that God could not be the God that we love.
But to do this, Aquinas says, is to violate the very first commandment; it’s to make God in our image or at least insist upon a god in our image.
God must be like us so that we can love Him.
Such an approach fails to see that God’s immutability follows on from God’s perfection and is intimately connected with God being in eternity.
God’s perfection means every possibility, realized or not, is already present within God.
God doesn’t change because God literally and logically cannot love you any more than God already does love you.
ar from being static, He provides the very being of all that is dynamic in the created world. Far from being impersonal, by holding all things in existence at every moment of their existence, God is closer to each person than they are to themselves.