Unchanging. Does such a thing exist? We toy with permanence: lifetime warranties, permanent markers, unbreakable records, forever homes. But deep down we know—there is no guarantee these things will hold their claim. We long for it though, don’t we? Something fixed. Something sure. A vacation spot you can always return to. A restaurant meal that always comes to you the same. The reassuring sound of your parents’ voice on the other end of the phone line. As volatile creatures living ever-changing lives while skipping around this spinning globe, our search for permanence is understandable. We know it exists somewhere, and our lives feel unanchored until we find it.
Shakespeare thought it could be found in love. Not fickle feelings or momentary attraction but love that walks to the edge of doom for its beloved. Love that bears out the storm. Love that isn’t shaken by the revelation of fault within or pressure from without. Love that is as fixed as the stars.
In our day of GPS and cell phones, it takes some thought to appreciate how important the unchanging heavens were to wandering ships. Stars functioned like familiar street signs to sailors. With water on every side, it was impossible to know which direction you were facing. In the book of Acts, describing the terror of their ship lost at sea, Paul recounts: “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20). Without an anchor to hold us, without a star to guide us, hope evaporates.
While stars are a helpful picture of something constant in a swirling and shifting world, even the stars are prone to change. There is only One who stays the same.
James 1:17 says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
James is telling us that it is good to look up in our quest for something fixed, but we need to look beyond the stars. We need to look to the one who created the heavens, the Father of lights. When James wrote his epistle almost two thousand years ago, astronomers were already aware that even the stars are subject to variation. In the Republic, written about 400 years before the book of James, Plato writes:
And will not a true astronomer have the same feeling when he looks at the movements of the stars? Will he not think that heaven and the things in heaven are framed by the Creator of them in the most perfect manner? But he will never imagine that the proportions of night and day, or of both to the month, or of the month to the year, or of the stars to these and to one another, and any other things that are material and visible can also be eternal and subject to no deviation—that would be absurd.1
Everything in creation is subject to some deviation. God alone stands apart as being eternal, unchanging, immutable. And as His creatures, made in His image, who have had eternity set on our hearts (Ecc. 3:11), we long to fix our souls to the One who remains the same. As I have pondered the practical implications of our God who does not change, I have found Psalm 102 helpful. It is written by “a suffering person who is weak and pours out his lament before the LORD,” which is often how we feel when change is sudden and severe. As limited creatures, change that is out of our control can be painful—and navigating it is exhausting. Sometimes it seems to come so fast that you are left staring at a life you hardly recognize. Has this happened to you? It’s not hard to list off the general deviation from normal we’ve all seen this last year and a half. How we work, go to school, even shop for toilet paper has been thrown into chaos. Add to that the loss of a loved one, job insecurity, and relational strain. Many of us can join right in with the psalmist that we feel afflicted, faint, and full of complaints.
So, how does the psalmist find hope in the reality that God doesn’t change? It happens when he considers God’s unwavering perfection in contrast to the volatility he sees in his flesh, the world, and even his own faith. As the only entity in the universe that is not subject to alteration over time, every word that was once true of God is true now and will continue into the future.
Words of Comfort
And what brought the psalmist comfort, in the midst of all this change?
Remembering the Lord is enthroned forever (v. 12). The psalmist recognizes that the anchor he is looking for will not come from his own strength, the circumstances around him, or even his own spiritual prowess. The ever-fixed mark he needs is the Father of lights, even if he feels like God is angry with him, even if he doesn’t understand. It is important to note here that the psalmist pours out his complaint “before the Lord”. Even in his confusion, he knows: when the world is shaking and the tempest is blowing, there is nowhere else to go.
Remembering the Lord’s enduring promises (v. 13). The psalmist knows that because the Lord is unchanging, He is faithful to His word. The two attributes go hand in hand. The psalmist looks at what is happening around him and reminds himself that what he sees is not the end of the story. The Lord will have pity on Zion. Deliverance is coming. Nations and kings will see God’s glory. The Lord will build up again what now looks like dust.
Remembering the Lord’s continued compassion (v. 17). The psalmist has lost confidence in everything he sees—his body, his surroundings, even his standing before God. But remembering that God is unchanging reminds him of the Lord’s unending mercy. He knows that God “will pay attention to the prayer of the destitute and will not despise their prayer” (v. 17). Therefore, even though the psalmist recognizes God’s hand in his hard experiences, he cries out in confidence “LORD, hear my prayer; let my cry for help come before you” (v. 1).
Remembering the Lord’s coming kingdom (v. 28). As the psalmist meditates on the One who will remain, though the heavens will one day wear out like a garment, he gains confidence in his eternal security. He knows that one day he will be established before God—firmly planted and never to be moved. And he has this hope not only for himself, but for his children and grandchildren. The unchanging Lord, in whom the psalmist finds an anchor, will be there, the same, for all generations that follow.
In his sonnet about the ultimate nature of love, Shakespeare was on to something. There is a love like he describes—one that doesn’t change with alteration or fault, because this Love walked to the edge of doom to pay for our faults. We, as limited and volatile creatures, can only know unchanging love in the presence of an unchanging God because in Jesus Christ, God took all of our infirmities on himself at the cross. He is the eternal standard by which all other love is measured. “This is how we have come to know love: He laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16).
We can know this love, and it can steady us in the ever-changing storms of life. And then, with our wandering souls reoriented to the invariable Father of lights, we can ride out the waves that come our way.
As I look at my many personal losses over these last few months, it is easy to long for things to go back to the way they were. I miss the loved ones that are gone, the routines I once enjoyed, the reassuring assumption that my life would continue on the same steady trajectory. But even as I grieve what has been lost, I find my soul clinging all the more tightly to the things that are sure to last for eternity – the love of the Father and life I will enjoy in His kingdom forever. All because of the eternally redeeming work of Jesus, who loved me all the way to the edge of doom.
1. “The Project Gutenberg EBook of the Republic, by Plato,” accessed November 19, 2021, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1497/1497-h/1497-h.htm.