Yesterday, I allowed myself to take a trip with nostalgia back to a day that is now a mere memory.
I could smell the dogwood flowers blooming, feel the creaky wooden swing holding up my frame, and feel the wind rustle through the trees onto the porch and through my hair. I was fifteen years old again, on the front porch of my childhood home, laughing. Old friends were seated around me, and conversation centered on new sunglasses, books we were reading, and things we’d heard about through mutual friends. We were little, though we didn’t think so then, and I wish with all my heart somedays I could just go back, be there, be the girl I once was, with the friends I once knew, in a world that didn’t seem so big and scary.
But even if I could call Tony Stark and Steve Rogers and borrow their time machine, I wouldn’t be able to go back to that moment now so sweet in my memory, because I’m not the same girl, that’s not the same front porch, it’s not the same moment, and my friends are not the same people. No matter how badly we wish it weren’t true, things don’t stay the same. Nostalgia wants us to believe they do, to believe that those now seemingly perfect (though we know it’s not true) memories can be ours once more, if only we could go back.
Our hearts long for something that will not change, that is the same today as it was in those days of once upon a time, and as we grow up and places that felt like home grow lonely, friends who once felt so near are far off, and the person we once were seems to have grown weary and tired, we come to see the beauty and comfort in the attribute of God known as immutability.
A big word for a little girl…
When I was around ten or eleven, I started reading commentaries for fun. Don’t ask me why, I probably just wanted to sound smart. I quickly learned though that I was going to need some more basic understanding before these big books in my Dad’s office were going to make any more sense than the Latin noun declensions I was trying (unsuccessfully) to master. But in my skimming of these weighty and very important feeling volumes, the word “immutability” somehow managed to stick and through many conversations with my parents, I learned what God’s immutability meant.
The definition of immutability is “unchanging over time or unable to be changed.” The immutability of God means that He has not changed, will not change, and by nature is unchangeable. When I was eleven or so, a lot of things felt immutable. Day after day was the same. We had our routines, our friends, our church, our schoolwork, and we even watched the same four movies over and over for our weekly pizza movie night. Things remaining the same was normal. For that little girl, God’s immutability made perfect sense. Everything seemed pretty “unable to be changed.”
But it only takes a few years for a little girl to learn that nothing in life remains unchanged, nothing except the God in who’s unchanging character she’s learning to trust.
When the mutability of the world falls as a backdrop on the stage, God’s immutability shines forth like a star piercing the black darkness of a night sky. The roaring seas of change and the billows of uncertainty send us crashing onto the shore of God’s unchanging goodness. When hearts that long for things to stay the same find the proven immutability of God, it is a comfort of the sweetest sorts that fills the soul, calms the mind, and dries the tears from crying eyes.
No shadow due to change…
Have you ever stood outside at dusk and watched as the shadows change? I grew up in the South, and down there goodbyes are a long process. Many evenings as friends departed from a night of games or dinner, we’d find ourselves standing in the driveway talking beside their car as we pushed the farewells further and further off into the night. I remember being amazed at how fast the sky would go from noonday brightness, to the cotton candy sky, to the gray, and finally the dark black telling us it was time at last to disperse. Throughout the transformation of the heavens above you could watch the shadows around us change almost as quickly as the topic of conversation.
Life seems like that sometimes, doesn’t it? You’re standing there, carefree and content, and before you know it everything around you has shifted entirely and what once was bright and beautiful is now dark and rather frightening. If it hasn’t ever felt like that for you, it will one day. But we don’t need to fear change that is destined to come because we have a Father in whom even the shadows of His goodness are not due to change.
“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”James 1:17 ESV
That verse at times makes me want to cry tears of joy and sincere gratitude.
No shadow due to change.
The Giver of every good and perfect gift will not cease to be good, not in the slightest, not even in the shadows. The most consistent man who has ever walked this earth cannot ignore the fact that his shadows will change, he will grow old, his hair will fall out, and his eyes grow dim. But not with God. Not age, nor shadows, nor whims, nor fancies change in Him. What a comfort to hearts wandering in a world of shifting shadows.
In his commentary on the book of James, R. Kent Hughes writes:
“The sun rises, and our shadows fall long to the west; it stands high at noon, brightening all; and as it sets, our shadows are to the east, until they fade to nothingness. Day and night perpetually change. The moon waxes full and wanes at crescent. Light is reflected and refracted differently moment by moment. But it is not so with the goodness of God. With God ‘there is no variation or shadow due to change.’ God’s goodness is always at high noon.”
When we’re sad, tired, or restless, our hearts yearn for things to cease changing. Nostalgia tells us that if only we could go back, things would be okay. But we know that’s not true. We can never go back, and if we did, we’d find it wasn’t all we remembered it to be. Change would still be inevitable. It is not memories we can trust to hold us close when life’s mutability and changing shadows leave us longing for something more. It is the God who by nature does not and cannot change that we must hold tightly to. Because no matter what changes around us, He remains the same. There is no variation, no shadow due to change.
More than a big word…
When I was flipping through my Dad’s commentaries years ago and learned the term “immutability” I knew in my head what it was and believed it was true. But it wasn’t until I started growing up and realizing the mutability of everything in this world that I started to understand immutability, to realize what a gift it was that God tells us in His word that immutable is who He is. It’s more than a big word for pastors to use and theologians to write about. Immutability is a word that shows each of us ordinary believers just how loving, sure, and trustworthy our Father in heaven really is. It’s His immutability that comforts us with an unchanging love though all of life quakes and shatters.
There’s still this longing for change to stop, for a way to go back. But it’s no longer a memory I want to go back to, it’s the God who ordained it, and every moment after, and who reminds me with each changing circumstance that His own unchanging character is my one safe place, and it is there that He always beckons me to come and rest.