Everything we see and know around us had a beginning. It was either conceived, germinated or made. Once it was not and now it is, and there will probably come a time when it will not be any longer. Our minds naturally imagine, too, that God had a beginning. Where did He come from? Who created Him? Was there ever a time when there was no God?The Bible does not help us with the answer until quite late on in its pages, for it assumes the existence of God with its opening words ‘In the beginning God …’, Gen. 1. 1. In other words, before the world was made, or anything upon it, God was there. He was there at the beginning. In fact, He began the beginning. The same thought is echoed in John 1 where we read, ‘In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him’. At some time before He made the world and mankind God had created the angels. But who created Him?
‘Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth, and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God,’ said Moses in Psalm 90 verse 2. The original Hebrew in which the Psalm was written says this, ‘From the vanishing point to the vanishing point thou art God’. What a fabulous thought! Were we able to climb into a time capsule and go back to the point of infinity, the vanishing point in time past, and even go beyond it, we would still find God. God would still be there. God is ‘the high and lofty one who inhabiteth eternity’, Isa. 57. 15; He is the everlasting Father (the Father of eternity), Isa. 9. 6;‘His goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting’, Mic. 5. 6. We encounter difficulties with our language when we ask whether there was ever a time when God was not. Though we are in time, and subject to time, God is not. God does not sit in time, but time sits in God. God made time and before He made time, He was in existence. He always has been. He has never not existed. And just as we read that God had no beginning, so we read He will never come to an end. ‘Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth … they shall perish but thou shalt endure: yea, all of them shall wax old … and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall have no end,’ Ps. 102. 25-27. God is ‘the everlasting God’, Isa. 40. 28. From the vanishing point (in the past) to the vanishing point (in the future) He is God.
One of the many thrilling revelations God gave to Moses was of His self existence. When Moses asked God in whose name he should go to Pharaoh, God told him to say to Pharaoh, ‘I AM THAT I AM hath sent me’, Exod.3. 14. This name, sometimes written Jehovah, or JaHWeH, implies that God is because He is. It means ‘I am who I am’, or ‘I will be what I will be’. You and I cannot say that.We can say, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am’, but God is who He is by the grace of nobody other than Himself. He simply is. Our Lord said of Himself, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM’, John 8. 58. That was not just bad grammar. Our Lord meant to use the name, I AM, and the Jews knew that in doing so He was claiming to be equal with God. He used this same name in the Garden of Gethsemane, John 18. 6. God, then, has never received life from anyone else. God ‘giveth to all life, and breath, and all things’, Acts 17. 25, yet ‘the Father hath life in himself’, John 5. 26. God is the giver of life, but never the receiver.He is the fountain, but never the basin. He is the Creator; He is not a creature.
Not only does God receive life from no one, He needs no one. ‘God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needeth anything,’ Acts 17. 24-25. When God wanted to remind His Old Testament people of this He said to them, ‘If I were hungry, I would not tell thee, for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof,’ Ps. 50. 12. Do we think God needs us?Think again. He can do anything. That He allows us, even asks us, to be involved in His work shows His grace, not His weakness. A. W. Tozer once wrote, ‘God has a voluntary relationship to everything He made, but He has no necessary relationship to anything outside Himself’.
Time changes things, but time does not change God because God is not in time and is not subject to time. He is not growing older and wiser with each decade. His power is neither increasing nor decreasing. God cannot change for the better because He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse or He would cease to be God. ‘I am the Lord, I change not’, says God in magnificent strength, Mal. 3. 6. ‘Of old hast thou laid the foundation of the earth: and the heavens are the work of thy hands. They shall perish, but thou shalt endure: yea all of them shall wax old like a garment; as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same’, Ps.102. 25-27. God ‘does not change like shifting shadows’, Jas. 1. 17 NIV, and His Son, is ‘the same yesterday, and today,and for ever’, Heb. 13. 8. God is the ‘Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty’, Rev. 1. 8. In His divine nature, then, God is immutable. He does not change.
If God, in His nature, is immutable (does not change) neither do His purposes and promises.‘God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? Or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?’, Num.23. 19. God, in declaring the end from the beginning, says, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure … I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.’ Isa. 46.10-11. ‘The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever’, Ps. 33. 11. When it comes to God’s eternal counsels and purposes,no one can force Him to change His mind or plan. ‘He doeth according to his will … and none can stay his hand, or say to him, What doest thou?’,Dan. 4. 35. Though all the world should, in the end, confederate together against the Lord and against His anointed,‘he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh’, Ps. 2. 4.
Objection 1: The Bible says God does repent or change His mind
Someone will say, but surely we read in Jonah that God ‘repented of the evil that he had said he would do to them, and he did it not’, Jonah 3. 9-10. Does not this mean God’s purposes do change? Do we not read that ‘God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth … and it repented the Lord that he had made man on the earth,and it grieved him at his heart’, Gen. 6. 5-6? Bearing in mind that we cannot interpret one verse so that it contradicts another, there are three ways of looking at this problem. One explanation to words saying God‘repented’ is to say that the language used is anthropopathic – it ascribes to God the feelings we, as humans have. In relation to God’s creation of man, the Bible is using language we can understand to describe how grieved God was at the wickedness of mankind. It does not mean, however, that God determined to destroy the whole of mankind. As we know, He judged the wicked in a flood, but preserved Noah’s seed so that mankind could continue. Secondly, as far as Nineveh was concerned, it wasn’t so much that God’s mind changed with regard to the people, but their mind changed with regard to Him. God’s dealings with men change when they change. The people of Nineveh repented, so God could not judge them as He said He would. He cannot punish the penitent. It is not in His nature to do so. God may be immutable, but He is not impassive. He does respond to mankind. He must always forgive those who repent and seek Him, yet He must also always punish the wicked. The just aspect of His character must punish sin, but the gracious and merciful aspect of His character must pardon the repentant. Jonah knew this, which is why he refused to go to Nineveh. ‘I knew thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness’, Jonah 4. 2. God had not changed; the people of Nineveh had. It must be a comfort to know that God is not rigidly inflexible. ‘Amid all the changes and uncertainties of life in a nuclear age,God and His Christ remain the same – almighty to save’, J. I. Packer.
One of the great problems early Christians faced was the ‘mystery’ of the church: that God had apparently rejected His earthly people, the Jews, in favour of a worldwide assembly of Christians from every tongue, tribe, people and nation. ‘Other sheep have I that are not of this fold; them also I must bring’, John 10. 16, said the Lord.S ince the death of Christ on the cross, ‘there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord overall is rich unto all that call upon him, for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’, Rom. 10. 12-13;Gal. 3. 28. But what about God’s earthly people, the Jews? Hadn’t God made promises to Abraham? Has God changed His mind? Has God broken those promises? No, says Paul. There are stages to God’s plan. He will yet keep His promises to Abraham. There is a glorious future for Israel. ‘Have (Israel)stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles, for to provoke (Israel) to jealousy’, Rom. 11. 11.God has put the Jewish nation to one side for the moment, but He will take them up in a future day. He cannot lie.He cannot be fickle and change His mind. ‘The gifts and calling of God are without repentance’, Rom. 11. 29.
Objection 2: what is the point of praying if God’s will will be done?
Does prayer really change things? Will prayer alter the mind of God? God has promised to give us all we ask and pray for, but that is if we ask ‘according to His will’, or ‘in His name,’ and with His authority, which is the same thing. The classic example of prayer apparently changing things is that of Abraham interceding for Lot in Genesis 18. Now God never says there that He is going to destroy the wicked and the righteous together in the city. In fact, this very passage is used in the New Testament to show that God knows how to deliver the godly because He ‘knoweth them that are his’, 2 Pet. 2. 9, and He knew that without Abraham’s help. Abraham’s prayer was not that Lot might be saved, but that the whole city might be spared for the sake of ten righteous people. In the end, the city was not spared because there were not ten righteous people in it. Moses also interceded for God’s people in Exodus 32.Yet God had never really intended to destroy the whole nation. He was testing Moses to see what sort of a leader he was. Was he an hireling, whose own the sheep are not? Or was he a true shepherd? Why, then, does God urge us to pray? Because though God has decreed what He is going to do, and nothing will change that, He has also decreed the end will be accomplished by the means. It is through the foolishness of preaching that God will save some; s owe preach. It is through prayer that God will accomplish His will, so let us pray. But let us argue our case with God on the basis of what we know of Him and His will, bearing in mind that if we ask anything ‘according to His will’ He will give it to us, and if we do not ask ‘according to His will’ He will not. It is not so much that prayer changes God as that prayer changes us. We are not to try to bend the will of God to our will as to bend ours to His.
If God does not change, then neither do things associated with Him change. ‘Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven’, Ps. 119. 89; ‘All flesh is grass … the grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever’, Isa. 40. 6-8. Christ could say, ‘Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass … till all be fulfilled’, Matt. 5. 18. Because God is eternal and immutable, His word is eternal and immutable. So also is His mercy, Ps. 100. 5, His righteousness, Ps.119. 142, His kindness, Ps. 54. 8, His love, Jer. 31. 3, and His kingdom, Ps. 145. 13. Truth such as this about the eternal, self sufficient, self-existent God should remind us of two things. In the first place, we should bow and worship the One who is totally ‘other’. He is vast beyond our understanding, eternal and immortal. Secondly, we have to recognise the smallness of our mortality. This should keep us in our place. ‘Teach me to number my days’,said David.But let us also pause to think of the implications of all this for Christ.God is eternal. He is immortal. When His Son became man He had an impeccable nature, one that was unable to sin. ‘He did no sin’, ‘He knew no sin’, ‘in Him is no sin’. He was not, therefore, mortal as you and I are. To be mortal is to be subject to death because of sin,and Christ had no sin. Death could not therefore claim Him as a victim unless He willingly went into death. The love of God for us is all the more thrilling, therefore, when we read that the immortal Son of God lay down His life for the sheep. ‘No man taketh [my life] from me; but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down and I have power to take it again’, John 10. 11, 15,17-18. He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross, Phil 2. 5-8. The immortal Son of God gave His life for us – shall we not give our lives to Him in return?