Our Changing Relationship With An Unchangeable God

Our Changing Relationship With An Unchangeable God December 30, 2022

National Gallery of Art: Giuseppe Angeli, Elijah Taken Up in a Chariot of Fire / Wikimedia Commons

The relationship which exists between God and us, between God and creation, is impossible to fully explain because a part of it, God’s reality and experience of it, transcends our comprehension. We can, and will, discuss it using human conventions, but we must accept that when we do so, we can only approximate, often through analogies, what it is like for God. Our own experience of it is much easier to discuss, but even, we find ourselves struggling to put it all into words. We come  to God as contingent, indeed, temporal creatures; we are (at least for now) in time, and our experience with God relates to our temporal existence. As time involves change, our experience of God also changes over time. But then, we find, as our experience of God changes, so then, do we find ourselves changing even more. With the way our experience of God changes, and the way we change as a result of that experience, it often appears that God is also changing as a result  of our ever-evolving relationship. This is why we often describe our growing awareness of God’s activities towards us as if God were changing along with us. For example, when it appears that God wills one thing at one point of time, and another thing at another point, we suggest that God’s mind changes. Thinking about God in this way also suggests that God is somehow in time, acting in and influenced by the changes of time, leading us to talk about things which God did, or things which God will do in the future.

The more we come to apprehend God, the more we encounter God, the more we come to realize that despite the way things appear, God fundamentally does not change.  Indeed, those who have greater awareness or revelatory experiences of God discern that God is telling them this, such as, for example, what the prophet Malachi recorded God as saying, “For I the LORD do not change” (Mal. 3:6a RSV). The unchangeable nature of God is said to be revealed in the way God is so good that God’s unchanging activity leads God to share that goodness with creation. “Every good endowment 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” (Jas. 1:17 RSV). God’s words to the people of Israel, though they have special meaning to Israel, can and also apply to the rest of creation: “the LORD appeared to him from afar. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer. 31:3 RSV).

God’s unchangeable nature relates to us with loving benevolence. God is  always acting on our behalf. Sadly, we do not always experience God in this manner. This is because we often put things in the way of our reception of God’s love. This means we prevent God from sharing some good with us, a good which we need to truly be happy. Thus, since we do not experience or possess that good, we suffer, and because we see it somehow related to our bad relationship with God, we attribute to it all to God, thinking that God is angry with us and punishing us out of that anger. In reality, God is not punishing us; instead, we created the condition which has led to some sort of suffering. In this fashion, our experience of God is influenced by our actions. What we imagine God to be like, what we think the divine nature is like, becomes influenced, in part, to our experience. This is why, when conditions lead to our own suffering, God, who is otherwise all good and desires us to experience that good for ourselves, seems to be something other than sweet and comforting. “God is sweet by nature; they who move Him to bitterness are sinners, and they make God bitter for themselves. God does not change His nature, but sinners make  God their bitterness.” [1]

Thus, while God does not change, we experience God in and through our own change, and as a result we experience God as if God were changing. We can and will describe the changes of our relationship with God as a change in God’s actions towards us, though in reality, it is really a change in the way we have found ourselves connecting to or relating to God. The more we come to know God, the more we experience God, the more we will realize how often we have imputed to God all kinds of notions which really do not reflect who God is, but rather, reflect some element of ourselves. This is why apophatic theology always reminds us of the limits of our apprehensions, making sure we do confuse them as being something they are not while also reminding us not to negate our apprehensions in such a way as to deny that they come out of and reflect some experience or apprehension of God. We should accept that even the best representations of God are based upon and use analogies to represent God. No analogy can be used by us to comprehend God. They will always falter when they reach towards the divine nature. Nonetheless, they are useful tools; this is what we must understand and accept, that is, they are tools and we must not confuse what we realize through analogy as representing the absolute as it is in itself. In this light, hopefully we can understand Vladimir Solovyov’s explanation for how we, as changeable beings, can have a relationship with the unchangeable God:

In himself God does not change, but in relation to us we must look to him to change as we become more conformable to him; it is like the changeless sun which becomes the focus of a new power for the blind man who receives his sight: the man himself is altered when he becomes able to see its light. So we, when we desire God, first want him to show himself to us, and we say over his name that he may open to us the idea by which we may know him and distinguish him from all other beings. [2]

The best way we have to apprehend God is to allow God to work in and with us, to change us, so that we become more “conformable” to God, that is, become more and more like God (though, because of the vast difference between God and us, we will never be the same as God). That means we should take on and embrace some element of God’s eternal activity and make it a part of ourselves, so that what is reflected in it, such as God’s goodness or love, becomes reflected in us. The more we do this, the more we will find ourselves drawn more and more into God’s eternity, allowing us to transcend temporal existence and come to participate in eternal life ourselves. Moreover, the more we do this, the more, likewise, we will appreciate the analogy of light and the sun to represent the way God’s activity helps draw us from the darkness of ignorance and sin to the light of enlightenment, and with it, from sorrow to joy, as Sergius Bulgakov explained from his own experience:

And suddenly the entirety of this doddering old life of mine appeared to me in a different light: it had been gloomily trudging along to its dark, inevitable end, with everything growing ever darker and more pathetic, and then suddenly everything, everything changed: everything is headed to joy, to great, limitless, all-transfiguring joy. [3]

The more we experience this, the more, we will partake of God’s eternity, God’s divine life. We will become more and more like God, and so more and more “unchanging,” as Hugh of St Victor intuited:

Because time is a succession of change, its presence is indispensable now so that man may from his state of imperfection attain perfection and changelessness. And when he has attained this, change will no longer be indispensable but rather become harmful, for in this state of perfection change will replace into imperfection. [4]

We were created, and so, by nature, we are changeable; indeed, we went from non-existence to existence as our first change. Thanks to our changeable nature, we have been given the freedom to change ourselves for the better or for the worse; the more we change for the better, the more we will grasp after and receive the good which God wants for us. The more we partake of that good, the more we will grow and become like God,  until we come to our own participation in eternity, where we will experience, in a fashion, our final change. For then, we will have moved beyond corruption and the possibility of negative change (which is why we will have moved beyond sin). This helps us understand how we can be said to become unchangeable. But on the other hand, we must understand this transformation to an unchangeable nature itself is spoken of in and through an analogy; we must not take it to mean that there will not be other ways in which we can be said to change. For it is possible to see that our eternal life will be one of constant improvement as we continue to grow and become more and  more like God. What will not change, however, is our will – it will be open to the good, never going back on it, which is why, being open to the good, we will find ourselves becoming greater and greater throughout eternity (which is what is implied with the teaching of deification). Thus, in the eschaton, we can say  that there will be something in us which does not change and so makes us resemble God in God’s unchangeableness, while accepting that we will also continuously grow in grace and the experience of grace for all eternity. All of this is what is to come. As long as we in time, and experience time, we experience change in a temporal fashion, one which allows us to choose to resist the good God has for us, and so close ourselves off from God and the relationship God wants for us. But it also allows us to open ourselves to God, and change in a positive fashion, allowing us to have better and better apprehensions of God. Hopefully, then, the change we experience will be for the better, but  it is possible, due to our own actions (and not God’s unchanging action) it can be for the worse, leading us to worse and worse understanding and representations of God, and with it, all kinds of pain and suffering God desires us not to experience. And yet, even in that, we will experience and come to realize elements of the truth which is why, even if someone can be shown to close themselves off from God in some way, and so have some bad apprehensions of who or what God is, they do not have to be seen as completely false. And since this is the case, everyone might have something to share with us, something which can actually be valuable and help us in our own changing relationship with God.


[1] St. Jerome, The Homilies of Saint Jerome: Volume I (1-59 On the Psalms). Trans. Marie Liguori Ewald, IHM (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 1963), 51 [Homily 7].

[2] Vladimir Solovyey, God, Man & The Church. The Spiritual Foundations Of Life. Trans. Donald Attwater (Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 2016), 15-16.

[3] Sergius Bulgakov. Spiritual Biography. Trans. Mark Roosien and Roberto J. De La Noval (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2022), 73 [10/23. IX.1924].

[4] Hugh of St. Victor, “Notes on Genesis,” in Interpretation of Scripture: Practice. Trans. Jan van Zweiten. Ed. Frans van Leiere and Franklin T. Harkins (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2015), 66.


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