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RELIGION COLUMN

Immutability: It's a good thing

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The Rev. J. Malone Gilliam
St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

As Christians, one of the tenets of faith we profess is that God is unchanging. The fancy theological word for this is immutable. More specifically, this refers to the reality that God’s nature never changes; He is always wise, just, good, truthful, merciful, and loving. There are a number of scriptures which speak to this: Psalm 102:26-27, II Timothy 2:13, James 1:17, and of course, Hebrews 13:8 which declares, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”

This amazing truth is hard for us to believe. We don’t often experience life or relationships this way. Circumstances change which usually means that our behavior or attitude or perspective changes right along with them. You know this from experience.

Within the crucible of life’s relationships – parent/child, spouses, siblings, in-laws, friends, we encounter the ups and downs of people (ourselves included) changing.

Because we are accustomed to the unpredictable nature of relationships, it’s natural for us to transfer this into our relationship with God. Unfortunately this has dire consequences for us and our faith. It results in us ‘adjusting’ our behavior, attempting to predict favorable outcomes and responses. Another way to look at it would be the illustration of us wearing masks, pretending to be someone we think will please the other person so they accept us. And whether we want to admit it or not, this is how we live life most of the time. Exhausting? You bet.

One of the reasons this is on my mind stems from recent discussions and a Sunday school class we had on the topics of heaven and hell. Let me tell you, these are charged subjects! They also happen to produce much anxiety about who God is and who we might encounter in the life to come. The anxiety rises, at least in part, from our experience with the unpredictable and changing nature of relationships.

We come to church on Sunday morning and sing songs about God’s grace, nod at the sermon proclaiming God’s love and mercy, hear the minister announcing forgiveness in the absolution of our sins, and then eat the bread and drink the cup of the New Covenant declaring our inclusion into God’s family.

However, when the issues of heaven and hell come up, our thinking imagines a judge who departs from the God on Sunday morning and changes into someone else.

The judge of our imaginations, instead of merciful, loving, forgiving, and grace-filled, personifies an attitude of “guilty until proven innocent.” Regrettably, we forget that the “proof of innocence” we received happened on the cross and in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Instead, we open our collection of masks hoping to choose the right one for a positive outcome. God immutable? Hardly. When it comes to heaven and hell, while not consciously trying, we rewrite the scriptures to fit our experience – “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever... except at the judgment seat.”

The judgment seat of Christ is EXACTLY when we depend upon God’s immutability. It is one of the glorious things that makes God so very different than us. It’s what makes God holy. You see, the word holy means “other” or “apartness.” It’s not so much about morality than it is about God’s nature. His love is holy because it is “other than” our love, which is conditional. His forgiveness is holy because it is “other than” ours, which is conditional. His love and forgiveness don’t change because I might refuse it.

However, we end up defining heaven and hell, they exist under the lordship of Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Who will our lost loved ones encounter at judgment – the Immutable Christ. Who will the angry atheist encounter at judgment –the Immutable Christ. Who will those people who live their lives in complete opposition to our standards encounter at judgment – the Immutable Christ. And personally, who will we encounter at judgment? The Immutable Christ.

Thanks be to God!

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