Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are familiar to most of us as the greatest of all the ancient Greek philosophers. Less known to many people are the pre-Socratic philosophers who developed their own systems of philosophy before these bigger names did their work. Heraclitus was one of these significant pre-Socratics. “Man cannot step into the same river twice” is perhaps Heraclitus’ best-known observation. When water flows, there are always changes that occur, both perceptible and imperceptible. Riverbanks slowly erode, water molecules constantly move, and, at the very least, people age between the first and second time they step into the river, even if only by a matter of seconds.
Heraclitus’ point in this statement was that change is the only constant. Modern science may tell us that each individual’s DNA code, under normal circumstances, remains largely the same throughout life, but we all experience physical, mental, moral, and spiritual changes over time. Yet as today’s passage reveals, the Creator does not change like His creatures do (Mal. 3:6).
Question 4 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism argues that God is “unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” This is a brief exposition of the Lord’s attribute of immutability, which means that it is impossible for His character or being to undergo any mutation. The power of God cannot be augmented or diminished. He never learns or forgets, and He cannot be anything other than perfectly holy and just. Human beings are ever changing, but not our Father.
It is important to remember that immutability does not mean God cannot move or that He is inert. Scripture testifies often of the Lord’s constant work and movement to sustain His creation (Heb. 1:3a). Moreover, immutability does not mean the Lord’s relationship with us is unreal. Actually, His unchanging righteousness moves Him to pour out His wrath on the impenitent (Rom. 1:18–32), and His ever-abiding love moves Him to redeem His people (Ex. 2:23–25).
Jonathan Edwards said sinners hate the Lord because His immutability guarantees that God cannot overlook their rebellion. For believers, however, the unchanging character of our Creator means we can rely on Him in every circumstance (Ps. 46).