The Constancy of Our Unchangeable God
“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17 NIV)
On August 21, 2017, viewers around the world enjoyed a rare glimpse into the beauty of creation. Dubbed “The Great American Eclipse,” onlookers in 14 states, in a path from Oregon to South Carolina, witnessed the spectacle of a total solar eclipse. A once in a lifetime event, the last eclipse of this kind, visible in a band stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic coast, occurred in 1918. Tens of millions flocked to sites where, with protective eclipse glasses, they could freely gaze on this celestial wonder.
According to the Genesis creation narrative, God fashioned two brilliant lights in the heavens—“the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night” (Genesis 1:16 NIV). In a total solar eclipse, the “lesser light” (the moon) comes into alignment between our purview on earth and the “greater light” (the sun), so that for a few minutes the moon completely hides the sun. To the observer, the shadow cast by the moon makes the three o’clock sky, even on a clear day, appear as dim as evening twilight. Those closest to the direct course—the “the path of totality”—can feel the temperature drop; they can see a bright glow on the horizon, the stars come out, and an aura of gases surrounding the sun (the “corona”).
This cosmic feat is only possible because of the precise correlation between the size of the sun and its relative distance from us. The sun is 400 times the size of the moon and, “it just so happens,” also 400 times further away. This combination of precision and beauty points to the handiwork of an intelligent Designer, who crafted the cosmos in just such a way so that His glory might be displayed for all to see.
The marvel of this event is matched only by the sharp reality check as the moment passes and one returns to the mundane affairs of everyday life. As incredible as it is to behold, like all things created, a total eclipse has a relatively short half-life—it appears and ‘poof,’ just as quickly fades from sight. Not so with God. The creator of every light in the heavens, the one who holds the moon and earth in orbit around the sun, does not reveal Himself, only to retract and fade from view.
God alone possesses the attribute of unchangeableness. All created things, on the other hand, are subject to change: rocks decay, metal rusts, and soil erodes. Change is an unavoidable and necessary part of life. Every creature who roams the earth undergoes change—everyone grows up and grows old. Nineteenth-century poet Walter Chalmers Smith conveys the sense of paradox between our frailty and the constancy of God in the hymn, Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise:
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small,
in all life Thou livest, the true life of all;
we blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree,
and wither and perish, but naught changeth Thee.
God remains the one enduring and unalterable source of life and every perfect gift. His steadfastness offers comfort amidst the transiency and unpredictability of life. Those who trust in Him can look on tomorrow with confidence, knowing His promises endure:
“They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” (Psalm 1:3 NLT)
The Book of Malachi tells us the hope of Israel was fixed on the constancy of the unchanging God:
“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” (Malachi 3:6 ESV)
The phrase “do not change” is from the Hebrew shanah lo’, meaning God does not need to “repeat” (or “do a second time”).
Eager to catch a second glimpse of creation’s majesty, some have already started planning for the next Great Eclipse. Indeed many will have that chance as NASA experts forecast another, only years from now, in 2024. Once again, many will schedule transcontinental flights and drive hundreds of miles to stand along the path of totality and gaze on this unique wonder, if only for a moment, as the shadow cast by the moon fades from sight. The people of God do not need to wait for a “repeat event.” The source and author of such a spectacle, “The Father of the heavenly lights,” is ever before us. There is comfort and refuge in Jehovah Shanah lo’, who does not cast a shifting shadow, and whose glow is unremitting.
Copyright © 2018 Paul J. Palma. Used by permission.