“Never change. Never, never change.”
I heard it all the time growing up from my pastor, a respected leader who preached the same message – if a different sermon – three times a week, and wore a navy blue, double-breasted suit every single day for decades.
He was resolved, and it was the worst resolution.
It seemed to suit his personality not to change, as it suited his theology and philosophy. For Dr. R., truth was an objective absolute, a straightforward proposition. Once you found it, that was that. It was settled. So find it, base your life on it, and “never change.”
If you grant the premise, it makes all the sense in the world. It would be the safest way to live well if reality worked that way.
But it never made much sense to me.
There’s no learning, no growth, no life without change. Change defines healthy life in every context. And when change stops…well, that’s death.
The turn of the year, 2017 to 2018, has me remembering his words. I had lunch on New Year’s Eve with old friends who knew him as well, and the question came up, “What happened? What went wrong in the mega church and extensive ministry he built and led?” It’s all gone now.
Change isn’t always good. “Change for change’s sake” is not a good idea (except when it is). But to reject change for its own sake is a path to certain stagnation and death.
Changing one’s mind is rarely easy. It can be incredibly difficult to let go of beliefs and assumptions that have defined the world for you. The things that have given us the bearings we need to make good decisions with confidence, to live and feel secure about our lives. Those beliefs are often entwined with so much of our lives and pulling them is messy work that can leave us feeling unmoored and unsure of what our new reality will be grounded in.
But learning requires changing our minds, and learning also requires an openness to change. It nearly always involves being able to let go of something I believed, something I imagined to be true, in order to embrace newly discovered truth.
And that’s a moving target. Because if there is something, anything, that could in any way be accurately described as absolute and unchanging truth, it is so unknowably vast that our meanderings through it will feel ever changing. We can’t grasp the whole, and so we’re always unlearning and learning. Always learning to see anew. Always changing in response to what we’ve seen.
The “immutability” (unchangeableness) of God never made a lot of sense to me either. It’s an idea of perfection from Greek philosophy that was imported into and imposed upon the Jewish thinking of the biblical writers. The Bible shows us a God fully engaged, arguing with his people and changing his mind. A Jesus who learned and grew. That God engages people in real ways, relates as a person who thinks and feels and whose thoughts and feelings change. The God who “does not change” in the Bible has a consistent character that does not change but is progressively revealed and understood more clearly.
We’re still at that – understanding the character of God more clearly. It has the power to transform our lives and our hearts if we are open to it – the change that each new year, each new day holds out. Ever learning and growing and expanding our hearts.