Changing Tides and the Unchanging Savior
I have learned--both from personal experience and from pastoral ministry--that change can be among the most unsettling dynamics of life in this fallen world. We are a people of change living in a world subject to change. When we put our confidence in created things or set our hearts on circumstances, we make ourselves susceptible to disappointment and heartache. Marriages fail because people change. Friendships cease because people change. Alliances prove futile because people change. A pastor abandons the faith. A spouse is unfaithful. Friends betray your trust. The longer I've been a Christian, the longer I've seen the waves of change crash down on lives at such alarming rates that, at times, it's tempting to ask the question, "how can I trust anything or anyone?"
Almost no one was subject to as many painful experiences of change in his life as that of David. No sooner had Saul appointed David to be captain over his men or war (1 Sam. 18:5) that he changed his mind because of his bitter jealousy toward David. He immediately demoted him to being captain over a thousand (1 Sam. 18:13). Saul, who once praised David, spent the rest of his life seeking to destroy him. Saul then took his daughter, Michal, David's first wife--who loved David (1 Sam. 18:20, 28)--and he gave her in marriage to another man (1 Sam. 25:44). After becoming king, David sent his men to bring Michal back to him (2 Sam. 3:13-14), only to have her "despise him in her heart" (2 Sam. 6:16). Among his own children, David experienced the pain of change. David's son Amnon, committed an atrocious action with David's daughter Tamar (2 Sam. 13:1-22), only to have Tamar's brother Absalom's murder Amnon. Then Absalom led an attempted coup d'état against his father, only to have Joab, his nephew, and the captain of his army kill Absalom (2 Sam. 18:33). David also knew the pain of the betrayal of a trusted confidant, when his chief counsellor, Ahithophel, the grandfather of Bathsheba (and one of David's mighty men) turned and conspired with Absalom against David in the rebellion (most likely as a vendetta against David for what he had done to Uriah). David experienced all of the heartache that accompanied changing tides in the closest of his relations. Yet, David turned time and time again to the God who does not change.
David knew that not only relationships but the who created order was subject to change. In Psalm 102, he wrote,
"Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away"
But then David reminds us of where we are to turn when we consider the changing order all around us, when he says to the Lord,
"but You are the same, and Your years have no end" (Ps. 102:10).
Where do we turn when we meet the painful experiences of life in a fallen and ever changing world? We turn to the God who has Himself declared, "I the Lord do not change" (Mal. 3:6). David juxtaposed his confidence in the unchanging God with a warning about trusting in changing men, when he wrote,
"Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish" (Ps. 146:3-4).
So much of the unsettling experiences of life come from trusting in people. When we put our confidence in any man, woman, spouse, child, friend, pastor, political party or leader, we inevitably set ourselves up for disappointment. Yet, we know all too well that each and every one of us has a propensity to put our hopes and confidences in men. This is why there is another vital truth in Scripture that anchors our souls in the promises of the unchanging God (Heb. 6:19). The writer to the Hebrews--wanting to give strong encouragement to the souls of a people who were tempted to turn back from their profession of belief in the Gospel--wrote, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Heb. 13:8). There is one man who will never fail us, never let us down, never break his promises, never deceive us, never betray us and never give us false hopes. Jesus Christ is the unchanging God-man. The Christ who came into the ever changing world he had created in order to redeem a people who rebelled, lived and died and rose again in order to be the sure and steadfast anchor for our souls. When the tides of change are rising around us and tempting us to drown us in the experiences of doubt, despair or desperation, we must fix our eyes on the author and finisher of our faith. No matter how much hurt we have experienced in this life at the changeable hands of men, we can be confident of the sure promises of the unchangeable Christ.
Concerning the spiritual discouragement of those the writer of Hebrews was addressing, Geerhardus Vos wrote,
"Perhaps there was one specific element in their spiritual discouragement which made such a reference to the unchangeableness of Christ even more pertinent than has been indicated. In all probability, they felt keenly the loss of those leaders who had formerly between them and the world stood as living examples of the Christian ideal and had communicated to them something of their own faith so as to draw them upward to the same height of courage and joy in believing. But now these fathers in Christ were gone and they were thrown back upon their own spiritual resources and distrust of themselves had taken hold of them and for the moment they did not know whither to turn for that guidance and inspiration on which they had become so dependent. For this reason also the writer reminds them that although men may come and go; while the human supports on which the Christian's faith has sometimes to lean are from the nature of the case transitory, nevertheless Jesus Christ goes with his church through all the changes and vicissitudes of time, the same yesterday, today and forever, always accessible, under every condition reliable and therefore the one proper object of faith, the only safe source of confidence because in him alone is that eternal certainty which faith needs to rest upon if it is to be faith at all."1
No matter what painful experiences of change we may be subject to in this life--whether it is the hurt of an unfaithful spouse, the apostasy of a fellow believer or pastor or the betrayal of a friend--our hearts must always be strengthened in the confidence we have in the promises of our unchanging God and Savior.
1. Geerhardus Vos, "A Sermon on Hebrews 13:8" preached at Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey on January 11, 1903.