Yesterday, today, forever, Jesus is the same
All may change but Jesus never
Glory to his name...
That song and those words are permanently imprinted on my memory. I guess its based on Hebrews 13 v. 8 (which actually seems out of context when you read it in context!).
But what does it mean? And what does it mean for us?
On one level it can't be true - Jesus was born a baby, grew up, was crucified, died, rose again and ascended to heaven where he was given the name above all names. All that shows a process of change from boy to man, from un-scarred to permanently scarred and from not-the-name-above-all-names to name-above-all-names.
Perhaps the words are meant to apply to the post-ascended, name-above-all Jesus - maybe it was at that point that he started not changing?
I've generally understood the words to mean that God/Jesus will always treat us the same way, but I began to question that assumption several years ago when I read the book "The Disappearance of God: A Divine Mystery" by Richard Elliot Friedman (read chapter 1 online here). The book is split into three sections, the second and third of which are a lot less interesting than the first and which I won't discuss here. The first section however looks at the way God interacts with his people in the Old Testament. It makes the astounding observation that the way God has dealt with his people has progressively changed through time!
For example, consider the following biblical people:
- Adam: spoke with God face to face; disobeyed and was severely punished.
- Abraham: spoke with God face to face; tried to persuade God to change his mind (re: Sodom) but wasn't able to; unquestioned obediance was expected.
- Moses: spoke to God but didn't see his face; negotiated (sucessfully) with God; when commanded to do something was able to persuade God into letting him take his brother along with him; when commanded to speak to a rock to produce water he struck it instead but the miracle still worked (Numbers 20); but was still punished for this weakness.
- Joshua: didn't have the same level of contact with God as Moses; yet still was accompanied by numerous miracles etc.
- The judges: much fewer miracles; much less direct communication from God. Note the way that Samson behaves - that sort of behaviour wouldn't have been tolerated in the time of Abraham or Moses, but God seems to let it go here.
- Samuel: is the last named person in the bible who God 'revealed' himself to.
- Solomon: is the last person in the bible who God 'appeared' to.
Anyway, there's whole lots of interesting things to be deduced from that process of change, but one thing is clear - God does not behave the same way to all people at all times.
So even if we know how God treated his people in biblical times, how can we be sure how he will treat us in the future?