“For as the Father has life in himself.” (John 5:26)
Aseity and Immutability of God
In classical theism, God is the eternal absolute being who is independent of anything outside of himself. God is independent in his existence because he depends on nothing and no one for His existence. God is independent in his activity because all that is actual, apart from himself, exists by his will alone. He has all life, glory, and blessedness, in and of himself. He is self-sufficient. Creation does not add anything to God.
The Self-Existence (Aseity) of God
God is self-existent, that is, He has the ground of His existence in Himself. This idea is sometimes expressed by saying that He is causa sui (His own cause), but this expression is hardly accurate, since God is the uncaused, who exists by the necessity of His own Being, and therefore necessarily…The idea of God’s self-existence was generally expressed by the term aseitas, meaning self-originated… As the self-existent God, He is not only independent in Himself, but also causes everything to depend on Him. [Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1938), p. 58.]
James Dolezal elaborates,
God alone is the absolute sufficient condition for the existence of non-divine things; they exist through him. Likewise, he is the absolute sufficient condition for his own existence; he exists through himself. But, while the existence of creatures through God is necessarily understood as effects existing through a cause, God’s existence through himself cannot possibly be conceived in this way. Self-existence is neither self-causation nor self-dependence. [James Dolezal, God Without Parts (Pickwick Pub, 2011), p. 68-69]
The self-existence of God is not just a philosophical presupposition, it is revealed by God when he declares his name to be Yahweh, “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). Walther Eichrodt observes that in Isaiah God’s name becomes especially understood as referring to God’s eternal and independent existence apart from the creation (e.g., Isaiah 40:28; 41:4; 43:10 – 20; 44:6; 48:12). The Septuagint translates Exodus 3:14 as “Ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν” to denote unalterable Being as the chief characteristic of the deity [Walter Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament (Westminster, 1951), vol. 1, p. 192]
John Owen elaborates,
God alone has all being in him. Hence he gives himself that name, “I AM,” Exod. 3: 14. He was eternally All; when all things else that ever were, or now are, or shall be, were nothing… In this state of infinite, eternal being and goodness, antecedent unto any act of wisdom or power without himself to give existence unto other things, God was, and is, eternally in himself all that he will be, all that he can be, unto eternity. For where there is infinite being and infinite goodness, there is infinite blessedness and happiness, whereunto nothing can be added. God is always the same. That is his name, “‘attah hu’” – Ps. 102: 27, ‘You are he’ – always the same. All things that are, make no addition unto God, no change in his state. His blessedness, happiness, self-satisfaction, as well as all other his infinite perfections, were absolutely the same before the creation of anything, whilst there was nothing but himself, as they are since he has made all things: [John Owen, Glory of Christ (Christian Heritage, 2004), p. 162]
Creatures are dependent on others for their existence. Their existence is contingent, that is, they may or may not have existed. Indeed, they are brought into existence by God and their existence must be sustained by God (Rev. 4:11). In contrast, God is of and from himself and he exists by himself. He was before all things and exists independent of all things. He is self-existent from eternity (Psalm 90: 1-4; 102: 25-27). If God is self-existent, he exists by the necessity of his own being. The existence of God is not contingent but necessary. God’s existence is not an act grounded in an act of his own volition for this would imply he could unwill (destroy) his own existence, but in his nature.
Immutability as a necessary concomitant of God’s Aseity
The Immutability of God is a necessary concomitant of His aseity. It is that perfection of God by which He is devoid of all change, not only in His Being, but also in His perfections, and in His purposes and promises. In virtue of this attribute He is exalted above all becoming, and is free from all accession or diminution and from all growth or decay in His Being or perfections. His knowledge and plans, His moral principles and volitions remain forever the same. Even reason teaches us that no change is possible in God, since a change is either for better or for worse. But in God, as the absolute Perfection, improvement and deterioration are both equally impossible. This immutability of God is clearly taught in such passages of Scripture as Ex. 3:14; Ps. 102:26–28; Isa. 41:4; 48:12; Mal. 3:6; Rom. 1:23; Heb. 1:11, 12; Jas. 1:17. [Berkhof, pp. 58-59]
The divine immutability should not be understood as implying immobility, as if there were no movement in God. It is even customary in theology to speak of God as actus purus, a God who is always in action. The Bible teaches us that God enters into manifold relations with man and, as it were, lives their life with them. There is change round about Him, change in the relations of men to Him, but there is no change in His Being, His attributes, His purpose, His motives of action, or His promises. The purpose to create was eternal with Him, and there was no change in Him when this purpose was realized by a single eternal act of His will. The incarnation brought no change in the Being or perfections of God, nor in His purpose, for it was His eternal good pleasure to send the Son of His love into the world. And if Scripture speaks of His repenting, changing His intention, and altering His relation to sinners when they repent, we should remember that this is only an anthropopathic way of speaking. In reality the change is not in God, but in man and in man’s relations to God. It is important to maintain the immutability of God over against the Pelagian and Arminian doctrine that God is subject to change, not indeed in His Being, but in His knowledge and will, so that His decisions are to a great extent dependent on the actions of man; over against the pantheistic notion that God is an eternal becoming rather than an absolute Being, and that the unconscious Absolute is gradually developing into conscious personality in man; and over against the present tendency of some to speak of a finite, struggling, and gradually growing God. [Berkhof, p. 59]
Finally, God’s aseity entails that he is perfect, he is being and not becoming. Classical theism describes God as pure act in that he has no passive potentiality that he might become more that what he is.
He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (1 Timothy 6:15)
Next Post: The Immutable God Who Cares. Part 3 – Divine Simplicity & Immutability of God.