Note: Much of what I’ve put here was inspired by the content at FAIRMormon.org on the matter of God changing/not changing.
This is a branch off of a question asked in the comments of another post, and also a widely disseminated “gotcha” question for Mormons, which is that if Mormon claim that God was once a man, and that men can become Gods, then how does that reconcile with scriptures such as follow:
James 1:16: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”
Hebrews 13:8-9: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.”
As Ann Mere on the other post points out, “You seem to be promoting cognitive dissonance and holding 2 contradictory beliefs at the same time.”
Well, it turns out that it’s even worse than that! Because not only do Mormons have to figure out how to reconcile those Biblical scriptures with the belief that God was not always God, but check out these scriptures from the Book of Mormon:
“For behold, I am God; and I am a God of miracles; and I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and I work not among the children of men save it be according to their faith.” – 2 Nephi 27:23
God is “unchangeable from all eternity to all eternity.” – Moroni 8:18
“For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?” – Mormon 9:9
Great, now what? Well, let’s see if we can shed some light on this matter.
First, if there’s an issue with Mormon beliefs, then there’s also an issue with the internal consistency of the Bible. In Luke 2:52 we read that Jesus “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man”. If Jesus increased in wisdom, then this clearly implies that there was wisdom he was lacking, and if he acquired more wisdom than he had previously, then doesn’t this mean that he “changed” and was not the same one day as the day before?
Likewise, after the resurrection, Jesus said “all power is given unto Me in heaven and earth.” This implies that previously, he did not have all power in heaven and earth. Again, Jesus had evidently progressed from one state to another, at least as far as the power he held, if not in other ways.
You could argue that Christ and God are separate beings, and that what applies to Christ doesn’t apply to God, but since most of those who would enter into this issue in the first place believe Christ and God are one and the same, and Mormon doctrine itself sees no difference in their characteristics or attributes despite believing they are distinct beings, I’m not sure there’s a point, so let’s just skip that discussion for the time being.
So how can God have changed, and yet be an unchanging being?
First, let’s try the perspective of things when we separate God from Godhood. If God is a specific person, then Godhood is the state of being God, or a god. If we can assume that the scriptures use the term “God” to describe “Godhood” then a scripture that says “God is unchangeable” takes on a slightly different meaning, which is that the specific criteria that makes God who He is never changes. To make an analogy, you could say “Government is a necessary evil. It always has been, and always will be.” If a true statement, this does not mean that the US government has always existed. It is merely pointing out something about the nature of government, not the physical existence of or specific traits of a specific government.
Now, Mormons might interpret some scriptures this way, but it certainly doesn’t work in all cases. Another way to look at things is to question exactly what the scriptures mean when they say things like “all eternity to all eternity” or “yesterday, today, and forever”. Are these meant to be literal measurements of time, or meant to communicate the fact that God is not going to say one thing today, and something contradictory tomorrow? When Christ says he is Alpha and Omega, is he saying that he is literally the first and last letters of the alphabet and perhaps every letter in between, or is he using a colloquialism to say that he is “everything” and that without him nothing really matters?
Joseph Smith taught in Lectures on Faith that one of the necessary attributes of God is that he cannot change, that is, that he is consistent in his principles. If he were inconsistent, then he would be like the inconsistent parent whose children are constantly afraid because they do not know how to predict what the parent will do in reaction to any action from the children. This would render it difficult at best to exercise faith in God, not to mention that God could hardly be called “perfect” if he taught one thing one day and another on another day. This isn’t to say that God doesn’t teach us things that seem to conflict. In the Bible we are commanded not to kill, and yet in the Bible God also commands his people to put to death entire cities of men, women, and children. This seems to present a conflict, but only when we do not understand the principles underlying the commands. The commands may change, but the principles do not.
Is there any other way to interpret these scriptures? Perhaps, but I think these two perspectives, especially the second, take care of things for the most part. The bottom line God is trying to get across is that he’s consistent, and he isn’t going to change. We can be confident that if we start down the path he has commanded us to take, we aren’t going to find out tomorrow that he changed his mind and now wants us to do something completely different.
Will this answer satisfy everyone? Probably not, but this is my personal view of things, and if you’re looking to understand what Mormons think on the matter I hope this is a good starting point.