“God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” This was an argument I used often (and with relatively high success) as a missionary. God spoke to prophets in the past; God is unchanging; therefore, God speaks to prophets now. Is it really that simple? It’s an argument that missionaries love to use, when discussing a subject like prophets or temples. However, it raises serious questions.
We’ll start with the obvious question. If God is unchanging, then why have the rules within the LDS church changed when it comes to subjects like polygamy, Blacks and the priesthood, women’s roles, the Word of Wisdom, and a whole host of other things? Is God really unchanging? And if God is unchanging, can we take that immutability and derive any sorts of normative guidance from it?
I suspect that the stock answer is along these lines — “God is unchanging in His attributes and Godliness; but some of the details with His interaction with humankind will change, as required by the circumstances.” This sort of formulation allows for a God who is unchanging, but also a God who allows for rule changes on issues like polygamy (as well as ad hoc needs like Noah’s ark). In other words, God is immutable, but not all of our God-derived rules need be immutable.
This exception threatens to swallow the rule, however. If God can really change the rules relating to polygamy, alcohol, priesthood, and so on, they why can He not change the rules regarding prophets, the existence of temples, and such? Is there a principled way to distinguish between which of our God-derived rules are immutable and tied back to the nature of God, and which of our God-derived rules are subject to change without notice? What exactly are we supposed to do with the idea that God is unchanging?