The Bible clearly expresses the immutability of God—His unchanging, consistent nature—in numerous passages. James communicates it like this: “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” (James 1:17, NKJV).
With unique expressions such as “Father of lights” and “no shadow of turning,” James focuses on God’s creative power over the heavens and the earth (see Genesis 1:14–18; Job 38:4–15, 19–21, 31–33; Psalm 136:4–9; Jeremiah 31:35). These phrases are astronomical references to the variations of light intensity and shadows cast by the sun, moon, planets, and stars. The celestial bodies constantly move, revolving in space, casting “shadows of turning” as the light they produce shifts, fluctuates, and is eclipsed.
Each day as the sun rises in the east, it casts long, westerly shadows. At the sun’s full midday peak, the shadows disappear and then begin to turn toward the east as the direction of light pivots. At night the shadows are deepest but still turning and shifting with the moon’s phases. The shadow of turning may also refer to the variations of light and shadow caused by the changing seasons, as the earth turns on its axis and the sun’s distance and direction alter.
The variable lights and shadows cast by the heavenly bodies contrast sharply with God’s unaltering character. We perceive the sun’s light in varying degrees, but the sun is always shining. The same principle is true of God. In a spiritual sense, “God is light” and “in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). Because He is the Father of lights, there is no dimming, darkening, or shadow of turning with God. James asserts that God’s goodness is demonstrated by the fact that He does not change. God created the universe with its continually varying conditions, yet He remains eternally the same (Psalm 102:27; Hebrews 1:12; Malachi 3:6). The same can be said of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:8).
There is no shadow of turning with God’s character. His love and faithfulness are constant (Psalm 89:2; 136:1–26; 2 Timothy 2:13). He is forever perfect (Deuteronomy 32:4; Matthew 5:48; 2 Samuel 22:31; Job 37:16) and holy (Isaiah 6:1–5; 1 Samuel 2:2; Revelation 4:1–8). His love for His children never fails (Romans 8:38–39; Jeremiah 31:3; Hebrews 13:5; 1 John 4:8).
There is no shadow of turning with God’s purposes and promises. The author of Hebrews explains that God “bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind” (Hebrews 6:17, NLT). God does not lie or change His mind (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). The proverb writer declares, “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail” (Proverbs 19:21, NLT). The Lord always accomplishes His will and keeps His promises (Psalm 145:13).
There is no shadow of turning with God’s Word: “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8, NLT). His eternal Word “stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). The Lord’s Word never returns “empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10–11).
Because there is no shadow of turning with God, we can put our whole trust and faith in Him. He is a good Father whose plans, actions, and dealings in our lives are always morally consistent with His nature and His Word. James taught that tests and trials ultimately serve a good purpose in our lives (see James 1:2–18). Even Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a good gift from God (see 2 Corinthians 12:1–10). When difficulties and temptations arise, we must not let the shifting shadows obscure our confidence in the Father of lights.