The God Who Won't Change
“No right, no wrong, no rules for me… Let it go, let it go…”
When you’re the father of a daughter, you listen to the Disney Frozen song “Let it go” ad nauseam. It’s just what you do (at least in my daughter’s case). Hearing the song on repeat recently coincided with some reading I’ve been doing in the history of philosophy. Too many pages of philosophy mixed with too many verses of “let it go” means that you begin to deconstruct hidden worldviews in popular Disney songs. Maybe I’m losing my mind, but then again, wouldn’t popular movies be the place where our cultural narrative is rehearsed - even if unintentionally? After hearing the above verse literally one hundred times, I would say that its words echo the place we’re at in our culture right now. “Let it go” is the zeitgeist we all live by, consciously or unconsciously.
Living in Isolation
Elsa is an interesting character. She is unique. I mean, who else has her kinds of powers? She also can’t change. Try as she does, her powers come out at the least convenient moments. Her uniqueness makes her unable to live in community with others. And so, if Elsa is going to be Elsa, she’s going to have to live isolated to some degree. First, she’s isolated from her sister as they are growing up. Then, after an outburst of power in public, she must live in isolation from everyone else. But, as the defiant song “Let it go” recounts her predicament, what else can she do? She tried to conceal, not feel, but the real person everyone else tried to subdue came out. So, what else can she do but let it go, be herself, throw off all rules and disregard categories like right or wrong, and live on a mountain of her own making? It might be a less than ideal existence, but not as bad as denying who she is, and, after all, the cold never bothered her anyway.
But Elsa is also miserable. She does a commendable job of hiding that reality from herself and others. But eventually self-chosen fantasy meets cold, hard reality. She begins to realize her misery as her sister Anna reveals that she has left Arendelle in deep, eternal winter. Her existential isolation has also come with fallout for others. Her sister Anna presses her to come back and heal the predicament she left down the mountain. And that is when she realizes the payout of "let it go":
Oh I'm such a fool I can't be free... No escape from the storm inside of me!
Anna sees possibilities impossible to her sister, and when she presses too hard into the reality of Elsa's isolation, consequences follow. Elsa's powers strike out and hit Anna in the heart, sealing her with a frozen fate if love does not intervene.
The Cultural Liturgy of "Let it Go"
Elsa is all of us, really. This is the mindset we all live with. We breathe “let it go” without even thinking. Our cultural liturgy is as follows:
I am me. I am an individual. I am unique. I can’t be anything else. If any part of me conflicts with you, then the problem is with you rather than me. If you challenge my beliefs, my behavior, my lifestyle, or whatever, then you are judgmental. You are narrow. I may even call you a bigot.
We eventually become isolated - boxed into our group or subculture that echoes and affirms our individuality. We live alone on a mountain of our own creating, insulated from other individuals and ideas that might conflict with our reality. We may even become difficult to live with, lashing out and demanding safe spaces and trigger warnings.
"Let it Go" Meets "I AM who I AM"
Then there’s God. He always complicates things. Not only do other people judge us - there’s also this vague sense that God is judging us. He has constraining categories like the Ten Commandments. Perhaps we can ignore his reality by saying he doesn’t exist (atheism). Or even better, we can reshape God around our dreams, desires, and goals, so much so that God becomes a projection, perhaps even defender, of our lonely ice castle.
Few other Christian doctrines make people bristle more than the idea of a God who holds people morally accountable regardless of their claim to “let it go” and live out their self-chosen identities. I’d say even most Christians struggle with the full implications of this idea. We want to hide in safe spaces from words like “hell” and “condemn,” looking down at them with incredulous disregard. Judgment goes entirely against the grain of our cultural narrative - a narrative in which I am free to be me at all costs. But what if God is just who he is – and judgment is simply the fallout of his refusal to be anyone other than who he uniquely is? What if he insists, even better and more consistently than we do on being his unique self at the expense of all else?
According to Christian teaching, God is God. He says to Moses, “I AM who I AM.” One of the ancient songs of Israel sings, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3), which is another way of saying he does whatever he wants. Or, in Isaiah, God declares, “I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 43:13).
Furthermore, God never changes. “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Or, Numbers 23:19 - “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.”
For God, no rules exist apart from his own being. No category of right or wrong exists above him, for whatever he does is right, and whatever is found to be in opposition to him is wrong. In a very real way, God is THE individual who says, “I am who I am, and I cannot change.”
"I Gotta Be Me"
We all insist on being “me.” So does God. In that sense we are similar. But we are also very, very different. We are contingent. God is not. We depend upon God. He depends on no one. And this is where the individual that insists, “I gotta be me!” runs into the ineffable majesty that claims with authority “I AM who I AM.” And this is where that uncomfortable category called “judgment” comes in. As theologian Paul Scherer perceptively puts it:
There is something terrible on this earth, and it is not just sin; it is the way sin runs into God, and he will not move - pg. 232
The fault in judgment lies not on God, who is who he is and cannot change. The fault lies on us, who live in our own self-made castles of individual isolation, demanding that God and others change to accommodate our self-actualization.
Love That Melts Isolation
Frozen does not end as a sad story. The credits do not role with Elsa still locked up in her isolation and Arendelle as an eternal Antarctica (Disney doesn't make any money on unresolved tragedy... except for that traumatic movie Old Yeller). Elsa is released from her isolation by an act of selfless love. Anna's heart eventually froze because of her sister's unintentional spell, but her frozen body, in selfless love, takes the brunt of an attack on Elsa's life. And so, it's love and self-denial that leads both to a restored relationship between Elsa and her sister as well as the return of summer. None of this would have been possible if Anna had insisted on being herself at any expense. But at great expense to herself, Anna leads Elsa into a reality where her uniqueness is a gift rather than a curse. None of this was plausible or possible before love intervened.
God's story intertwined with our story need not have a sad ending either. The credits do not need to role with deep outer darkness and eternal despair. Love has intervened. At great cost to himself. Yes, God is just, holy, and unspeakably perfect. And he does not change. But God is also "merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness" (Exodus 34:6). "God is love" (1 John 4:8). And once again, he does not change in this respect either. "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). Like Anna who falls in front of a sword intended for her sister, Jesus Christ willingly takes the brunt of divine justice. It's in the cross that God is both just and the justifier (Romans 3:26) - able to remain both holy and merciful without negating his unchangeable character.
It's here that the God who cannot change begins to change us, who previously never thought change was a possibility. He enters into our frozen winter of self-love marketed as freedom, and melts the ice with a single act of love in Jesus Christ. Christ has come to storm the castle, melt our winter, and reorient our individuality around the one true reality. This is true freedom. This allows me to be truly me. Not the me I create in isolation, but rather the me defined by the One who created me for the true freedom of his ways.
Pastor John Rasmussen - Our Savior Lutheran Church - South Windsor, CT