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Chemistry was the only science subject I really enjoyed at school. I was terrified of my biology teacher, whose eccentricity and rigid rules left me afraid to explore and ask questions, and the maths involved in physics left me cold. Chemistry, however, was taught by a friendly woman who may have been eccentric but whose passion and enthusiasm for her subject gradually drew me in.
I remember learning a list of the chemical properties of metals, a list I can remember to this day:
Metals are malleable and ductile
Metals usually have high density
Metals can form alloys with other metals and non-metals
Metals are generally good conductors of heat and electricity (lead being an exception)
Metals are generally solids at room temperature (mercury being an exception)
The list was actually much longer than that, but since this is not a chemistry revision blog, I’d better stop there!
The linguist in me loved the first bullet point most, because it introduced two new words to my thirteen-year-old vocabulary: ‘malleable’ and ‘ductile’. Malleable means the ability to be hammered or pressed into shape without breaking or cracking – pliant, pliable, workable, able to be moulded. Ductile means being able to be drawn out into a thin wire, ‘the ability to be deformed without losing toughness, not brittle.’
I could see these were useful characteristics, particularly as I pondered gold and silver jewellery. The malleability of metals seemed especially useful and practical to me.
As I grew up, I saw that some people seemed malleable like metals. They changed their shape according to the company they kept. Sometimes they were solicitous and kind; on other occasions, they could be snappy and waspish. They could be polite and deferential to my face, but in private, behind my back, could mock and laugh at me. Somehow, malleability in people did not seem so laudable.
When I became a Christian, I discovered people liked to treat God as malleable as well. We like to squeeze Him into our image, to press Him into our moulds, to take one attribute and focus entirely on that, to the exclusion of everything else.
A metal’s ability to change shape does not apply to God, however. He does not change. (Mal 3:6) He’s not like us, chameleon-like in qualities, appearing to one person as loving and to another as mean. All the attributes of God are held in perfect balance, however contradictory they may seem to us.
As I grew up, I learnt a lot about the characteristis of God in much the same way I learnt about the characteristics of metals at school. (I’m a list person!) God is love. He is faithful, good, kind, compassionate, forgiving, merciful, just, jealous, righteous, holy, slow to anger, a consuming fire… the list is much longer than the metals’ one! Some of these attributes (the things that make God who He is) seem contradictory to us and baffling, so we try to persuade ourselves that He’s malleable, able to be squeezed into whatever God-shape we fancy at the time. One attribute God does not possess, however, is malleability. He is, instead, immutable. He doesn’t change. He is who He is. He won’t change for us. We need to accept the reality of who He is, otherwise we are simply worshipping a false god.