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God Changed His Mind (Jonah 3-4)

God changes his mind. He does it all the time.

Check out how Jonah’s message began. He storms into Nineveh, yelling at the top of his lungs, “In 40 days, Nineveh will be destroyed.”

Now we have a prophet of God speaking God’s very words. God said that he was going to destroy Nineveh in forty days. God said it.

If the people of Nineveh were only as smart as we are, they would have handled this message the way we have often handled the book of Revelation. They would have made a chart. They would have had some type of explosion at the end of a timeline. The city was a three days journey (3.3) so there would have been the crowd that believed the city would blow up forty days from when the prophet first got to the city. They would have published writings disputing with the people that believed that the city would blow up forty days from when Jonah reached the center of the city.

And they, like us, would have entirely missed the point.

The prophet came, not to give a fatalistic prediction of the future, but to give people the opportunity to repent, allowing God to change his mind. God loves to change his mind. God loves to look at people that deserve judgment and give them mercy.

This is what he does in the case of Nineveh, prompting one of my favorite verses in the bible:

“When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” -Jonah 3.10

God relented. Let that sink in. God relented. God changed his mind. He did it because he had great compassion and love for Nineveh (Jonah 4.10-11).

This is what God always does. He always changes his mind and decides to show mercy. Jonah knew it. He went to God and said, “This is why I didn’t want to come here! I knew you were just the kind of God to change your mind and show mercy!” (Jonah 4.2).

That is just the kind of God we serve. And we should be thankful.

Sometimes we forget this. When we do, we come off smug, judgmental, and downright evil. So many Christians end up seeming to delight in hell and judgment. They, like Jonah, love announcing judgment more than they love to see God show mercy.

We forget that we serve a God who loves to change his mind.

We forget that we serve a God who takes no pleasure in the destruction of the wicked (Ezekiel 18.23, 32) and desires that all people would come to repentance (2 Peter 3.9).

However, when we really think about it, we are all thankful we serve a God who changes his mind. When we deserve judgment, God changes his mind and shows mercy. When we deserve alienation, God changes his mind and invites us into community. When we deserve death, God changes his mind and brings life.

And God changes his mind even when it’s costly. Here, he has one of his prophets accusing him of being weak on sin. Later, it would prove to be most costly. It would cost him his Son.

God sent His Son because he is a mind changing God. Through Jesus, he brings mercy where there once was judgment and fellowship with him where there was once only alienation. He had every reason to blow up the world just like he had every reason to blow up Nineveh. However, he chose something better. He chose redemption. He chose re-creation.

He changed his mind.

 

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6 Responses

  1. I’m struggling with some Determinism vs. Indeterminism issues at present. Check out Terrence Tiessen’s book, “Providence and Prayer.” You should have it lying around somewhere from the glory days. Or you may have it nestled under your pillow. I can’t be too sure which.

    Answer me this: what type of risk did God take in creating?

    Answer me this: if God indeed changes His mind, what degree of knowledge does He have of the future—certainly not absolute?

    And ye this: what do you presume to be God’s highest motivation—His glory (as Calvin or Piper or many others affirm), or something else, say, Relationship? That is, the perfection of relationship through perfect love. This latter opinion has recently caught my attention… It brings a sense of timelessness, or eternality, extending over and beyond God’s passion for His glory—relationships have forever (literally) been a top priority (if not the paramount priority) as He is always pursuing and maintaining the perfect relationship in His Persons.

    Epilogue: so should I put my “Things to Come” up for sale on eBay?

    -K. Reed

    • Kyle,

      Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I was at a retreat and just sat down in front of a computer.

      I appreciate the heart of this question. However, I am not sure I know the answers. What I will say is that God does change his mind and that he has absolute foreknowledge of the future.

      I tried to stay away from the determinism/indeterminism issue in this post, and focus my attention on grace. The real heart of this post is to say that God is the type of God who will turn away from bringing judgment and calamity and bring mercy and grace instead in response to the repentance of his creations.

      That being said, as you probably know, personally, I am not a determinist. I don’t think it is possible to understand the language the Old Testament uses for God in a deterministic way. I think determinism forces us to suppress texts like these.

      Many determinists would disagree with me. That is quite okay. I have been wrong before and I could be wrong again. God has taken me on such an astounding journey in my theology that I am never confident I have reached a conclusion. I think we will never fully understand how God’s omnipotence, foreknowledge, and providence can lead to a responsive God who can even change his mind. I think we may just be called to throw up our hands in worship of the God that is beyond our understanding.

  2. James: Hopefully God doesn’t change his mind about you. While I know your heart, be careful in your language. I realize you are a heretic from the start with your bad soteriology (you miss me don’t you!), but also know that you are challenging God’s immutability when you say He changed His mind, loves to change His mind, etc. While the text says that, we must be careful to remind ourselves that we are reading what God inspired man to write about Himself from inside of time. It could be seen that He changed His mind, but that would challenge His immutability. If He changed His mind, then He is ruled by sentiment, and not His nature. Rather, outside of time, inside of His eternal plan which was set forth from before the foundation of the creation of the world, He set forth what would happen. While you are tempted to say we are therefore irresponsible for all things evil, that is not true. Instead, we are responsible beings inside of a relationship of grace and inside that relationship, there is always responsibility. Furthermore, it seems like God changes His mind from our perspective, inside of time, but that simply cannot be the case due to His unchanging nature, His sternal plan, and His undying desire to be glorified in all temporal circumstances.

    • Lance: God already did change his mind about me. And about you. He did it when he showed us grace instead of mercy.

      I don’t know that I have been all that careless with my language. I have given a quote of the text “God changed his mind,” and then offered an interpretation that I believe to be consistent with historic discussion of God. I think you and I will continue to disagree about determinism, but I am certainly not making any revisions in the historic way God has been understood in his nature. I am simply saying he changes his mind (from the text) and offering an interpretation (that he shows grace when he was going to show judgment). I think even a determinist could get down that.

      To be honest, Lance, I don’t know a better way to summarize your comment than to say, “I know the text says this, but don’t be deceived. Come listen to me and I’ll tell you how God really is, apart from how he has revealed himself to us.”

      I don’t know how God ‘really is’ apart from his revelation to me. Maybe God doesn’t ‘really’ change his mind, but he wants us to think of Him as one who does, or he wouldn’t have taught us to think of him that way.

      At the end of the day, I think we both agree about much more than we disagree about. God isn’t fickle. God isn’t growing. God isn’t learning things and going through things. He doesn’t make mistakes. He is unchanging. He always relents and shows mercy when his people repent. The issue that makes this post grate on your ears has more to do with its indeterminism than with the nature of God reflected by it. I think reformed theologians have done a terrible job dealing with texts like this. They must do a better job.

      I probably haven’t changed your mind. But if I have, just know that you are being like God. He changes his mind all the time (and you must miss me too).

  3. Hey James,
    I was gonna say something to you today at church but I do have to tell you, I also disagree with the conclusion you seem to come to in this blog post. I think God “changing his mind” is the same as many other anthropomorphisms we see in the OT where human characteristics are applied to God. For instance I don’t think anyone thinks God literally has a pair of wings as in Psalm 57:1. I think the same principle applies to God “changing his mind.” I think assuming that He does such a thing is to bring Him down to our level of limited knowledge and also being confined in time, not knowing the future. Even if I were to accept that God somehow “changes his mind,” what would that look like. Since He is omniscient that would mean that He knew from eternity when and where He would change His mind so already whatever sense that He “changes his mind” is very different from the way a human changes his mind. I do respect your desire to be true to Scripture in advocating that God literally changes His mind, I also disagree with your conclusion. Thanks for making me think brother. God bless you!

    • Good word, Matt. And helpful, too.

      I have no problem with calling this language anthropomorphic. I just don’t believe that qualifies as an interpretation.

      To use your example, from Psalm 57, one level of interpretation is to recognize that this is metaphorical language. It is zoomorphism and God doesn’t literally have wings.

      However, that isn’t an interpretation. That should just guide our interpretation. The interpretation of that passage would have something to do with God’s protection of us or his care for us.

      Even if you call the language of God ‘relenting’ antrhopomorphic, there is still a responsibility to interpret the metaphor. Labeling the language metaphorical does not mean you’ve interpreted it.

      I think many people have focused on what this language is not saying rather than what it is. What I have done here is give a bare quote of the text, then follow it with an attempted interpretation.

      The text is, “God changed his mind.” My interpretation is that God has shown mercy when he was going to show judgment in response to the repentance of the people of Nineveh.

      I agree with you that God changes his mind in a way quite unlike we change ours. I also think there is some way that God’s ‘mind change’ is like ours, otherwise this text is being deceptive.

      What do you think this means? What is the text saying to us? If my interpretation doesn’t nail it (and it may not), is there another one? I don’t believe labeling the language metaphorical qualifies as interpretation. Do you? Do you believe that says enough?

      I’ll send you, and anyone else who’s interested, my paper on this topic. I chose this topic as my final paper in seminary.

      I’ll see you soon, Matt. And I’m glad we have you until May.

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