Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Openness of Jonah 3

We serve a God of second chances. "Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time:..." (Jonah 3:1).

Jonah obeyed and went to Nineveh. Smart man.

Nineveh was "very important city" (NIV). Actually, it was "great (according) to God," which is what the Hebrew reads (vs. 3). Allen sees the phrase as an intensive phrase, something like "Nineveh in comparison to God was great." Or, "Nineveh was God-sized." Whatever the meaning, it presents the mammoth task of Jonah as he begins his apocalyptic preaching to this massive city, "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned (demolished)." This message is the biblical inspiration for seeker-friendly preaching.

I love it. Brevity is the soul of repentance. From the king to the kindergarteners the whole city turns to Yahweh. If Jonah were Napolean Dynamite, he might have said, "Gosh! I just can't believe it. Sackcloth and ashes? These ratty Ninevites have gone maximum religious on me."

Jonah chapter three ends with one of those Old Testament bomb blasts. The writer tells us in verse 10 that "God repented," too. The words create a gasp in us. God repents or relents or changes his mind? It sure sounds like it even in the NIV: "When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened."

At least 36 times in the Old Testament we read that God changed his mind, or relented or repented. These 36 occurrences cause severe mind cramps in many people. They get knotted up because they reason like this: God is perfect. Perfect can't change. If perfect changes for the better, then it wasn't perfect to begin with. Yikes! We can't start with an imperfect God. Continuing, if perfect changes, then it must be only for the worse. Yikes again! We can't end with an imperfect God. Therefore, the Bible is dead wrong 36 times when it flat out tells us that God changed his mind.

The insider, wise ones among us help out here. What we have 36 times, they propose, is an anthropomorphism. This is a long, catchy word for "These 36 verses don't fit our theology." The mantra is: "God can't change! God can't change!" God is the great unblinking unfeeling stare. We're told that God condescends to our childish state ("baby steps") and merely reports that God seems to be like us--we can change our minds after all--but, really, God is not like us. We can do something that God can't do. Doesn't that make you feel really special? You can change your mind, but God can't change his. What a mighty God we serve!

Oops! I misspoke or miswrote. We really can't change our minds because everything we think, say, feel or do has been decreed beforehand. We, too, are cosmic unblinking little stares just living out the programming of Big Daddy Stare. Ooh, I get goose bumps from such articulate, warm theology. Just think, everything that I am writing at this moment has been decreed by God from eternity past. He decreed that I write about how silly it is that he decreed everything. This is just too fun.

But you say: God didn't predetermine everything beforehand. He just knows everything beforehand. Well, if God just knows the future, but doesn't determine it, does that mean I can actually do something different than what God "knows"? If God merely knows beforehand that I am going to eat Copper River salmon today and then I choose to eat a Johnsonville brat instead, was God's knowledge imperfect? There's that dastardly word again. Just because God merely knows beforehand doesn't mean we have actually have a choice in the matter. We will think, feel, and do exactly and only what God "knows." And remember, according to the insider, wise ones, God knows all things actual and possible. Sing to the tune of "I'd like to be an Oscar Mayer weiner"...

"Oh, I'd like to be a predetermined pup-pet.
"That is what I'd really like to be-ee-ee.
"For if I were a predetermined pup-pet,
"God would always be in charge of meee."

Fun, eh? We must, at all costs, protect God's sovereignty. It's up to us, you know. God needs us to protect his meticulous control. How mighty we are! We must protect his omniscience, too. How can God get along without us protecting him?

And God changed his mind. Whoopty-doo. I would like to think that God is free and if he wants to change his mind, have at it. I like a truly relational God, a truly interactive God. I like a give-and-take God who mixes it up with us. I'll take Jonah 3:10 and the other 36 verses any day over the imported perfection of Platonism.

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20 Comments:

At 7/26/2007 5:34 AM, Blogger flyawaynet said...

Jeremiah 18:1-7

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD : "Go down to the potter's house, and there I will give you my message." So I went down to the potter's house, and I saw him working at the wheel.But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the LORD came to me: "O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.

 
At 7/26/2007 7:29 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

flyawaynet,
I really like these verses. Thanks for sharing them.

 
At 7/26/2007 5:21 PM, Blogger flyawaynet said...

I'd read them just recently, and when I read your post you reminded me of them. Just like the potter has a design and then changes it because of the clay, so does God.

 
At 7/27/2007 10:39 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Flyaway,
God is indeed free to bring about spontaneous change in history without it being the unfolding of some theoretical "decree."

 
At 7/27/2007 10:45 AM, Blogger Baby Hates Bunnies said...

Oh, this kind of stuff makes my head hurt...

 
At 7/27/2007 12:09 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

baby hates bunnies,
Take 2 aspirin and call me in the morning :)

 
At 7/27/2007 1:06 PM, Blogger Dan Delion said...

And after the 6th day, God looked at all He had done, and saw that it was good. He then went on a loooooong vacation, for He did not need to hang around any further, for all that was to come had been predetermined. He left only a message, to call Him when the program completes.

...Gimme a break!

 
At 7/27/2007 3:24 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

dan delion,
You deserve a break today. Don't you want a motionless, unfeeling, unblinking Stare for a heavenly Father? C'mon.

 
At 7/27/2007 7:02 PM, Anonymous jeremy bouma said...

Wow, you're a brave man, John, for taking on predestination, but a wise one at that :)

Our understanding or impression of God has major consequences to so much of life and our views of His Reality. It influences our understanding of sin, of humanity, of the god-man relationship, of salvation, eternity, and of hell. Thanks for breaking wide open the need to see God hyper relationally and move beyond understanding God as Big Daddy Stare.

-jeremy

ps-bonus points for the Napolean Dynamite reference...classic!

 
At 7/28/2007 9:56 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

jeremy,
Thanks so much for your affirming words. Gosh.

 
At 7/29/2007 8:17 PM, Anonymous Susan said...

"Brevity is the soul of repentance."

You write so many good turns of phrase, John.

Those who believe God cannot change His mind have equated perfection with unresponsiveness. I'm sure the people of Ninevah were glad that God responds to changed hearts with a change in plans.

 
At 7/30/2007 4:43 AM, Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Amen.

 
At 7/30/2007 11:08 PM, Blogger Gord said...

Excellent post John. I love this phrase... "The insider, wise ones among us help out here." As if we need specially educated persons to "reveal" God to us. (Not meant to offend theologians but I think we theologize too much at times)

I like the way you tackle these theological issues with a touch of sarcasm and wit. I love it. It truly expresses the point that God is quite capable of running the universe on his own without any help from us.

Oh, and those "insider, wise ones"? Do we really need them to reveal God to us? In my own experience, God chooses to reveal himself to me directly. Yes, God is the one in control as an active, not passive, God who cares about his creation. He cares enough to change his mind. In my books, that is called "grace." Amazing, isn't it?

If anyone reading this don't believe me, reread the Noah story. God relented to the total destruction of man because this one man, Noah, "found grace in the eyes of the Lord." God's "repenting" or changing of his mind does not reflect that he is a God who is less than perfect, but reveals that he is much more than just perfect... he is God.

He is a God who loves us enough to change his course of action for that very cause - love. Oh, yes, that is why I believe God relented those 36 times. It was because he loves us and "is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."

I once heard that "a leader should never demand anything from anyone that they are not willing to do themselves." That is a very wise saying. God doesn't demand that we repent without himself being repentant. This doesn't mean he has sinned or made a mistake, just that he changed his mind. Thats love and grace in action my friends.

Well, I've rambled enough. I think you get the point. Great post John. Keep 'em coming.

 
At 7/31/2007 8:44 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

gord,
All I can write is "Thank you. Your words are very kind and encouraging."

I do like to use a mild sarcasm and some wit just to make people think. I don't want to harrangue others.

 
At 7/31/2007 7:23 PM, Blogger Keith Brenton said...

I used to have problems with the idea of God changing His mind. Then I realized that He can still arrange circumstances to achieve His desired outcome ... or back out of the situation entirely and leave it to us. He can nudge us with His Holy Spirit. He can withdraw and see if we try to seek Him anyway. He's almighty. He's all-sovereign. He can do as He chooses, and He made us with some of the same nature.

Is the Lord's arm too short?

Naw. He's got two of them: justice and mercy. And they work together. He will have mercy on whom He has mercy. He will impose justice on whom He imposes justice.

I'm really glad He is big enough to change His mind.

(Thanks for fishin' around in this can of worms - a terrific post!)

 
At 8/01/2007 7:41 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

Keith,
You got me with this line--"Thanks for fishing around in this can of worms." I love it. Thanks for the affirming words. We indeed serve a mighty and awesome and free God who, IMHO, is not bound by some theoretical decree.

 
At 8/01/2007 2:31 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Susan,
I like your insight that those who defend the changelessness of God have "equated perfection with unresponsiveness." That is a simple, yet precise insight. Thanks!

 
At 8/01/2007 2:32 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

milton stanley,
Amen to your amen :)

 
At 4/28/2009 10:27 AM, Blogger Chris said...

As Greg Boyd is one of the leading proponents for the openness of God, "meaning that God does not infallibly know or control the future" I think it would only be fare for those of you who are blasting the voiceless opposition you seem to be very irritated with, you could read a little from John Piper as well because he along with John Frame are one of the main proponents against this openness idea, so check it out and have a think! God bless http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1998/1548_Answering_Greg_Boyds_Openness_of_God_Texts/

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/2001OpenTheism.htm

 
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