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.