God is represented in the Old Testament as never changing. In fact, in Malachi 3:6, God speaks and informs Israel, “For I, the LORD, do not change.”
Yet in Jonah 3:9-10, as the entire city of Nineveh repents of their sin, the king of Nineveh declares, “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.”
Is there a contradiction? Does God change His mind?
The discussion can only move forward if we understand God’s justice and judgment on human behavior.
On one hand you have God’s love and on the other you have God’s judgment. These are not opposites as most people would imagine. The opposite of judgment is apathy. For example, if a group of sixth-graders were bullying a second-grader, apathy would not intervene, but love would.
So how do you reconcile the two?
What most people fail to grasp is that God’s judgment is an expression of His love.
If we don’t believe in a God of judgment there is no hope for our world. Why do I say that? Who will hold us accountable? Our culture? Our society? We ourselves? Historically, how well has that worked out?
We need a God of judgment to define good and evil for us. Then we need Him to hold us accountable to His definitions.
We must get to the place where we believe that God’s judgment of what is good and evil is superior to our own. Only then will we be able to understand judgment as an expression of His love.
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God’s ultimate purpose for the judgment of His people and of those who do not believe, is always corrective, never punitive. His heart is always to establish or restore relationship and launch or reconstruct fellowship with people. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God’s heart is that no one would perish but that everyone would come to repentance.
Yet in Jonah 3:10, the text seems to indicate that God “relented from the disaster that He had said that He would bring upon them.” True, the Old Testament portrays God as unchanging, which He is. But He can and does alter His attitude towards people and His way of dealing with them. So when the Bible states that “God relented,” it simply means that He has changed His course, not His mind. When God is said to “change His mind” it is simply a modification for us.
When we say, “God changed His mind,” we are viewing the situation from the human perspective. It appears to us that there has been a change in God but what has actually changed is our conduct, our behavior.
When we confess and repent of our sins (to repent simply means to “change direction”), it means we have changed, not God!
A further example of this is found in 1 Samuel 15:11. Where God speaks to Samuel and says, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” King Saul was no longer the man he had once been. He had become consistently disobedient. The Ninevites talked about in Jonah 3:10, were just the opposite of Saul. They had repented. They had become obedient!
Therefore, it would have been inconsistent of God not to have “relented” and forgiven the Ninevites their sins.
Jeremiah 18:7-10 explains God’s thinking for us, “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it.”
Let’s make this personal: If you came to God in remorse and child-like faith, confessing and repenting of your sins, would it be inconsistent on God’s part to not forgive you of your sins? The answer is a resounding “yes!”
An unknown Scottish theologian said, “Ultimately, divine grace towards sinners cannot be understood. It doesn’t have a reason, it simply reflects the way God is.”
God does not change! We do. He will always respond to man’s change of heart.