Should God's mind change? In asking this I have ultimately skipped over the preceding question, "Does God's mind change?" The answer to that question is a resounding yes. In this week's text (Jonah 3:1-5,10), we find Jonah at a point where he is finally, though possibly half-heartedly responding to God's call to prophesy to the Ninevites. While most of our discussions often revolve around the seeming faithlessness of Jonah at the end of the book, it is very easy to miss the faithfulness of God in this text.
In Jonah 3:10 the NRSV reads, "When God saw what they had done and how they had put a stop to their evil ways, he changed his mind and did not carry out the destruction he had threatened." In the Hebrew, this word, translated here as "to change his mind," means to regret, to be sorry, to repent. For many of us, this phrase, may cause a multitude of reactions. For many people, the question may have never occurred to us. For others, a natural and fitting reaction may be that God will be the same tomorrow as God was today and yesterday.
With this in mind, we enter this week's text with the question, "Should God change his mind?" For some, another way of asking this may be the question, "Is it safe to worship a God whose mind changes?" As I write this I can picture one of my college professors excitedly jumping up and down. He declared that if we believe that God will suddenly change who God is whenever God likes, that we should run as far from God as possible. He also firmly declared that the God he worships is nothing like that. I would have to agree with this statement as well.
In the face of this question, I would like to encourage you that the act of God's changing mind in this passage does not mean that God's personality or ways of making decisions have changed. In fact, I would claim the opposite. If we read the entire passage, we find that Nineveh in the face of destruction has repented of its sins. In response to their mourning and the act saddling up their animals in sackcloth and ashes, God in God's faithful nature has shown compassion toward Nineveh.
In a story like this, we can find a home in the life of many characters. Today, I would like to relate to the Ninevites. As a broken and sinful people who has repented of our sin, God's mind has changed about the destruction God has promised to us. Instead of punishing us for our sin as God has intended, God offers the fullness of God's grace to us. On top of that, God's prevenient grace has gone before us to make us aware of that sin in the first place. We have done nothing in our own power to make any of this so.
With this in mind, the answer that we cling to is: yes, God's mind should change. Yes, it is in God's character to change God's mind when we repent. In reflection, I cannot help but sit in amazement at the fact that God's faithfulness is shown in a way we (or maybe just I) have never before considered.