“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
The Bible makes clear that God is unchanging. At the same time, the book of Jonah affirms that He can and does change His attitude towards people and His way of dealing with them. How are we to make sense of this apparent contradiction?
We see this tension elsewhere in Scripture. In His dealings with King Saul, for instance, God said, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments” (1 Samuel 15:11). But a few verses later we’re told, “The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret” (v 290. It seems that God regrets His decision, but then we are told that He doesn’t have regret.
Yet there is no ultimate inconsistency between these two modes of expression. When God is said to have regret or change His mind, the descriptive language is an accommodation to our finite human perspective. It appears that there has been a change in God, but what has actually changed is our human conduct. Simply put, Saul was no longer the man he had once been. He had become persistently disobedient, and God responded to that changed circumstance in a way that was entirely consistent with His character. Similarly, in response to Jonah’s preaching, the Ninevites changed their conduct – this time, in the opposite direction: they turned away from evil. God is consistently against sin and favorable towards repentance and faith; His character does not change. His warnings are intended to alert the wayward and bring them to repentance – and if repentance occurs, then God responds accordingly.
Only because God responds in this way can the sinner who believes in Jesus come to know His acceptance. Because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrew 13:8), we can know that when we come in penitence and childlike faith, God receives us with compassion and mercy. That is His nature, and He will not change. From our perspective, it may look as if He has changed His mind – but God always remains true to every word He has ever spoken. In a world that is always changing and where even the best of us cannot always keep our word, here is great ground for your confidence and joy today.