As we’ve noted earlier, this list of God’s core attributes is repeated throughout the Old Testament, all the way through the age of the prophets and to the return from Babylon. Interestingly, the prophets add a line to the description: “relenting of evil” (Joel 2.13) or “one who relents concerning calamity” (Jonah 4.2).
As the NASB makes clear in the Jonah passage, the word translated “evil” refers here not to moral evil, but to calamity or disaster. God had warned Israel that if they departed from him, he would send calamity their way (Dt 30.15-20). He warned of specific calamities: drought, famine, war, disease (Dt 28.15ff). And Israel played that script out multiple times.
But when his people repent, God relents. He restores the relationship, despite the offense.
Now, when we talk about God relenting, or repenting, or changing his mind, that raises all kinds of logical and theological questions. I plan to deal with that issue in a future post. For now, let’s just grant that the Scripture uses that kind of language about God, as astonishing as it is.
I’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t forgive people until they repent, because God doesn’t. Fair enough. But there are some further considerations to the point.
Since God is omniscient, he knows whether our repentance is sincere. Can we know that for certain?
No, we can’t. And interestingly, Jesus tells us to forgive people whenever they ask, with no reference to “sincerity” (Mt 18.22)—and frankly, if my brother asked me to forgive him 490 times for the same thing, I’d start to wonder whether he meant it. But Jesus says to forgive him anyway.
And, come to think of it, when we repent, God know whether we’re going to fail again (and usually, the answer is yes). And he forgives us anyway.
If God, whose plans are perfect, who is never surprised, can forgive and relent of planned disaster, what about us? We’re not omniscient, and our plans aren’t perfect, and we are often surprised. If God can relent, shouldn’t we?
Why not go to your enemy, and offer him your hand, your arms, your friendship? Why not take back the things you said, the threats you made?
Why not make the first move?
The premise of this series is that we ought to treat others—all others—as God has treated us. Mockery, disdain, sarcasm, dismissal, ranting, vilification—God has never done that to us, although we have repeatedly deserved it for the way we’ve treated him.
No, God’s character won’t allow that. Just as he can’t lie, so also he can’t treat us in the ways we so naturally treat people we disagree with, or people we dislike, or people who lie about us or trivialize our concerns.
We need to be like him.
Pick somebody you really dislike—maybe a public figure, maybe a personal acquaintance.
And then think about how God would treat—indeed, has treated—him:
- Loyal love
- Justice with mercy
- Relenting of calamity
And do those things.
And to get really serious, pray that God would do those things for him too.
Maybe, one relationship at a time, we can be agents of peace rather than strife—lights in the world, instead of darkness.
If your eye is
bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.
If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Mt 6.23).