I will start with a quote from a blog post written by Brad Nelson, who is on staff at Rob Bell’s Mars Hill Church. I will not provide a link to Mars Hill. You can Google it if you wish.
You may read Nelson’s post in its entirety here.
Here is the quote:
“God’s compassion in the story of Jonah is not random. It’s aroused by the repentance of the sailors and the Ninevites. It triggers something in God that he can’t resist. “Repentance has an explosive impact upon God; God is highly sensitive to repentance. He responds vigorously to repentance even at the slightest hint of it, even if a person has committed terrible sins” (Meet the Rabbis by Brad Young, Hendrickson Publishers, 2007). There is a Jewish tale about the power of repentance in which King Manasseh, one of the most wicked kings in Judah’s history, repented and sought God’s favor. According to the tale, the ministering angels in heaven were so outraged at Manasseh’s sin that they blocked his prayer from entering God’s heavenly court. But God ripped a hole in his own throne to make a way for Manasseh’s prayer to reach him (Meet the Rabbis by Brad Young, Hendrickson Publishers, 2007). God is just waiting for us to return to him.”
I will say that his “exegesis” leaves much to be desired. He uses the midrash and mythology of Judaism to interpret scripture.
The fact of the matter is that God neither men nor angels can hinder or help God. God is not manipulated. God is not waiting on anyone.
To understand the meaning of true repentance we must go to the Word, i.e .the Bible.
The words translated as repent in both the Hebrew and the Greek are:
שׁוּב shûb (shoob)
A primitive root; to turn back (hence, away) transitively or intransitively, literally or figuratively
To think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider ; repent
What is evident is that repentance is not merely saying “I’m sorry” or feeling sorrow. In fact grief and sorrow over one’s action can be seen as a predecessor to repentance, while apology is part of the fruit or action which repentance produces.
9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.
10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,
13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Repentance scripturally defined, is a change of mind and heart, a complete turn around in the way one thinks, which leads to a rejection of one’s previous intentions and actions, and coming around to a new line of thought and deed. In the case of the believer it is defined this way:
Isaiah 55: 6 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
When a man repents, he is turning to God’s ways and thoughts and away from his own. It is acknowledgement that the minds and means of mankind are non-productive and futile in terms of a relationship with the Father. When we reject our idea of how salvation is worked out, we then demonstrate the transformation which is the evidence of a renewed mind. This is then demonstrated in our obedient working out of what God has worked in.
Many love to quote verses 8-9 of Isaiah 55 outside of the context of verses 6 and 7. God wants us to know how He thinks and acts. In this post-modern and liberal theological climate, mystery and mysticism, i.e. confusion, rule the day.
Deut 29:29 "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
God has given us His revelation in scripture, therefore He wants us to hear/read it, understand it, and do it. He wants us to submit our minds to Christ in His service. This is the warfare of 2 Cor 10:4-5. This is the essence of the great Shema of Deut 6:4-25,”hear Oh Israel”. The word hear, i.e. shema, literally means to not merely hear with the ear, but to comprehend and do.
We diminish repentance to a mere mea culpa when we sin, when it entails so much more. Repentance is the daily walk of the regenerate saints of God. No one can repent without first being regenerate. Repentance does not save us. It is a work that those already foreknown by the Father, do. Romans 8:29-30
So then the people of Nineveh did not “move God”. They did not surprise Him by turning to Him. They were moved by God, who is Lord over all circumstances, to repent, and acted in accordance to what God already had foreknown.
Jonah understood this:
Jonah 4:2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
Repentance is like prayer. When one knows, speaks and obeys God’s sovereign will, God acts according to that will and plan, which He purposed from before creation.
He is not making it up as He goes along and we are never allowed to make it up. Matthew 6:9-10; 1 John 5:14-15
The Ninevites were doing what God wanted them to do. If God wills that Nineveh should repent, then they will and He will relent. This is why Jonah was upset He knew that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God, and if the Assyrians had ears to hear, they would believe to repentance, and God would stay His hand. Just as Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as righteousness.
So we have sorrow for our transgressions, that is for our disobedience, and we not only feel grief over those transgressions, we also alter our thinking and direction. Regenerate men, the church, His body, of which he is the head, have the mind of Christ.
1Cor 2:16 "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
Now we come to the issue of God who seems to change His mind based on the actions and pleadings of His people.
Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
When men repent they turn to God’s way of thinking. If God repents, whose way of thinking does He turn to? There is no one greater than He. Hebrews 6:13
Therefore “God’s repentance” can be defined as doing what he already intended to do.
No one can influence him and change His mind. Such teaching is rooted in open theism which is outright heresy.
Nelson’s interpretations, and the rabbinical teachings that he alludes to, which assert that God just “can’t resist” anyone who repents is dead wrong. It puts man in the driver’s seat, and God as the unwitting passenger. On day it will be seen that “free will” as it is taught in today’s evangelical world, is the loftiest of thoughts which exalts itself against God.The only thing that Nelson and the neo-rabbis are correct in is the statement that “God’s compassion is not random.”
Let us repent, for His kingdom is at hand.
Soli Deo Gloria