God changed God's mind about bringing the calamity upon the Ninevites, and God did not do it. - Jonah 3:10
This isn't the first time we read in the Bible about a divine change of mind. In Genesis, God sees the horrific consequences of the flood and vows never again to unleash such a catastrophe.
Later, God threatens to destroy the city of Sodom, but Abraham makes God agree to relent if fifty good people can be found there. Then Abraham bargains God down to ten. God gets the point and spares the city.
Then in the Book of Jonah God spares the Ninevites because, surprisingly, they didn't need a lot of convincing to repent, but donned sackcloth and ashes the minute Jonah told them to.
There's something unsettling about God's changeable mind. I mean, we all know what happens when parents issue ultimatums and don't follow through. Parental authority is shot to hell once the kids figure out they can commit murder and mayhem and nothing bad will happen.
A wishy-washy God is a terrible role model for parents. But it's a great role model for, well, God. At least for the kind of God we ever-faltering humans seem to need the most:
A God who wants us to practice what we preach, but who would choose a chastened heart over a consistent one any day of the week.
A God who wants us to be true to our word, but who'd rather we be tender with each other than unyieldingly constant.
A God who knows, apparently from experience, that convertibility is better than perfection, that the humble changing of minds is better than an unchanging purity of convictions, and that nothing—nothing—matters more than mercy.
Most merciful God, where would be without your changed and changing mind? Make us convertible too, so that we may treat each other with the same undeserved mercy you shower on us.
Mary Luti is Visiting Professor of Christian History and Worship at Andover Newton Theological School, Newton, Massachusetts.