God Relents when Man Repents

by Timothy Shorey
March 31, 2021

Hope for Our Nation

Sometimes the sheer wonder of God’s mercy is too much to fathom—but there is joy in trying! We can easily feel it when considering Jonah’s foot-dragging missionary adventure to Nineveh (recounted in Jonah 1-4). God called. Jonah reluctantly went. Jonah warned of God’s judgment. The people repented. God forgave.

So “[w]hen God saw…how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster he had said he would do…” (Jonah 3:10). The previously godless city/community/nation of Nineveh was baptized in the mercy of God! One moment they were under an appointed sentence of death for their grievous sins (Jonah 3:1-4), and the next moment they received a divine reprieve. This goes to show that God relents when man repents. What wondrous mercy! No matter the depths of personal or national sin: There. Is. Hope.

The promise of God’s relenting mercy extends first to those who are his, as God’s oft-recited words attest (2 Chron. 7:14). Too many have applied this text to the United States (as if it has a claim to being called “my people” by God). It does not. Not in the past. Not now. Not ever. Instead, this specific promise was meant for God’s chosen nation (Israel), and for the Church, which by faith has been grafted into that holy nation (1Peter 2:9; Rom. 11:11-20).

But this is not to say that there is no hope for other nations. When any nation repents of sin, God relents of judgment. The mercy towards nations that Jonah 3 narrates is taught explicitly in Jeremiah 18:7-10. God shows mercy when a nation is contrite. What happened in Nineveh has happened elsewhere in the past, and will happen, again (for example, see Isa. 19:19-25). When Jonah declares that God is a “gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:2-3) he is speaking truth and hope; hope for me, for my neighbor, for my community, and for my country.

Many of us see national disaster on the way. Developments in recent years have ripped off the mask of pretended national virtue, and revealed a nation literally hell-bent on deviance and depravity. We have pumped ourselves full of sin-steroids. Due to sheer unbelief, to nationalistic pride and exceptionalism, to rampant abortion, to racial prejudice, to deeply imbedded class discrimination and disadvantage, to vigilante justice (i.e.-injustice), to viral slander, to the bullying and canceling perpetrated by social media mobs, to unbridled greed, to a love of violence, to sexual abuse and trafficking, to pre-marital sex, pornographic indulgence, extramarital affairs, and same-sex relationships, to corrupt government in cahoots with a corrupt citizenry, and to the 300 million personalized God-substitutes which Americans serve today—reasons for judgment are scrawled everywhere across the horizon. The clouds are ominous, and thunderbolts of wrath are drawing near.

If God exists—and he does (Psa. 14:1), if God is too holy to tolerate sin—and he is (Hab. 1:13), and if God judges sin when it runs unrestrained in a land—and he does (Rom. 1:18-32); then judgment must be on the way—and it is (Rom. 1:18; John 3:18).

Due to all of this, we might easily despair—and many have. But there is hope. For God relents when man repents. When God hears the cries of a repentant people, he stands ready to forgive.

The Nature of True National (or Community) Repentance

But what kind of repentance is it to which God responds in mercy? Ancient Nineveh models a repentance from which our nation and communities can learn.

  1. True national/community repentance hungers for God more than food (Jonah 3:7). Nineveh fasted while repenting. True repentance would rather go without food than go without God. It longs for God more than sin, and craves him more than dinner and dessert.
  2. True national/community repentance cries mightily for the mercy of God (Jonah 3:8). Nineveh “called mightily to God” for his mercy. True repentance is not half-hearted, dispassionate, or lame in its pursuit of God. It cries mightily, earnestly, fervently, wholeheartedly for all that God is, and for all that he offers in the gospel through Christ.
  3. True national/community repentance forsakes sin (Jonah 3:8). Nineveh turned from its evil way to follow God. True repentance turns from the rule of self and sin to the rule of God in Christ. It puts sin off, and puts sorrow, grief, and remorse on (Jonah 3:5-6). If our nation ever truly repents, it will abandon all the sins mentioned above—and the Church will lead the way.
  4. True national/community repentance involves many, not just a few (Jonah 3:5; 3:8). This is not to say that God would never relent in response to a few (Gen. 18:22-33). But it is to say that national/community repentance—at least as it is expressed here—is a national/community experience. If we would have some hope of God’s mercy in our time, then repentance must sweep over our land and stir up many (starting with the church) to confess, not merely the injustice, oppression, immorality, perversity, greed, or idolatry of others, but also our own many and grievous sins.

This is the posture we must take and the message we must proclaim if there is going to be any hope for our nation. We must meet God in the valley of repentance. The future of our country does not rest upon any past president or present party. It rests precisely in the depths of repentance to which we are willing to go, in humility over sin, and hunger for God.

Will we hunger for God more than anything? Will we cry out for God’s mercy with all our might? Will we long to see the face of God, and be satisfied with nothing else until we do?

Will we humble ourselves and pray? Will we forsake our many personal and national sins with tears? And will we be miserable over our many sins, and desperate for God’s amazing grace (James 4:6-10)? If we will, our nation and neighbors will find a God eager to relent. If not, we will find a God sure to destroy.

What we need now is not to “make America great again”, or even “great” for the first time. What we need now is for God to make America humble and desperate for mercy. In this light, what matters most is not what was decided this past election (whether or not one thinks it was legitimate). What matters most is what we decide on our knees.

If we get this right, we might join Nineveh as one of God’s great mercy stories in history. If we don’t, our demise will be swift and sure; on the day of his appointing (Jonah 3:4; Acts 17:30-31).

O for the cleansing of national repentance, and the joy of national forgiveness! And o that it would start in the household of God (1 Peter 4:17-18)! O that it would start with me!



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