‘We know from the story of Nineveh that repentance is not something God will do for us, but something that we must do for ourselves. God was planning on destroying Nineveh but they repented. Therefore, God changed His mind or altered His plans in light of their repentance. “Who can tell if God will turn and repent, and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not? And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:9-10). It says that “God saw their works, that they turned,” which is their own activity, and then “God repented…” Both God and man had a role. God did His part by warning them. Then they did their part by turning from their sins. And then God did His part by turning away from His wrath and anger. God influenced them by presenting truth to their minds through preaching. And then they repented by changing the choices of their wills. And then God forgave them and altered the course of their future by changing His plans.
While it was the message God gave Jonah that brought them to repentance, their repentance was their own free choice. We know that repentance was not something that God did for them because it resulted in God changing His plans. If their repentance was a certainty because it was going to be brought about by God’s irresistible will, instead of a contingency because it was caused by their free will, God’s plan would not have been altered or changed at all.
It doesn’t help the dilemma for a Calvinist to say, “God was never really planning on destroying Nineveh in
ninety [forthy] days,” because God specifically said that He was going to destroy them then (Jonah 3:1-5). And God cannot lie (Tit. 1:2). God specifically said that He did not do what He said He was going to. “God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not” (Jonah 3:10). God genuinely changed His plans when He saw how they repented. This must mean that their repentance was an uncertainty or a contingency, that it was their own free choice, and that it originated with them.
God elsewhere says that if He plans on destroying a city, if they repent, He will change His plans about destroying them. “At what instance I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them” (Jer. 18:7-8). This shows that repentance is their free choice which they themselves originate and not something brought about by His irresistible and eternal plan. Otherwise, man’s repentance would be no occasion for God to change His plans.
The power of the human will, in creating and originating new choices, actually creates and originates new facts to add to reality. These new choices actually create or originate new knowledge that did not previously exist because such choices did not previously exist. The knowledge of the existence of these choices is new because the existence of these choices is new.
Reality is actually in the process of developing and is progressively unfolding. Reality is progressing and forming in a linear or sequential manner. The free choices of moral beings are determining the course and direction of the future. The Bible explicitly says that certain actions and events were decided or “determined” by men (1 Sam. 20:7, 20:9; 20:33; 25:17; 13:32; 2 Chron. 2:1; Est. 7:7; Acts 11:29; 15:2; 15:37; 20:16; 25:25; 27:1; 1 Cor. 2:2; 2 Cor. 2:1; Titus 3:12). “Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea” (Acts 11:29). “For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:16). Paul said, “But I have determined this with myself…” (2 Cor. 2:1) That means that he determined it of his own volition or free will. Clearly, God does not predetermine all of the choices of men but men themselves have the power of self-determination.
Therefore, the course of the future is not a foregone conclusion as if it was eternally fixed and certain. The future is presently flexible and changeable (Isa. 38:5; Matt. 26:53). God’s plans are not all eternal. The future and some of God’s plans are in the process of development and are subject to change as new choices are originated by the wills of moral beings.
When Nineveh repented, this new knowledge or these new considerations were immediately or intuitively brought to the mind of God. He changed the decisions of His will as necessary in correspondence with these new choices or new facts that were presented to Him. As He observes these new activities occurring, these new developments result in Him making new plans.
The new thoughts or considerations in man’s mind (like truth from preaching) can result in new choices in man’s will (like repentance), which would result in new thoughts or observations in God’s mind (seeing their repentance), which results in new choices in God’s will (turning from His wrath).
God said “if” they “turn from their evil,” then He will change what He “thought to do” (Jer. 18:8), speaking of what may or may not happen. This is because such a change in their choice is a contingency which may or may not become a reality. It is a possibility which might or might not become an actuality. It is clear that these new developments are caused by their own free will, not caused by some irresistible or eternal plan of God, since God’s plans change in light of them. If God planned their repentance, their repentance would not result in any change of plans on His part. But the plans of God do change in correspondence with the repentance of man, therefore the repentance of man must be caused by the freedom of their will, something which they themselves originate and bring to reality.
God said that they must “turn from their evil” because it is something that only they can do. Then God said “I will repent” which means He will alter or change His plans which he “thought to do…” The prophet Joel said the same thing, “And rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:13).’
Source: Jesse Morrell, “Repentance, Impenitence, Faith & Unbelief Are Free Will Choices of Men” (biblicaltruthresources).
Note by crosstheology: corrected an error (between brackets “”-.