Options Man

Here is the fifth in a lovely list of ten lessons essential for every high school graduate preparing to venture out into the “real world.” While Elaine Bransford, the AP literature teacher who composed them did so for students, they carry applicability for us all. Number 5:

You should not be afraid to change your mind from time to time. And, for that matter, you should not be afraid to make up your mind.

Enough to chew on for everybody here. My wife calls me “options man.” I change my mind all the time. She, on the other hand, is more of a make-a-plan-and-stick-to-it sort of gal. It makes for good conversation.

Collectively, this adage is being played out with adverse effects as Congress debates the national debt (though debate would suggest actually conversation is occurring). On the one hand each side wishes the other would “change their mind,” meaning mostly to “change to my way of thinking.” This is because, each would say, “my mind is made up,” meaning that pragmatism has given way to principle, which isn’t always a bad thing. Again, I am Options Man.

In the story of Jonah, the King of Nineveh, to whom Jonah preached pending doom (with one of the shortest sermons on record), responded with immediate remorse and ash-laden repentance. For this pagan king to offer such a shame-filled display in response to the words of an insufferable Hebrew prophet before the game had even been played out was nothing short of remarkable—so remarkable that Jesus would commend its virtue centuries later as an indictment against Israel’s own arrogance. Not only did the Assyrian King repent, but all of Nineveh reformed their behavior, turned from their evil ways and from the violence and injustice of which they were guilty. And this without any guarantee of mercy. The king prayed to a deity he did not recognize—referring to God with the Hebrew generic elohim. “Who knows” said the king, “this God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

Which is what God then did. “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it” (Jonah 3:10). If such change of heart on the Lord’s part bothers you (and it clearly bothered Jonah), it may be because you project too much of your own manner onto God. Unlike humans, God does not say one thing and then do another, nor does he change his mind for frivolous reasons or for no reason at all. As the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jonah; the Word Made Flesh in Christ and the Holy Spirit who dwells in his people, the Lord is reliably personal and consistently loving. He is eager for relationship and therefore always responsive.

Because God loves us, he responds to our repentance and relents from allowing us what our deeds deserve. He is patient with us, creating space for the experience of relationship on our part, for the awareness of our need and for the necessity of our humility and surrender to his mercy. The long-suffering nature of God makes possible a new beginning after every personal disaster and failure.

If God’s not afraid to change his mind for the sake of reconciliation and relationship, we should strive for the same, even after our mind’s are made up.

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