True to God’s Word
The First Reading poses a puzzle that has bedeviled philosophers and theologians.
God commands Jonah to tell the people of Ninevah these words: Forty days more and Ninevah shall be destroyed.
Now, the people of Ninevah believed that God’s words are true, and they repented. And God was pleased with them for believing his words and repenting.
BUT—God’s words seem to be false. At any rate, forty days after Jonah’s telling the people God’s words, the city is still standing.
And so here is the puzzle: could God say words that are false, and could God be pleased with the people of Ninevah for believing a falsehood?
Philosophers and theologians have had a lot to say about this puzzle. But here is a simple thought.
When God’s words call you, God puts your life at a cross-road. You can ignore him and continue stubbornly with your old life, as if God didn’t really matter, or didn’t really care what you did, or maybe didn’t really exist at all. Or you can open yourself to God. You can respond to him with a willingness to trust and obey. But if you do this, you will be leaving your old life behind for a new life that might well have been unimaginable to you beforehand. You won’t be who you were before. You will be a new person, in God and for him.
The people of Ninevah respond to God’s call in this second way. They believe God’s words and will to be obedient to God, and that is why they repent their former ways. As a result they become very different from the people they had been. The whole city becomes a very different city from the one it had been.
There are, then, two ways in which the Lord’s words to Ninevah can be true. Ninevah can be destroyed either because God demolishes the city or because the people cease to be the Ninevah that they were. Either way, the old Ninevah will no longer exist.
Therefore, God’s words to Ninevah were true. When the people of Ninevah responded to God’s words with trust and obedience, they ceased to be what they were—and the old Ninevah was destroyed.
God’s words are always true, and God is always true to his word.
**From Saint Louis University