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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Does God Know Everything?

Don Stewart :: Was God Sorry That He Made Human Beings?

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Was God Sorry That He Made Human Beings? (Genesis 6:6)

Does God Know Everything? – Question 23

There are a number of passages in Scripture which seem to say that God changed His mind when certain circumstances presented themselves. Furthermore, the Bible says that He was actually sorry about something He had done.

One instance is found in the Book of Genesis. It seems to say that God was sorry or grieved, that He had made humanity. As an explanation as to why God sent the flood, we read the following words.

And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. (Genesis 6:6 RSV)

The New International Version translates the verse in this manner.

The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. (Genesis 6:6 NIV)

Does this mean God was sorry that He created the human race? Did He think He had made a mistake? Does this mean that He actually regretted His original creation? Is God second-guessing Himself?

This is a difficult verse to interpret. There have been a number of ways in which Bible-believers have responded to it. They are as follows.

Option 1: The Language Is to Be Understood Literally

Open theists believe God does react to circumstances and sometimes changes His mind. Thus, they assume that this verse should be understood literally. Because humans were in continuance rebellion against God, He expresses sorrow and regret that He had originally made human beings. The emotions expressed are real. His is truly pained by what has occurred. This pain caused Him to re-think His decision to create humanity.

Moreover, this passage also indicates that God’s plan for the human race did not go as He had intended. This extreme sinful behavior of humans was not foreseen by God. This further indicates that God did not know what was going to occur in the future when He created humanity. He did not foresee that He would have to destroy them with a flood and basically start all over. It was not part of His original idea for the race.

Open theists see a number of important implications from this verse. Not only does God experience genuine emotions such as grief and regret to the degree that His heart can become pained, His plans for the human race can be thwarted by our actions. Humans can actually make God change His plans. This indicates that the God of the Bible is willing and ready to change based upon the outcome of our behavior.

Furthermore, it shows that when He created humanity He did not know that He would have to judge them in this manner. It is another indication of His limited knowledge of the future. Therefore, this passage goes a long way to make the case for open theism.

Option 2: The Expression Is Anthropopathic Language: Human Terms Are Used to Describe God’s Emotions

The usual way of dealing with this passage is to assume that we have an anthropopathism. This consists of attributing human feelings and emotions to God. In other words, God does not actually feel these emotions as we feel them. Instead these terms are used of God to help us understand His response.

Thus, these words are for our benefit; they are not describing God’s true feelings. God does not become happy when we obey or sad when we disobey in the same manner as humans become happy or sad.

In other words, His emotions do not changed based upon whether we obey Him or disobey. In this instance, the Scripture is using these human terms in expressing God’s displeasure at the sin of the people.

There Is the Belief That God Does Have True Emotions

Some traditional theologians believe that the idea that God is without emotions is not exactly correct. While His emotions are certainly not the same as ours, we should not think of Him as an emotionless Being. He does have genuine emotions but they are not the same as ours. In other words, while He does experience definite feelings such as love and hate, they are not in response to our behavior. Neither does He express these emotions because He was unaware of what was to occur. Therefore, there is not a one to one comparison of His emotions and our emotions.

God Knew Ahead of Time What Would Happen

This brings us to the next point. As far as God’s knowledge is concerned, since He knows all things, He knew the people were going to rebel to the point where He would have to send a flood. This was not something He merely learned when the people reached a certain level of sinful behavior.

From all eternity He had known that this would occur. However, at a certain point in time, the knowledge became experiential. The fact that God personally experiences events in time has nothing to do with His lack of knowledge of the event. He knew how the people were going to behave and at the time of their rebellion He then experienced what He had known would take place.

Also, this verse says nothing about God being ignorant of the future behavior of the people. The verse does not say that God did not know what would happen in the future. This is only an inference which some people draw from this text. But there is nothing in the text itself to suggest this. When we examine other passages in Scripture which state clearly that God knows all things, we must interpret this verse in light of these statements. We should not take this statement in isolation and infer that it means that God was surprised by the events which lead up to the flood. In other words, this should not be our “control passage” in understanding what the Bible says about God’s knowledge of things.

Therefore, we find nothing taught in this passage which would make us alter the traditional view of God and His behavior. He did not have to switch His plans because humans behaved in a manner in which He was not expecting.

Option 3: The Word Translated Regret Has an Entirely Different Meaning

There is also the possibility that the word translated “repent” or “regret” has a different meaning than what is usually assigned to it. Indeed, the Hebrew word translated “repent” is translated by a number of different English terms elsewhere in Scripture. Therefore, the idea may not be that or being sorrowful or repentant but rather the idea may be that God wanted to set things right. In other words, He wanted to right the wrongs that the human race brought about. If this is the proper understanding of this word, then it has nothing to say, one way or the other, about God’s feelings or emotions. It is merely stating that the sinful behavior of humans needed to be dealt with. Nothing more, nothing less.

In sum, however we interpret this passage we do not have to assume that God was regretting past decisions such as the creation of the human race. Neither was the Lord unaware that He would have to judge sinful humanity by means of a flood. This is not what this passage is teaching us. Consequently, we should look elsewhere for the biblical teaching on these subjects.

Summary – Question 23
Was God Sorry That He Created Human Beings? (Genesis 6:6)

There is a very difficult expression found in the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis which has lead people to make a number of conclusions about the character of the God of the Bible, His knowledge, and His feelings.

In some translations, it says that God was grieved or had pain in His heart that He had created humans. Accordingly, He repented or regretted the fact that He had created human beings. This seems to teach that God actually regretted His past decisions. Moreover this passage is said to indicate that He was unaware as to the fact that He would have to send a flood to judge them for their sin. Christians interpret this difficult passage in a number of ways.

Open theists understand the language of God repenting and being grieved as literal expressions of His feelings. They insist there are no good reasons for understanding these words figuratively. Therefore, God felt pain when humans were constantly rebelling against Him. Furthermore, He did not know this was going to happen when He originally created the human race. Consequently, He had to alter His original plan by sending a flood to destroy humanity. He would now have to start over.

Open theists conclude from this passage that God not only experiences genuine emotions in response to our behavior He has to change His plans when things do not work out as He anticipated. This means He did not know ahead of time the degree of sin to which humans would sink. It is one of many passages which show that He does not know what is going to occur in the future.

However, this is certainly not the only way in which this passage can be understood. This verse is usually interpreted as a figurative expression of God’s feelings. In other words, it is an anthropopathism. The classical view is that God does not show any emotions. He does not get angry or sad. These words are used for our benefit to help us understand why God did what He did.

Some classical theologians argue that this goes too far. God does have emotions such as anger or grief but we should not try to categorize them or understand them in the same manner as we understand human emotions.

Indeed, they are not surprise reactions to the behavior of others. God does not get sad or pained when humans sin because our sin comes unexpectedly. He knew ahead of time how humans were going to behave. Nothing ever takes Him by surprise.

This leads us to our next point. There is nothing in this passage which states that God did not know these things were going to occur. While the limited knowledge of God may be inferred by this verse one may also infer His complete knowledge of all things. This passage does not settle the issue. One must look elsewhere for direct statements about the degree of knowledge which God possesses.

A number of passages will be found which clearly state that God knows all things. This verse should be understood in light of those passages. It should not be made the “control passage” by which all other things about God and His knowledge are interpreted.

Consequently, we can conclude that there is nothing in this verse that teaches that God changes His plans in response to our sinful behavior because this behavior was not foreseen by Him. This is not how we must interpret this passage.

It is also possible that the word translated “repent” or “regret” does not really have this idea in this particular passage. The word is used elsewhere with completely different meaning. Some have suggested the idea is more of God “balancing the books.” In other words, because humans sinned, God had to make right the wrongs they committed.

Therefore, He sent the cataclysmic flood to destroy most of humankind. If this is the correct understanding, then the passage says nothing about God’s feelings or emotions.

In sum, we should not make this one verse in the Book of Genesis our basis or standard for assuming that God has regrets about past deeds or that His knowledge is limited in some manner. To discover God’s character, we must go to passages that give us a clear indication of who He is as well as what He does. It is only by doing this that we will come up with the proper view of God and His character.

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