If God Knows the Future, How can He Feel Regret? Part 1

The Challenge

If God is omniscient (knows all), then how is it possible for Him to experience regret? Generally, it seems regret is disappointment over some action/inaction in the past based on a current situation that would have been different (usually better) if other actions had been taken. Gen 6:6 seems to indicate God regrets creating man.

Genesis 6:5-8 (HCSB) When the LORD saw that man’s wickedness was widespread on the earth and that every scheme his mind thought of was nothing but evil all the time, 6 the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 Then the LORD said, “I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky—for I regret that I made them.” 8 Noah, however, found favor in the sight of the LORD.

How can God’s knowledge of the future be reconciled with His regret in verse 6?  I will attempt answer by looking at God’s attributes, the context surrounding the verse, definitions of the key word, establish why God must punish sin, and how His grace is displayed.

Attributes of God

The Biblical God has many attributes.  Some include: 1) God is omniscient, which means He knows all true propositions past, present, and future.  2) God is personal and as such has emotions. Examples: God loves, shows kindness, gets jealous, is grieved, gets angry, and many more.  3) God is perfect and cannot error.  4) God is unchanging.  All these attributes factor into answering this challenge.

One limitation is all human attempts to express the emotions of a divine being using words will always fall short.  The Bible uses anthropomorphic language (conveying human characteristics to God) to convey what a divine being is feeling and as such is not an exact science.  How can words describe an eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, immaterial God who created the universe?  Language describing the emotions of God is limited but it is the best we have.  Using human terms helps us relate to this divine personal being.

Establishing Context

In Genesis 1-3 we see God creating Adam and Eve.  They were morally perfect but were given free will to obey or disobey.  They chose to rebel and all offspring related to Adam inherited his sin nature (propensity to do wrong).  Almost immediately we see Cain killing Abel.  Evil and gross immorality continued to propagate as the population grew.  Then in Genesis 6:5 we see evil reaching a peak.  Rebellion against God was rampant.

If God knew humanity would do evil, then why did he regret or grieve over creating them?  Maybe a parenting example can help us.  I became a parent of three children even though I knew the risks.  It was possible they would reject us as parents (didn't happen) and make some bad choices (did happen).  However, we felt it was worth the risk. When things were really bad, as a parent I could say “I wish I never had kids.”  This only expresses the deep hurt and pain we felt as parents.  This would only be an expression and not the truth. I believe this is similar to what we see God feeling in Genesis at the wickedness of mankind.  He made man good and we turned our backs on Him.  The depth of pain must have been unimaginable.

God made man because he knew it was worth the risk.  He knew humanity would disobey Him.  However, God also knew there would always be a remnant who would turn away from sin and love Him.  After God says he was grieved, almost immediately we see in verse 8 that Noah found favor (grace) in His eyes.  Here we see Noah and his family functioning as the remnant of individuals who love God and were willing to submit to His rulership.

God giving man freedom to love or to not love has its risks, but it also has rewards.  Those who choose to love God, freely do so.  Those that choose to hate God, freely do so.

Go to part 2 here

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