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 who choose to hate God, freely do so. Go to part 2 here

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Gordon July 11, 2021, 6:39 pm

    “God made man because he knew it was worth the risk.”
    Of course it is. God is not the one at risk. We are. He’s not the one who gets sent to hell for all eternity for being born an imperfect sinner.

  • Steve Bruecker July 12, 2021, 7:02 am

    Thanks for your comment. You are right we are at risk of an eternity in hell. This why faith in Jesus is so important. However, the two-part series answered the question, why did God grieve about creating humans? My focus was on God and his emotional reaction and not us.

    Steve Bruecker

  • Melissa April 1, 2023, 12:39 pm

    I’m struggling with the word risk. Risk implies unknown factors but since God knows all, how could there be a risk at all. I’m reading 1st Samuel and in Chapter 15:35 it mentions how God regretted making Samuel King. How can he regret his actions when he knew Samuel would fail before he did? Is this an example of not having the words to express his emotions in a way we can relate?

  • Steve Bruecker April 7, 2023, 8:48 am

    Even though I didn’t directly deal with 1 Samuel 15:35, I answered your question in part 2 concerning God feeling regret. I will copy & paste part 2 which I think answers how God can feel regret.



    Defining words in the Bible always depends on the context (see part 1). God created man good and Adam expressed his free will to disobey God. Sin and evil were rampant throughout the world leading up to Genesis 6:5-8. The primary verse in question is Genesis 6:6 NASB “The LORD was sorry [regretted] that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”

    In verse 6 different translations we see God was grieved, sorry, regretful, or repented of His decision to create humanity. Which word best describes God’s emotions in this passage? The Hebrew word “atsab” means to hurt, pain, or grieve . Different versions of the Bible express this emotion using different words. The ASV indicates God “repented” implying He had a change of mind. The ESV/HCSB indicates God “regretted.” The NKJV/ESV/NASB says God was “sorry” He made man. In the NIV the translators used “grieved.”

    I am going to eliminate God repented because He is unchanging. An unchanging God cannot have a change of mind. And yet, God will change His actions in response to changing circumstances. Jonah was asked by God to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh and instead, he ran away. Why? He knew if the people of Nineveh repented God would forgive them. He didn’t think they deserved mercy. Eventually, Jonah does preach to them. Jonah 3:2 “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you.” Once the people realized their wickedness in the face of a holy God, they repented. Jonah 3:5, “Then the people of Nineveh believed in God.” They placed their trust in God. We see God’s response in Jonah 3:10, “When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” God responded with forgiveness. This does not violate His unchanging nature; the circumstances changed. God simply responded to the people’s change of heart. The same could be said of us when we move from unbelief to belief. Unbelievers are under God’s judgment until they repent and place their trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. One moment we are under God’s wrath and the next we are pardoned by the work of Jesus on the cross.

    However, in the context of Genesis 6:6, God repented sounds like an internal change rather that a response to the actions of man. God cannot change his mind. For this reason, I reject translations using the word repented.

    The word regretted also carries unneeded baggage. Regret seems to express a change in God, rather than the circumstances. Regret doesn’t represent the nature of God.

    I believe the best translation of the word atsab closely resembles the NASB Greek Dictionary definition to hurt, pain, or grieve. The versions that chose the words sorry or grieved, I believe best capture the author’s intentions. And yet, we have not escaped the problem. If God knows the future, why would he grieve if people turn their backs on Him? He knew the moment He created Adam and Eve, they and their offspring would rebel against His rulership. So why did God grieve about creating them?

    A Holy God Must Punish Sin

    The wickedness of mankind was so widespread God was going to use the flood in judgment. God’s justice and His holiness required Him to judge and punish lawbreakers. All humanity because of their wickedness perished in the deluge, except for Noah and his family. Just like the wicked during Noah’s time, we deserve God’s judgment and upon death the wrath or righteous anger of a holy God leading to eternity in hell. But only by His grace do we experience His mercy. Noah and his family experienced that grace. Not because they were good people but because they placed their faith in the God of the Bible. The Apostle Paul wrote we are saved (from punishment) by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

    A just and holy God must punish sin. He did that dramatically through the flood. And yet God takes no pleasure in punishing the guilty. We read in Ezekiel 18: 32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD. “Therefore, repent and live.” When we read the key word in Genesis 6 that says God grieved or was sorry He created man, we begin to get a picture of a God who takes no pleasure in punishing the guilty. His desire is for all to turn away from wickedness and turn to Him for forgiveness.

    God’s Grace Displayed

    All the evil we see around us reminds us our world today is no different. The sin of mankind still causes a just and holy God pain. The Apostle Peter gives us some insight into the heart of God when he writes in 2 Peter 3: 9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God wants all to turn from sin (repentance) and turn back to Him. For those who do trust in His Son Jesus Christ’s grace is shown to them.

    Did God know man was going to rebel? Yes! Did it grieve Him? Absolutely! Did God regret creating mankind? God wished that all humanity would have loved Him but they didn’t. Instead, they chose to do evil. God knew the risks of creating man and he still did. The remnant was worth it. The flood provided God an opportunity to preserve his holiness and exact judgment upon the wickedness of humanity. It also gave Him a way to demonstrate His grace to a few.

    The expression God was grieved that He created man shows us the depth of pain God feels over our rejection. God is not a robot and His emotions run deep. As parents, we know these feelings. We knew the risks and still had kids. God also knew many would reject Him and many would turn back to love Him. For the remnant, which today follows Jesus Christ, God thought it was worth the risk. The death on the cross of God’s one and only Son, Jesus Christ, demonstrates how much God values us. At the foot of the cross we see his grace lovingly displayed for us.

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