If God Knows the Future, How can He Feel Regret? Part 2

Part 1 set the foundation for answering how God can feel regret in Genesis 6:5-8.  I will now complete my answer.


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.”

Verse 6 different translations we see God was grieved, sorry, regretful, or repented 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[1].  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 peoples’ 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 captures 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 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 all 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.  We parents 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.

[1] NASB Greek-Hebrew Dictionary: atsab Number 5162

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • Lisa February 19, 2015, 4:08 pm

    Thank you for this answer. I felt ‘regret’ or ‘ repent’ was not a level message,yet something much deeper. HE is Amazing how HE Answers!!!! I stand confirmed GOD IS OMNISCIENT!!!! We are not!!! (LOL) Happy face!!! #StayBlessed

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