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How can God have regrets?

Weekly Q&A

How can God have regrets?
Posted on September 1, 2020  - By Rufus Simon Varghese

How can a sovereign God “regret”? We see God look down on the earth in Genesis 6:6-7 and say He’s “sorry” He made man on earth. Also, in 1 Samuel 15:11, God tells Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king.” How can God, who knows all things, regret, since that indicates that He’s just as incapable of honest mistakes as the next person and that would be inconsistent with what we know about Him?

Before we answer this question, we need to be aware of a few facts about God.

  1. God knows the end from the beginning and His purposes shall stand (Isaiah 46:9,10). God, who is omniscient, is not surprised by man’s actions, as He knows everything that will happen. The way in which the history of the world unfolds is at His behest and it is done with the purpose of the praise of His glorious grace.
  2. He does not make mistakes regarding any deed He does or allows to happen.
  3. Remember that the cross was not God’s Plan B. It was the plan all along. God allowed sin to happen so that His plan of Jesus’ exaltation would happen at the cross.
  4. God is not a man that He should lie or change His mind (Numbers 23:19) — as though He examined an action of His, saw the wrong behind it and sought to make it right. Men commit sins and, later, as they turn repentant, attempt to make things right. God does not sin nor lead others to sin. Therefore, He doesn’t have to be sorry or regretful in the way that we do when we sin. In context of the question we are addressing, Samuel does say to Saul that God will not lie nor have regret since He is not a man to have regret (1 Samuel 15:29).

Promises and prophecies

Keeping these truths in mind, let us analyse what happened in Genesis 6 and 1 Samuel 15. God knew the extent of man’s wickedness beforehand and the same went for Saul’s disobedience as well. He had already planned to destroy the world through a flood during Noah’s days and restart the presence of humankind through Noah’s family, thereby fulfilling the promise of Genesis 3:15 that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent.

God, who is omniscient, is not surprised by man’s actions. He knows everything that will happen

He also planned to restart the kingship that He envisioned by giving Israel a king (David), a man after His own heart. In that way, He was fulfilling what He had prophesied about Judah through Jacob in Genesis 49:10. This would eventually culminate in the arrival of the Davidic King who would be the long-awaited Messiah.

So, the ‘regret’ on God’s part is not something that happened because He didn’t know how His choices would turn out. Rather, His reaction is more of genuine grief that man is not acting as God originally envisioned him to be. He is deeply disappointed by the constant wickedness of man and this is what we see when Saul doesn’t meet the standard of leadership that God expects of him.

A violation of design

What this tells us is that God, despite knowing everything from start to finish, does not withhold His reactions. He chooses to let man know His displeasure of sin. The reason for His grief and ‘regret’ being revealed is two-fold:

  1. Those who read the Scriptures should know how offended He is when man grieves Him with his disobedience. He is angry at the sinfulness of man because it violates His divine character and design.
  2. They should know that such grievances caused to God have serious consequences for the offender. The punishment given to them is eternal and destructive in nature. There is no return to a favourable relationship with God for such people (just like the people who lived during Noah’s time and King Saul).

May God enable us to see how much grief our sins bring Him, even though He knows them from beginning to the end, and let us draw near with a repentant heart to please Him in all our ways.

Rufus Simon Varghese

About Rufus Simon Varghese

Born and raised in Dubai, UAE, Rufus completed his Masters in Theology at Asian Christian Academy in Hosur, India. He has since been involved in personal outreach ministries and teaching youngsters Scripture. Currently based in Ernakulam, India, he is teaching at a Bible school as well as ministering to the Hindi-speaking immigrant working population in Kerala.



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