Does God Regret?

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.  So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.

Genesis 6:5-8

A few weeks ago, a former member of my church wrote and asked me to explain Genesis 6:5-8. Below is both his question and my feeble attempt to give an answer. 

Question: Can you help me explain a few Old Testament verses?  Genesis 6:5-8 reads in two verses that God has regret.  How do I explain a perfect God regretting the creation of man.  I know this is a tough one, but I need to be able to explain this one to my son and I am at a loss.  Your assistance will be greatly appreciated.

Answer: There are three key words here: “regretted”, “grieved”, “sorry”. All three describe God’s response to the violence and wickedness of mankind prior to the flood.

Background: Man was created “in the image of God” (Genesis 1:26-27) and “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He was created with moral perfection (holy) to rule over all creation with care, peace, and glory. However, after the fall, man descended more and more into corruption, violence, and degradation. Verse 5 says, “the thoughts of his heart were evil continually”. Mankind was no longer doing what he was created to do, he was doing just the opposite. Instead of ruling God’s creation in holiness, mankind was destroying it and hating God all the while.

Genesis 6, in a very real sense, is when humanity hit rock-bottom after the fall. The record of God’s grief is a measure of just how evil sin is in His eyes. We must be careful here because none of this surprised God. He ordained it. So why would God ordain something that would cause Him regret, grief, and pain? He did it for His own glory meted out in redemption.

God’s grief is really in two parts: (A) grief over the wickedness of mankind (verses 5-6a) and (B) grief over God’s just judgment which would soon and necessarily follow (verses 6b-7). Related to B, we should also not miss this: God does not take pleasure in evil, nor does he take pleasure in punishing evil. “The wrath of God is revealed against all unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18), but “He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). Of course, God was sorry He created mankind. What would it say about God if He was glad about creating a hatefully violent and evil race? What would it say about God’s character if He thought mankind was “very good” while they were very evil.?

In the King James version, verse 6 reads, “And it repented the LORD that He made man on the earth…” Think about “repented”. It means to “turn from” or “change one’s mind”. Usually, we think about sinners repenting when they both turn from their sin and toward God. But in Genesis 6, man is so evil that it changes God’s mind about mankind. God turns from the evil of men and towards Himself and holiness. In one sense God changed His mind about mankind, but in another sense, He was unchanged. God always hated evil and when mankind became “continually evil”, He turned away. God turned away from all but one family.

Sometimes scripture is like a painting by Rembrandt: God paints in a very dark background so that the light will shine all the brighter. Genesis 6:1-7 is very dark, but…

Really the point of the first section of Genesis 6 is found in verse 8: “BUT Noah found grace (favor) in the eyes of the Lord.”

There is a low point and a high point here. The low point is lower than we’ve ever seen. Since God has not destroyed the earth again as He did in the Great Flood, it tells us that mankind must have been really, really, really in a sad state—far worse than at any point in history since. The high point is more glorious than we can imagine! Noah wasn’t deserving of rescue, but “found grace”, the undeserved goodness of God. Noah, by his association and relationship with the rest of mankind, could have justly been destroyed with everyone else…”but God”!

This all points to the cross. The Father turned from (repented) the sin He placed on Jesus at the cross (Matthew 27:46). He turned His wrath away from sinners and toward His Son. God gave Noah a covenant sign—His bow in the sky symbolizing the promise of God’s wrath turned away from mankind. God gave us an even better sign: communion (Matthew 26:26-28). We no longer make sacrifices on an altar, we sit at a table. We who were once the children of wrath are now the children of God (Romans 5:10, Ephesians 2:1-10, 19, Colossians 1:21-22)! God’s character never changes (Malachi 3:6, James 1:17). But thanks be to God, He can and does change His mind about sinners who repent.

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