Sometimes you see someone (perhaps your child) do something and your only response is this picture. Head down, palm to the forehead… with a big WOW thought running through your head. Usually this feeling comes when you are almost shocked at what someone just said or did. You’re caught by surprise and not in the best way. Perhaps even bordering on embarrassment (especially if it’s your own offspring). We can even have this reaction on our own actions… just as surprised (after the fact) at what we just did. This type of ‘regret’ most commonly comes when we are caught by surprise.
How then can the Bible say that God had regret. In several places it clearly says He regretted doing something. “And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen 6:6) Then later with Saul. “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me and has not performed my commandments.” (1 Sam 15:11) Since it is impossible for God to be surprised, how can He regret?
Regret is an emotion of sadness or sorrow, but not of surprise. A case in point. I once had a friend in a bible study who was struggling with an adult son. This son would not clean up his act no matter what happened. When the son eventually ended up on prison, my friend had sadness, sorrow and regret… but he was in no way surprise. Although he did not have 100% assurance of the future like God does, he was confident of the future outcome but still had regret when it came to pass.
This is how it is with God. He is fully aware of the future and therefor, fully aware of the necessity of the bad things that would bring him regret. He could have reduced the strength of our free will and reduced the power of Satan on Earth to avoid the mass depravity that would eventually lead to the flood. But although those changes may have avoided the need for the flood, they would also negate the eventual need for a savior.
The regret that God has does not show a flaw in His plan. Nor does it show that mistakes were made along the way. It actually shows the strength of His love. If it was only about the end goal, He could separate himself from the needed evils that steer event towards good and justify them by their eventual outcomes. An unloving creator would have no regret at all because he would see the end and not worry about the means to that end. However, God loves us so much that He has regret and sorrow as we go through these horrific events that are necessary for the overall story.
Regret along with surprise shows disappointment. But regret despite full advance knowledge of what was coming, show ultimate and absolute love.
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