“I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions. Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” 1 Samuel 15:11
“The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” Gen 6:6
There are many things that I regret. Not giving my life to Christ sooner, trusting a friend who betrayed me, my last relationship, the last piece of red velvet cake I just ate… I mean the list goes on.
But when I read 1 Samuel 15 and God said he regretted that he made Saul King, I had an issue with that. How could someone be ALL KNOWING and have regret?
I will not lie, I was confused. But then I was even more confused when Samuel not only told Saul that God regretted making him king, but then said later in chapter 15, “God is not a man that he should have any regret.”
OK wait a minute… Contradiction much? Does he regret or not regret.. Which is it???
I mulled over this for some time but could not come up with anything. Then later in the day, still perplexed as I was doing my laundry, I asked the Holy Spirit to make it plain to me.
I mean… It made perfect sense to me that God should not have regret because he is omniscient. To have regret would mean he made a mistake. To have regret would mean there was something he missed in his calculations and he did not thoroughly think his plan through. To have regret would mean that he made a bad decision.
And this would mean there is a flaw in him. And he would cease to be all knowing and all wise.
He would cease to be God.
I got quiet and listened. Then the Holy Spirit brought to mind Gen 6:6. “The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.”
I knew he didn’t truly “regret” making humans because after he created man on the 6th day and looked over his work, he didn’t just call it good… but VERY good.
If he regretted that he made man, then to call it VERY good was a mistake. Yikes…
So did God make a mistake in making humans such that he should regret it?
Did he make a mistake in choosing Saul as King over Israel?
The answer is NO and NO. Emphatically.
Let me explain what the Holy Spirit showed me… Or at least try.
The key to understanding God’s “regret” lies in the ensuing lines after he expressed his regret.
“… and his heart was deeply troubled.” Gen 6:6.
“Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the LORD all that night.” (As a prophet of God, Samuel is grieved, because God is grieved.) 1 Samuel 15:11q
The word regret refers to the heart of God and what he feels as he witnesses the conditions we create when we reject his will. For though he knew what would happen before it did, he still feels every bit of the sorrow accompanied with the situation as it plays out.
In the case of Saul, Israel cried out for a king though it wasn’t God’s will for them to have one. God knew he could be a better king over them than any human person could be. But he also knew that as long as he “denied” them they would never be able to see his goodness; instead they would only feel wronged (they continually complained that every other nation had a king but them).
So God gave them what they wanted knowing it would hurt them. But like any good parent he allowed them to learn by experience. And in his goodness, though it hurt him that Saul turned away from him and caused great trouble for the Israelites, God created a recourse… David – a righteous king after his own heart.
Similarly, when God saw the wickedness of the world in Genesis 6 and saw that the hearts of humans were continually towards corruption and destruction, it grieved him. To wipe out evil with the flood, grieved him. To destroy his creation, grieved him. But built into that was recourse… to preserve through Noah a righteous generation who would turn from evil and preserve the lineage of Christ.
Remember, God has a will for us. But so do we. And God honors our will. That is what love does.
But because we are not all knowing or all wise, our will outside of God, leads us to death.. be it physical or spiritual. And even though God foresees and foreknows the consequences of our choices… even though he always builds recourse into our bad decisions, when we endure the consequences, he grieves right alongside us.
We will never fully be able to understand the heart of God. And so to express to us how he feels he will often relate to us in a way we can understand. We can understand how painful regret feels. So to communicate to us that this was not what he intended for us he says, “I regret.”
So can God truly have regret? No, not as humans do.
But because his will for us will always be greater and better for us than our own, he grieves when he has to forgo his will for ours, knowing how we will suffer. But rest assured, because he is all knowing, he always has a recourse!
And the greatest recourse of all… eternal life through Jesus Christ!