Does grief suggest God changes?

Question: I can definitely see how God can be grieved by what humans do, but the passage in Genesis 6 seems so extreme and makes it harder to understand than relating to the passage in Ephesians. Verse 6 of the NIV says that God was grieved that He had made man so He planned to wipe mankind from the face of the earth. The only other translation I have is the Catholic translation, and it says that God regretted that He had made man. Can God really regret something that He did? Doesn’t that imply imperfection? Obviously God is perfect, so my feeble, human mind cannot comprehend this. Is there a valid explanation to this that I’m overlooking? Or is it something that we are not meant to fully understand?

Answer: As to the Genesis 6 passage, it may be that we cannot fully understand the heart and mind of God. But let me give you a few things to ponder. One, the Bible clearly teaches that God does not change (1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6; James 1:17). Two, the Bible does speak of God in human terms (Ps. 102:2, etc.) , a figure of speech called anthropomorphism. But this figure of speech likens God to humans, suggesting that they are similar, not exact, in some respects. There is a similarity to humans and God in terms of the emotions felt in this situation that is most graphically expressed by likening God to us. This helps us understand God’s feelings better. So, three, what is being expressed in the passage in Genesis 6 is that God is not unemotional about our sin. In fact, it creates a painful feeling in Him and moves Him to action. That is not to say that He didn’t plan that this was going to happen (because He did), or that He now wished He hadn’t planned it this way or didn’t realize it was going to turn out this way. Rather, it is a graphic way of saying that He was personally hurt when humanity turned its back on Him, hurt because He loves us, hurt because we could have avoided so much pain, hurt because He must deal justly with mankind and that meant destruction of His treasured creation. God did not coolly and unemotionally decide to flood the earth and kill every living thing except Noah and his family and representative species of animals. And He did not just do it in some fit of anger and resentment. It was painful.

Ephesians 4:30 suggests the same thing. God the Holy Spirit is grieved, emotionally hurt, when we relate to each other in destructive ways like lying, unwholesome speech, damaging anger, theft and any other behavior that destroys the unity of the Body of Christ. Our response of anger is so often a by-product of our hurt. In fact, we cover over our hurt with our anger. God doesn’t do that. He embraces the pain and hurt and lives in it, and He acts consistently with what is the right thing to do without losing control. This becomes an example for us to not harden ourselves against the prospect of being hurt, which, in effect, kills part of our soul.

Randall Johnson


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