Why did God say He was sorry that He had created man in Genesis 6? Does God make mistakes—was He saying that He is not perfect?
Believers would respond, “Impossible! God is perfect in every way. God cannot make mistakes. He doesn’t change, and He always accomplishes what He sets out to do!”
Through the prophet Malachi, God said, “For I am the LORD, I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Earlier, through another prophet, God said: “I am God … declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
Why was God sorry?
But the Bible also says this about God: “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart” (Genesis 6:6, King James Version). If God is perfect, meaning He has not sinned and never will sin, why did He repent? What did He need to repent of? The New King James Version translates this verse: “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” (emphasis added throughout except where noted).
Even though God didn’t sin, did He make a mistake in creating man? That would seem to contradict a consistent theme of the Bible, such as this powerful verse: “Great is our Lord, and mighty in power, His understanding is infinite” (Psalm 147:5). Scripture consistently assures us that God is omniscient—that He knows everything. As such, He knew in advance mankind’s ability to sin and to be swayed by Satan to do evil.
Since the Bible cannot contradict itself (see John 10:35), how should we understand God’s statement in Genesis 6:6—that He was “sorry” and “grieved in His heart” for having made man? To understand what God was saying, let’s begin by noting the context of this passage.
What grieved God?
“Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them. But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (Genesis 6:5-8).
Not only was the majority of mankind completely morally corrupt from the inside, another important detail is found in verse 11: “The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence” (see also verse 13). Humanity had become so violent that God had to intervene. The world was not a safe place to live—and was especially dangerous for the few who remained who weren’t evil.
Looking at the big picture expressed in these verses, we note that God didn’t make a mistake in creating humans. Instead, He was grieving because of the mistakes humans were making. The object of God’s grief was mankind—not some action on His part.
Because God made humans and knew in advance their weaknesses, He was not surprised or caught off guard by their behavior. Even so, God loves His creation and wants all to reap the rewards of obedience.
Why did God repent?
The basic meaning of the biblical term repent is to change direction.
When applied to human beings, the word typically means to realize our personal sinfulness, to ask God’s forgiveness and to change the way we live from sinfulness to God’s righteousness. The word primarily used in the Old Testament to describe human repentance is shub, which literally means “to turn” from sin (Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament).
This is not the kind of repentance described in Genesis 6:6. God was not repenting of any failing on His part—God is perfect (Psalm 18:30). The Hebrew word translated “repent” in the King James Version is naham, which means “to be sorry, regret” (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon). There are many examples in the Bible of God feeling sorrow or changing direction. But these examples of God changing His mind are always in response to the failings of human beings.
Another example of naham being used to describe God is 1 Samuel 15:35 when God “regretted [naham] that He had made Saul king over Israel.” Again, God’s regret was based on the failings of a human being—Saul—not any failing on God’s part.
Modern translations correctly translate naham as “regret” or “relent.”
When humans fail, God does feel a deep level of emotion and grieves that humans consistently make decisions that cause them to suffer.The point is that God does change how He deals with human beings from time to time based on human circumstances—typically the sins and failings of human beings. When humans fail, God does feel a deep level of emotion and grieves that humans consistently make decisions that cause them to suffer. The key is understanding the difference between repentance on the human level (typically changing from sinful behavior to righteous behavior) and repentance on God’s level (changing how He deals with humanity as a result of the behavior and decisions of human beings).
Free moral agency
To understand why God’s feelings change regarding humans, we must note that God created us with free moral agency—the right to make our own choices and live with the consequences of those choices. Jeremiah clearly shows that most prophecy is conditional upon the response of men:
“The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it” (Jeremiah 18:7-10).
These verses plainly reveal that repentance on God’s level, naham, is man-dependent or conduct-dependent. God has created us as free moral agents to choose life or death, and His judgments are frequently dependent on our conduct or obedience to His commands.
As we have already noted, God was grieved because He saw the depth of evil mankind had chosen as a way of life (Genesis 6:5). God did not make a mistake in creating mankind. He was sorry because of the wretched state rebellious man had achieved by the time of Noah.
Does God make mistakes? No. No fault lay with God. He did not feel He had made a mistake in creating man, nor was He bewildered. On the contrary, subsequent passages show that He continued to work with humans and specifically with Noah, who “found grace in the eyes of the LORD” (verse 8). Noah, contrary to society around him, was a just man who walked with God (Genesis 6:9).
A lesson for us
Today, we are free to choose whether we will obey God or not. And just like in Noah’s day, God will either be pleased or sorry for the choices we make. Be sure to take advantage of the resources on this website to help you please your Creator.
Rather than being sorry for your choice, God earnestly desires to be pleased with your commitment to follow Him. Choose God’s way of life so He can joyfully welcome you into His Kingdom, saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant. … Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:23).