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It is said in the bible that God is omniscient but if he is omniscient how can he regret his actions?

I'm especially interested in this question in context of Genesis 6:6:

The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.

marked as duplicate by bruised reed, curiousdannii, Flimzy, David Stratton Jan 1 '15 at 6:54

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  • Similar but not the same. – user13676 Dec 25 '14 at 0:39
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    Definitely not a duplicate. – Jim G. Dec 25 '14 at 3:15
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    What makes you think those characteristics must be mutually exclusive? Why can't God be both omniscient and capable of regret? – Andrew Dec 26 '14 at 2:08
  • @Andrew An interesting question, but does not regret imply that you would have acted differently if you had known what you know now? Let's reverse the question. Would you still make a poor decision if it was obviously a poor decision? I know that you are now going to lead into the greater glory that came much later, but that does not negate the words used "God was sorry [about his previous actions]". – 3961 Dec 26 '14 at 18:59
  • Answers to this post should focus on explaining why they verse does not indicate that God would have acted differently if He knew then what He knows now. – 3961 Dec 26 '14 at 19:01
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This is an anthropomorphism, which according to The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 77:20, page 1288:

21. (the first of three paragraphs on the subject) The attribution of human features and behavior to nonhuman beings (along with anthropopathism - the attribution of human feelings) is common in both religious and profane literature of all cultures. What makes anthropomorphism worthy of special attention in the OT is the difficulty of reconciling it with the prohibition of images and the explicit denials that Yahweh is like any created being. The fear of a plastic image of Yahweh is in marked contrast to the lack of restraint in employing verbal images. Yahweh has a countenance, eyes, ears, mouth nostrils, hands, feet. He speaks, hears, smells, laughs, hisses, whistles, strikes, writes, walks. He feels delight, joy, anger, hatred, love, disgust, compassion (see e.g., T. E. Fretheim, The Suffering of God [OBT 14; Ph, 1984]. The OT never speaks of Yahweh without attributing human traits to him. There is scarcely any OT anthropomorphism that cannot be paralleled in other ancient Semitic literature; for the gods of other ancient Semitic peoples were personifications of natural forces or social realities to whom were attributed human features and behavior.

So it should be clear God does not literally regret, but this is an anthropomorphism to express an inexpressible idea.

  • Why was this given a minus (in my profile it shows -2)? Doesn't it address the questioner's topic? – Dcn. Andy Dec 26 '14 at 2:36
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    I didn't downvote. A single downvote is impossible to interpret. If you get like three or more, I would assume there is something wrong with your post. Don't fret too much over stray downvotes. It happens. – 3961 Dec 26 '14 at 19:31
  • God does not regret? Why is that clear? Does God sweat bullets? Does Jesus cry? God made us in His image. If we do something that is not a sin, like think and feel emotions, then its very possible that God does them too. – Taylor D Barrett Dec 28 '14 at 2:39
  • @TaylorDBarrett: Since emotions are at least in part a biological function, until God became incarnate, was it possible for God as Spirit to have emotions? – Dcn. Andy Dec 28 '14 at 13:58
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If God is omniscient how can he regret?

The ability to know things would not exclude the possibility of having an emotional reaction.

A parent may know that his child is going to fall down, however, that parent still encourages the child to learn to walk. The child that bangs his head on the coffee table can cause regret in the heart of the parent.

The regret of God is not the surprise event he didn't anticipate. It is the sorrow in the heart of a parent for a child that makes wrong decisions.

We have an example of God repenting (changing his mind) in reaction to an emotional perception.

1 Chronicles 21:15 And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.

Even though the three days of pestilence had not been fulfilled, the reaction to the death of 70,000 men was sufficient to cause God to stop the punishment.

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    You are jumping out of the frying pan into the fire: speaking of an "emotional reaction" in God is just as problematic as speaking of regret. They are both anthropomorphisms--ways of using human categories to explain God's ways. Just as God has no "hands" ("Into your hands, O lord, I commend my spirit"), so He has no "emotions." Lest you begin to think of an impersonal force, though, remember that He IS love. – brianpck Dec 26 '14 at 16:54
  • God doesn't have hands? Says who? Jesus, who is God, has hands. When God made man, He made us in His image. So the fact that we have hands, and emotions, is an indicator that God likely has them too. And whatever else he wants to have as well. – Taylor D Barrett Dec 28 '14 at 2:36
  • God only has emotions inasmuch as he became incarnate, but he is no way like us. Your example does not pass the muster. Our limited human language cannot express this without using anthropomorphisms. – Dcn. Andy Dec 28 '14 at 13:54
  • I cannot see how emotions would make any changes in someone who is omniscient. – user13676 Dec 28 '14 at 17:28
  • @user13676: I wonder if an omniscient being would have corporeal existence as the primary existence. Since Jesus took human form and became man for our sake, he had no human form until that moment regarding the issue from our limited, time-constrained vantage point. – Dcn. Andy Dec 30 '14 at 0:40

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