On the cusp of the flood and God's covenant with Noah, "who found favor with the Lord," Genesis 6:6 [New American Bible] states

[T]he Lord regretted making human beings on the earth, and his heart was grieved.

And in verse 7, God says, "I regret that I made them".

This seems to go against the idea that God doesn't make mistakes. Engaging in a mass slaughter doesn't necessarily seem, for lack of a better expression, out of character, e.g., the Amorites. And making a covenant with a single man, Noah, seems quite reasonable.

But why regret the creation of man (and animals)? God certainly knew of the wickedness of man. It just seems an odd sentiment at an odd time..

Edit: With the possibility that "regret" is not the correct translation, I went to the Hebrew which suggests second thoughts might be an alternative explanation, but not sorrow. [Chabad.org] 6.ווַיִּנָּ֣חֶם יְהֹוָ֔ה And the Lord regretted (Further explained:) For example: (Num. 23:19): “Nor the son of man that He should change His mind (וְיִתְנֶחָם)”; (Deut. 32:36): “And concerning His servants He will change His mind (יִתְנֶחָם)”; (Exod. 32:14): “And the Lord changed His intent concerning the evil (וַיִּנָּחֶם)”; (I Sam. 15:11): “I regret (נִחַמְתִּי) that I made [Saul] king.” These are all an expression of having second thoughts

  • Hi, stu, i see you used the NAB, if you want a Catholic answer please put that in the question, otherwise we'll probably close thid as being "unscoped exegesis". – Peter Turner Jan 16 '18 at 4:25
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    I think you mean Genesis 6:6. The language here is translated as sorrow in other translations. I do not believe that Regret, which has a slightly deferent connotation than sorrow, is an attribute of our creator. Sorrow, however is, as you can see the sadness that God and Christ experience when we choose paths leading away from God. – Marc Jan 16 '18 at 14:23
  • Indeed, 6:6, my mistake – Stu W Jan 16 '18 at 16:47

At the very perimeter of this question it's important to remember that:

... God himself, who makes the revelation and can neither deceive nor be deceived.

First Vatican Council Decree

So, if he didn't deceive us by His regret at making us, then He really did regret making us.

Regret, however, is a feeling - not an action, and one thing they tell you in Catholic Marriage class is that feelings are never wrong! I'm not sure if this applies to God, but the story of the Bible is a love story between God and His Spouse the Church. Sometimes even spouses regret at having gotten married, but it doesn't make them liars all the way back to their wedding vows. Neither does it make God a liar for having created man for having regretted creating them. Nor does it mean He made a mistake. Nor does it mean He wouldn't do it the same way if He could (and He could) do it all over again.

God also appears to have changed His mind, for the better - but to no different end - in saying He'd spare Sodom if a few good people could be found there. In fact, what is the point of prayer, if not to change God's mind about the natural course of events He set in place or the divine judgment He revealed to the prophets.

“Miracles happen. But they need prayer! A courageous prayer, that struggles for that miracle. Not like those prayers of courtesy: Ah, I will pray for you! Followed by one Our Father, a Hail Mary and then I forget. No! It takes a brave prayer like that of Abraham who was struggling with the Lord to save the city, like that of Moses who prayed, his hands held high when he grew weary...”.

Pope Francis - May 20 2013

I'll give you that Numbers and Genesis seem to contradict each other here. I'm surprised they didn't have intratext notes for those two verses which pretty clearly fit together, but the footnotes in the NAB for Genesis 6:6 are as follows:

the expression can be misleading in English, for “heart” in Hebrew is the seat of memory and judgment rather than emotion. The phrase is actually parallel to the first half of the sentence

And Numbers 19:23 is as follows:

God is not a human being who speaks falsely, nor a mortal, who feels regret.

And in the context of the "feeling" regret vs having regret contradicts my earlier opinions about regret being a feeling.

A corollary of these contradictions can be found in St. Thomas Aquinas' Summa articles concerning tempting God. He states:

It is forbidden in God's Law, for it is written (Deuteronomy 6:10): "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God."

and then goes on to enumerate the ways God favors those who pray without tempting Him.

Similarly, God wants us to know that He is unchanging, while still letting us know that He loves us too much to be a stickler about it.

  • Yes, my edit was strictly for determining the proper translation rather than ascertaining any deeper meaning. – Stu W Jan 17 '18 at 12:50

Some passages such as Malachi 3:6, James 1:17, and Hebrews 13:8 seem to imply that God doesn't change His mind.

A first-century Jewish opinion comes from Philo of Alexandria, who wrote a book on the subject. "Book 10: Philo, On the Unchangeableness of God"

Philo not only said God doesn't change, but men who said He did were as evil as those who were destroyed in the flood.

However, we have said enough on this head; let us now connect what follows with It: "the Lord God, therefore," says Moses, "seeing that the wickedness of man was multiplied upon the earth, and that every one of them was carefully studying wickedness in his heart all his days; God considered in his mind that he had made man upon the earth, and he thought upon it; and God said, I will destroy man whom I have made from off the face of the earth." Perhaps some very wicked persons will suspect that the lawgiver is here speaking enigmatically, when he says that the Creator repented of having created man, when he beheld their wickedness; on which account he determined to destroy the whole race. But let those who adopt such opinions as these know, that they are making light of and extenuating the offences of these men of old time, by reason of their own excessive impiety; for what can be a greater act of wickedness than to think that the unchangeable God can be changed?

Philo of Alexandria; Marsh, E.C.; Yonge, C.D.. The Works of Philo Judaeus of Alexandria (Kindle Locations 5675-5681). . Kindle Edition.

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    I don't necessarily agree with the opinion, and the logic is somewhat circumferential, but I do appreciate the answer and the reference. – Stu W Jan 16 '18 at 20:17

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