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Genesis 6:6, New American Standard Bible (NASB):

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

Some versions use the word regret instead of sorry. Regret and sorrow are both acts related to mistakes or sin. Can God be in such a position?

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The Bible consistently uses human terms to describe a non-human God. Our arms are the body part that perform most of our work, so God's work is described as being done with God's "hands". Our eyes are what we use to observe and take in information, so God's observatory faculties are called "eyes". Our mouth is the body part we use to communicate, so God's words are regarded as coming out of his "mouth". Each of these body parts we understand not as literal descriptions of God, but as metaphorical - they do not apply to God in the same way they apply to humans. These are so-called "anthropomorphisms".

We must interpret "repent/relent" the same way, as an anthropomorphism. When a human repents/relents/regret, he generally speaking changes a course of action that he has previously chosen - humans tend to do this because they admit to having made a mistake and want to correct it. However, when this term is applied anthropomorphically to God, we must understand it as we understood God's "arms" and "eyes" - we must take what we know of God, and apply the term to him in a way that fits the context. In this case, I believe that "regret/relent" indicates that God has decided to discontinue a course of action upon which he has started - he will destroy most of what he has created and sustained up to this point.

Another interesting usage of such language is found in 1Sam 15:

v11 “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments.”

v29 And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor relent. For He is not a man, that He should relent.”

The word for "regret" (v11) and "relent" (v29) are the same word in Hebrew. So in one sense, God can relent, and in another sense he cannot. The contexts of each of these verses makes it clear that both verses are from the human perspective: in v11, God may seem to "relent" from an action. But in v29, God is said never to "relent" from what he has spoken (that Saul and his family would not be kings). Put another way, v11 is speaking anthropomorphically, while v29 is speaking literally.

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We could think of it the other way around too. If we are made in His image, then perhaps it is foolish to think that God doesn't have our emotional complexity. His emotions could easily include heights and depths and complexities that we could never experience in this life. We feel but a pale reflection of what God might. So to call it an anthropomorphism might be an injustice. It may be a gross oversimplification of God's psyche but the best our limited language can do. Either way, you're right, the mistake is to interpret it as if God were a man. – Joshua Jun 10 '15 at 23:31

As Niobius says in his answer, the use of anthropomorphisms is part of God's communication with man. It isn't necessary to imagine God's "outstretched arm" is literally flesh and blood, and you don't necessarily have to imagine God has emotions or regrets in the same sense that humans do: an anthropomorphism is an illustration in terms we can understand that reveals a degree of the reality of God.

However there is meaning behind the anthropomorphism. God may not have an arm of flesh and blood, but He can do anything a flesh and blood arm can do, and of course, much much more, with His 'arm'. Likewise, though God's emotions may not be just like ours, what He does have is surely something higher, deeper, more complex and more wonderful.

Some versions use the word regret instead of sorry. Regret and sorrow are both acts related to mistakes or sin. Can God be in such a position?

…this is incorrect on several levels:

  • Regret and sorrow are related to sin or error only indirectly: it's not as if regret and sorrow inevitably follow sin, indeed the opposite is implied by the preceeding verse:

    5The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. ESV

  • Regret and sorrow can occur for other reasons than repentance
  • Lastly and most importantly, we should consider that the verse quoted only tells us about one aspect of God's feelings at the time: his anger against the continual evil he perceives in the heart of man. If that was the only leaning God had, he would of course have never "made man on the earth". But God also delights in expressing love, even towards His enemies: this tension within God is evident as the story unfolds and He arranges the salvation of Noah's relatives through His agent Noah.

If we insist that God is perfectly simple then the Bible is full of contradictions, but if we allow Him to be perfectly complex we can make sense of this and other verses that imply He is torn in two directions or 'changes His mind'. You might like to look at the following verses among others that might provoke similar questions:

  • 19God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? ESV

  • 29And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.” ESV

  • 14I am the Lord. I have spoken; it shall come to pass; I will do it. I will not go back; I will not spare; I will not relent; according to your ways and your deeds you will be judged, declares the Lord God.” ESV

  • 6“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. ESV

  • 14And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people. ESV

  • 16And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. ESV

  • 6You have rejected me, declares the Lord; you keep going backward, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you— I am weary of relenting. ESV

  • 10When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it. ESV

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In this passage, God is full of sorrow, or "sorry" and regretful of his choice to make mankind. As we are made in God's image, it is not hard for us to remember painful events of rejection and to understand how God feels. When we break up with a significant other, it can be a painful experience. This does not necessarily mean that you would do things differently or even that we did anything wrong in the relationship, yet we may regret dating that person. We may also be sorry that we made a choice that we did not because that choice was wrong, but because it did not result in the desired outcome.

The same is true of God. While regret and sorrow can be related to mistakes or sin, they do not have to be. They can also be the result of the right choice. Sometimes doing the right thing means doing the hardest thing and is that which hurts the most. We may be sorry we are in that position. We may regret not doing something different, but it doesn't necessarily mean a mistake was made.

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Gensis 1:31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

  1. In the verse above we read that God created everything and saw that it was good. There was no mistake in the making of things. God still sees His creation that way. Although His children fall short sometimes, God still sees the good.

  2. God's grieving is different than human beings, agreeing with @Niobius. The way I see Genesis 6:6, is that God was sad. He didn't like seeing His children go through what they were going through; allowing sin to take a tow in their lives. God's intentions for Human beings in the beginning was to live a blessed life, to be fruitful while increasing in numbers.

Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;

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God gave us the freedom to act. That's God's principle and he cannot go against it.God always hope we will act well, but God CANNOT FORCE us to be good. God was hoping Adam and Eve would obey his commandment not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of KGE. Weather A & E eat of the fruit was not decided yet. God didn't know yet. It was entirely depending on A & E personal decision and responsibility. Unfortunately, A and E went against God's expectation and ate the fruit, causing their Fall and their descendants to carry evil nature. "God regrets he created man" means God suffers like a father whose children are misbehaving badly. He is disappointed. If the Fall was planned by God, it is very normal humans misbehave, there is no reason for God to be disappointed and to regret he created man. Same for Saul. Same for Israel in Jeremiah 8:18;9:1 Esaiah 5:4 this shows God's disappointment. God wants Israel to become the "head" not the "tail" and to choose the blessing and not the curse. It's entirely up to Israel. God cannot force Israel to choose the blessings.God is suffering because his beloved children are suffering and misbehaving. My Father in Heaven is sad, suffering, disappointed when I go astray.

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