What does it mean when it says God repented?


Clarify Share Report Asked November 16 2015 Mini Earl Stringfellow

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Mini Tim Maas Retired Quality Assurance Specialist with the U.S. Army
I believe the question concerns the seeming conflict between verses such as Numbers 23:19 ("God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"), and other passages such as Genesis 6:6 ("And it repented the LORD that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him at His heart."), or Exodus 32:14 ("And the LORD repented of the evil which He thought to do unto His people.") 

Since God is omniscient, He knew at the time that He created man, or that He told Moses what He planned to do to the people of Israel for their disobedience, what the final outcome of each situation would be -- that is, that He would not totally destroy humanity for its sin, but eventually redeem it by the life, death, and resurrection of His Son; or that He would not eradicate everyone in Israel except Moses. Therefore, it would not be accurate to say that He repented or changed His mind in human terms (although He was undoubtedly grieved or displeased at what humanity or the Israelites, of their own free will, had done).

God displays this same characteristic when people respond to the Holy Spirit's prompting to repent, or when Christians pray in obedience to the Bible's command to do so. God knows what He is going to ultimately do, but it is our repentance and prayer that draw us closer to God and His will.

Sometimes, when God is described as repenting, it is a case of God having announced an intention to do something, but with the implication that that course of action was subject to change. For example, in Jonah 3, God commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh and warn the people there of Nineveh's impending destruction, with the implied purpose of inducing them to forsake their sins. When the people changed their attitude and behavior, God is described (in the King James Version) as "repenting" of what He had said He would do, although His sparing of Nineveh was due to the fact that the people of Nineveh did not persist in their sin, rather than being the result of a change in God's characteristics. 

Describing God's actions in terms of human repentance is as close as the limitations of language can come to depicting what occurred, and are an anthropomorphic concession (where God is ascribed human qualities) to portray God's nature in terms that we can understand, even though we will never fully comprehend God's complexity, or be able to convey it adequately in words.

(It was to even more clearly achieve this objective that God became a human being. Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30 displays God's ability to apparently alter a course of action based on demonstrated faith and entreaty. But, even here, Jesus, being God (or even simply from a human standpoint), knew that He would heal the woman's daughter. His behavior toward the woman was designed to allow the woman to testify to her faith, which has ever since encouraged people who have read about her in the Gospels to be persistent in their own faith and prayer.)

November 17 2015 0 responses Vote Up Share Report

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