THE BOTTOM LINE
“God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. (Gen. 1:31).” “The Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The Lord said, " I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them." (Gen. 6:5-7).
People regret many things in life -- but God? His ways are perfect (Deut. 32:4). He knows -- even plans all things in advance (Ps. 147:5; Dan. 4:35). He’s eternally self-sufficient, self-existent, self-contained (Acts 17:25). His creation can’t add or subtract anything from who He is or what He decrees. So how can the eternally blessed or “happy” God create anything and later regret it -- even grieve over it? Does this imply some limitation in God’s knowledge, as some theologians think -- or worse, some imperfection?
Hardly. First, God’s regretting is a planned regret. If God knows in advance and controls all things in creation, then certainly He knows in advance and controls all things in Himself -- including being regretful. The same applies to His other affections of anger, joy, mercy, kindness, etcetera. He doesn’t “stumble” into His own affections nor is He caught off guard by the events that provoke them. His own affections are planned in His omniscience and wisdom (Rom. 16:27).
Secondly, God’s regretting is a judicial regret. God’s lament expresses His dismay as a judicial witness and the resultant prosecution of His own judgment as verse 7 implies. God’s judgments take place in space/time reality -- judgments based on a legal procedure of cumulative verdicts of sin and righteousness in His creatures. While God knows something as true in His omniscience, it’s another thing to prove it as true in a righteousness manner -- the latter needing cultivation before a verdict is rendered.
Thirdly, God’s regretting is a displaced regret. While it may be ordained in scope and judicial in nature, it nevertheless goes against His desired outcome as a creator and judge -- hence, his stated chagrin. God’s not in the regretting “business.” It’s more “natural” for Him to be kind, merciful, and full of grace -- which is why He’s slow to anger, even sorrowful. For God not to regret would be a denial of His personhood.
God is immutable, unchanging in who He is (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29) -- yet can change in how He addresses His creation (Jer. 18:1ff.). In His sovereignty He’s like a thermostat, controlling all things. But in His righteousness He’s like a thermometer, weighing the evidence brought to Him and rendering a decision. Never mistake one for the other.