Did God admit to making a mistake by creating us?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: If God is perfect and all-knowing, then why did he lament his creation of man to Noah? Is he admitting a mistake?

Answer: To answer this question, let’s first look at the Bible verse you probably have in mind.

“And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”
(Genesis 6:6, ESV)

Now let me finetune your question and answer it right off the bat: if an infinitely competent and omniscient God tells us that he regretted making us to the point where it grieved him to his heart, isn’t he telling us that he made a mistake?

No. He’s telling us that the preflood people used their collective free will for evil and not for good — and that he was heartsick over what their sin was about to make him do. That is not the same as admitting a mistake. In fact, this statement implies that the creation was working within design parameters. The fact that the flood allowed humanity to overcome sin’s tipping point and to once again flourish testifies to this.

You see, any creation that involves volitional creatures will likely fall into sin. But they will also have the potential to cross over sin’s event horizon into a moral/spiritual/social black hole, and that’s what happened before the flood. Society as a whole had fallen into such deep sin that it could no longer progress towards God’s objectives (Genesis 6:5).

God designed the creation to just chug along, mostly on its own — but within the social and physical laws he built into it. In my opinion, this is the primary way he sustains the universe. But the preflood people were sinning too much and all the time… and they simply overwhelmed the system. The only way out was to form a pinch point in the population. So God reserved eight people of faithful stock, killed the rest — and it worked. Here we are! … and here’s an analogy.

Our bodies also chug along, mostly on their own, and according to the biological laws God established for them. For instance, we have this wonderful ability to heal ourselves. But sometimes a sickness overwhelms our bodies’ resources, and we need outside help from a doctor. That’s the relationship between the flood and the earth: the earth needed a doctor… and the medicine was bitter… but the medicine worked.

Logic weighs in here, too. Given his nature and his purposes, what were God’s choices right before the flood? Could he have ignored his purpose for creating us by letting the world continue in its endless loop of sin? Apparently not. Could he have rather destroyed the creation altogether, working against his own declared purposes? No. Could he hit the reset button? Sure.. and if that’s what it took to get the world back on track, that would have been the only logical choice.

It is critical to note, however, what was not among God’s choices: God could not have just made people behave better… not without turning them into meat puppets… because even God cannot force “good” behavior onto volitional creatures without revoking their free will. In this universe, God’s omnipotence does not trample free will and logic.

We are here to give glory to God and to enjoy a relationship with him. As such, if he gave us spiritual lobotomies, we might have the appearance of worship… but it would be false… and such falsehood would also work against his purposes.

As you can see, God (sort of) painted himself into a corner with creation. He is “stuck” with us as we are… but he’s not worried. At the end of creation day six, God noted that the creation was very good (Genesis 1:31)… and he meant it! Furthermore, he knew that sinful people can be redeemed (Ephesians 1:7) and that even the earth will eventually get a break! (Romans 8:18-25).

So, given the reasons for the condition of the earth right before the flood — the free will of humankind and the purposes of God — the flood was the only way he could continue his program… a program that was perfect in the way it allowed for humanity’s curveballs.

Now, it can be a rough ride down here. So it is important to note that a new creation is coming (Revelation 21:1). After God works through all the programs he has for this current creation, he’ll make a brand new one with brand new rules. But for now, we have to deal with the spiritual and physical limits that are helping God address sin. That’s why this life has so many bumps. The flood was just a big one.

Now that we’ve discussed the physical, the spiritual and the logical reasons for the flood, let’s look at the concept of regret (which is what I assume you meant by the word “lament.”)

First, let us not put an unnecessary burden on the word regret, because regret does not always involve having made a mistake. Genesis 6:6 is not a picture of God wringing his hands over a bad decision; it is a picture of a God who is genuinely sorry over an outcome. Remember, God did not make robots. He made volitional beings, and part of being volitional is to be able to choose between doing right and doing wrong. Was God somehow wrong to create non-robot people? No! And I know few people who would prefer the other.

Our free will does put God at emotional risk, however, and he was speaking right into the heart of every parent who has ever watched a child’s bad decision grow into dreadful outcomes. No matter how the sentences are cast, few parents actually wish that their children were never born, because having those children was not a mistake. It was a God-appointed joy that came with risk. But risks come with regrets — especially when the outcomes are disappointing. But these regrets are actually sorrows, and as such, are not associated with errors one has performed.

Second, God is merciful to us when he describes himself in human terms. How else could we know the Supreme Being, having few other points of reference? But we must keep in mind that he does this by using the literary tool of anthropomorphism, which is giving human characteristics to a non-human entity. (God is Spirit and not human.)

It is true that we are like him in many respects. Indeed, we were made in his image (Genesis 1:27). But the parallels between the Creator and the creature are just that — parallels — not equalities. Things that are revealed through comparative literary devices such as anthropomorphisms are under no obligation to be exact in every aspect. That is not how imaging works in literature. This anthropomorphism shows us an aspect of God — a personality snapshot if you will. It would be fraudulent to grow such a snippet into a doctrine by exceeding the limits of the figure.

Third, one of God’s attributes is his immutability. He cannot change (Numbers 23:19). This does not mean that he will not respond as people test those things which he had set up as contingent, but it does mean that his character will not change, and his creation must respond to his character!

God is holy, and sin has outfall. That’s just how it is… and God offers no apologies. This, however, does not preclude grief on his part. Although humankind’s desperate state was not his fault, he was still sorry about it.

Fourth, maybe God wants us to take his measure — to give us something to think about the next time we are tempted to brush him aside through sin (Psalms 34:8). I can’t think of a stronger statement than, “Your sin is so bad that I regret even creating you!” He is certainly disappointed in us… and the point is to take note of his feelings. But he did not commit an error creating us.

I pray that all this helped you understand why bad things happen under God’s watch… and why an omnipotent God can be sorrowful for them while not intervening. That’s how much our free will means to him.

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)