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Does God Change His Mind?

"And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart." (Genesis 6:6)

“And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” (Genesis 6:6)

We come across a very unusual statement in Genesis 6:6. We are told that God “repented” that He had made man. This brings us to ask the question: Does God change His mind? Why would a God Who is omniscient and knows the end from the beginning need to change His mind about anything? Are we really being told here that God regretted His decision to make mankind or is something else going on?

“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19)

We have a dynamic that is repeated again and again throughout the Old Testament wherein God “repents” or “changes His mind” about something. Normally, this change of mind has to do with a judgment that God has pronounced and then withholds (e.g., Exodus 32:10, 14). Invariably, there is a change of mind or repenting on the part of man that is followed by a change of mind or repenting on God’s part. In the example from Exodus 32, God had declared to Moses that He intended to wipe out the entire nation of Israel for their plummet into idolatry and rebellion and begin again with the line of Moses (like He did here in Genesis with Noah). Moses interceded on behalf of the people, causing God to change His mind.

The key thing to see when God “repents” is that it is always the result of the actions of man. God, in His infinite wisdom, does not regret the decisions that He has made, but in His infinite holiness is compelled to change the way that He deals with man based on man’s actions. It was not God’s intention when He created man that it would one day become necessary for Him to blot out all but eight people, but the severity and totality of man’s sinfulness required that He do so. Mankind had become incorrigible to the uttermost, wholly beyond repentance himself. Man would not change his mind about sin, so God was compelled to change His mind about man.

“Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:” (Isaiah 46:9-10)

Without a doubt, God knows the choices that man will make and how He will respond accordingly. God is not surprised by anything that man does, but He is obliged by His own holy nature to adjust how He deals with man based upon man’s obedience (or disobedience) to Him. God does not truly “change His mind”, but He does change His interactions with man in response to the changes in man’s behavior.

God repented and changed His dealings with mankind in the days of Noah because of the extreme depravity that had completely filled the entire world. It is simply not possible for a righteous and holy God to allow sin to remain unrequited indefinitely. God will judge sin. God strove with man that man would repent and change the way that he dealt with God (Genesis 6:3). Since man did not, God changed the way that He dealt with man.

We have today the indescribable privilege of choosing how our own sin shall be judged(and it certainly will be judged). If we repent of it and come to Christ that the sin within us is “judged” and ultimately destroyed, we will live. If we remain unrepentant, if we refuse to change our mind about our sin, God will still judge the sin within us – but we will perish with it.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published October 10, 2009]

**All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

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6 responses

  1. In the Old Testament, God goes through a lot of motions designed to help teach his people. It would be the same as us putting shoes on our hands or gloves on our feet so that our children could correct us. Gods knows that if he just tells the Hebrews certain things, they will either not believe or quickly forget. So he shows them – again and again – through practical demonstrations.

    Sorry I’ve been away so long.

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  2. Nicely put, Clark. Thanks for sharing your comments.

    It’s good to hear from you again, I hope everything is going well for you and yours. Congratulations on the new baby, by the way. These first few months are always so much fun, I hope you are able to get a little sleep :)

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  3. Hi, I have a little bit of a different take on my understanding. I see it more as God speaking anthropomorphically to us humans. I don’t see it as Him changing His mind or readjusting to us but more speaking to in terms that we can understand such as “if you don’t do such and such, I will do this to you.” As you so correctly pointed out, He knows the end from the beginning and as such, He does not have to readjust to us.

    Thanks for such a good post!

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  4. Hi again, another thought is that I have always understood God “changing” His mind to mean that He is speaking to us anthropomorphically and I did not consider another viewpoint. This is what is so awesome about the internet and learning from each other. You gave me a point of view that I will ponder and go back to the scriptures to read and understand.

    Thanks!

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  5. Thanks for the comments, Tishrei!

    The language of Genesis 6:6-8 is definitely anthropomorphic. But it also gives us insight into the nature of how God’s will operates in relation to man’s free will.

    I agree that it is a matter of “if you don’t do such and such, I will do this.” God assumes a different posture towards man based on man’s obedience or disobedience. Grace always precedes judgment and mercy precedes punishment. God patiently offers Salvation until the time comes that He is no longer Savior, but Judge. It is not really a change of His mind, but more a different “role” that He takes based upon our response to His offer of Salvation.

    The same One Who was crowned with thorns, scourged with whips, nailed to the Cross, and Whose own blood covered His brow – all to pay the price for the sins of man; will return again with righteous judgment, crowned with many crowns, bearing a sword against the nations that He shall rule with a rod of iron; the blood that once poured into his eyes being replaced with the fire of the wrath of Almighty God (Rev. 19:11-16). The difference isn’t that He will change His mind about how He looks at mankind, the difference will be that the time of His patience will be expired and He will then deal according to what His holy righteousness demands.

    When man rejects God’s love, He is only left with God’s unfailing holiness. If we do not accept Him as our Savior, we force Him to be our Judge.

    Thanks for sharing the great comments!

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  6. Okay, I understand what you mean.

    “God assumes a different posture towards man based on man’s obedience or disobedience.”

    I agree that God takes a different posture towards man based on obedience or disobedience. It’s not that He’s actually “changing’ His mind for that would mean that He’s dependent on man’s actions as to how He will proceed. It’s more of Him saying “obey and this is what I will do for you and if you disobey, this is what I will do to you.” A childish way of stating it but I believe that is how He operates towards man.

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