What Is the Bible’s View?
Does God Feel Regret?
“GOD is not a man that he should tell lies, neither a son of mankind that he should feel regret. Has he himself said it and will he not do it, and has he spoken and will he not carry it out?”—Num. 23:19.
These divinely inspired words spoken by Balaam show that Jehovah God does not regret in the manner that humans do. We may misjudge matters or err in other ways and, therefore, have feelings of regret. The Most High, however, never makes a mistake. The Scriptures tell us: “Perfect is his activity, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” (Deut. 32:4) Accordingly, Jehovah’s purpose remains unchanged.
He will, for example, never regret having constituted his Son as high priest according to the manner of Melchizedek. The psalmist declared: “Jehovah has sworn (and he will feel no regret): ‘You are a priest to time indefinite according to the manner of Melchizedek!’” (Ps. 110:4; Heb. 7:21) Because the Son will always remain faithful, Jehovah will never have any reason to change His attitude toward him. His purpose respecting the Son is no mistake.
Similarly, the Almighty will never regret having chosen the Israelites for the sake of their devoted forefathers. True, time and again they proved unfaithful and, in the first century C.E., the majority rejected the promised Messiah. Nevertheless, a remnant responded favorably. The fact that their fellow countrymen proved to be enemies of the “good news” did not prejudice God’s view of the believing remnant. Also, this did not change the fact that the forefathers had served Jehovah loyally. Hence, the apostle Paul could write: “With reference to God’s choosing they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are not things he will regret.” (Rom. 11:28, 29) Yes, the faithful Jewish remnant was beloved of God despite the unbelief of the majority.
There is a particular sense, though, in which Jehovah God may feel regret. In the Scriptures we read: “He would feel regret according to the abundance of his grand loving-kindness.” (Ps. 106:45) How is this to be understood?
Since Jehovah God does not make mistakes, his regretting manifestly refers to a change in attitude toward humans. Just what prompts such a change on his part?
Take the situation in the days of Noah. At that time the earth was filled with violence. The Bible reports: “Jehovah saw that the badness of man was abundant in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time. And Jehovah felt regrets that he had made men in the earth, and he felt hurt at his heart.”—Gen. 6:5, 6.
We are not to conclude from this that God felt that he had made a mistake in creating man. This could not be, for he pronounced all his creative works “very good,” measuring up to his standard of perfection. (Gen. 1:31) Rather, Jehovah regretted that humans had chosen to follow a course of disobedience. He regretted that they, with the exception of Noah and his immediate family, had become so corrupt that he was forced to take rightful action against them.
The same conclusion can be drawn regarding Jehovah’s selection of Saul as Israel’s first king. First Samuel 15:10, 11 states: “The word of Jehovah now came to Samuel, saying: ‘I do regret that I have caused Saul to reign as king.’” Why? “Because he has turned back from following me, and my words he has not carried out.” Note that God’s regret was not prompted by any feeling that the choice of Saul was wrong but resulted from that one’s failure to use his privilege in harmony with the divine will. It was Saul who, as a free moral agent, had changed, and this called for a change on God’s part.
Because Saul had opted for a course of disobedience, adverse judgment was rendered against him. That rightful judgment was not something that the Most High would later regret. The word of Jehovah through Samuel was: “Jehovah has ripped away the royal rule of Israel from off you today, and he will certainly give it to a fellowman of yours who is better than you. And, besides, the Excellency of Israel will not prove false, and He will not feel regrets.”—1 Sam. 15:28, 29.
However, there have been times when Jehovah God expressed a condemnatory judgment and then felt regret over it. Again, a change was made by the people involved. This is illustrated in the case of the Ninevites in the time of Jonah. The prophet Jonah was sent to proclaim to them: “Only forty days more, and Nineveh will be overthrown.” (Jonah 3:4) Taking the warning to heart, the people, including the king, repented. “And the true God got to see their works, that they had turned back from their bad way; and so the true God felt regret over the calamity that he had spoken of causing to them; and he did not cause it.”—Jonah 3:10.
In a sense, by repenting, the Ninevites no longer were the same people against whom Jehovah proclaimed judgment through his prophet. That judgment was directed against practicers of wickedness, which they had ceased to be. Hence, Jehovah God felt regret or rightly changed his attitude toward the Ninevites in harmony with their altered course of conduct. Thus, whenever the Most High makes known a coming judgment, that prior announcement presents people with an opportunity to change. His pronouncements of future blessings are likewise conditional.
But this does not mean that Jehovah God will give individuals and nations unlimited time and opportunity to choose a right or a wrong course. When the limit of his patience is reached, he will execute his unchangeable judgment. That was true in connection with unfaithful Jerusalem in the time of Jeremiah. The situation had come to the point where the people were so set in a bad way that they refused to repent. That is why the following was proclaimed through Jeremiah: “‘Who will show compassion upon you, O Jerusalem, and who will sympathize with you, and who will turn aside to ask about your welfare? You yourself have deserted me,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. ‘Backwards is the way you keep walking. And I shall stretch out my hand against you and bring you to ruin. I have got tired of feeling regret.’”—Jer. 15:5, 6.
Jehovah’s dealings with humankind assure us that he will never feel regret about his unchangeable purpose. His word will prove true and he will live up completely to the terms of his promises. However, if individuals choose the wrong course, he will change his attitude toward them. Though he does not desire to act against them, their course of action requires that he do so in agreement with his unchangeable standard of justice. May we, therefore, always strive to be faithful to God.