This is a question I’ve been asked a couple of times in the last couple of weeks. What does it mean when it says that God regretted or repented (eg. Gen 6:6 or 1 Sam 15:11). It’s not an easy question to answer succinctly but here’s what I normally say:
- Language – there are three ways you can talk about God: Univocal predication (God is literally a lion, or lamb); equivocal predication (God is nothing like a lion or a lamb); analogical predication (there is some quality we see in a lion which is maximally present in God). The first option would leave us with irreconcilable contradictions; the second option would leave us with nothing meaningful to say; the third option properly describes how language works when talking about the attributes and actions of God.
- Accommodation – since God is infinite and eternal when he reveals himself to us he has to accommodate that revelation to our finite understanding. We could never comprehend the full wonder of his infinite being. He speaks truly but not exhaustively, as do we.
- Because God is infinite that is true also of his emotions or passions. God is maximally alive and his passions are perfect and eternal. He doesn’t chuck a strop or get excited about chocolate like we do. It’s important to realise that God is not a really big super strong man. Eternality and infinitude are not finitude and temporality extended really really big – they are a different mode of existence. This is why it’s hard for us to fully understand some of this stuff. We know truly but not exhaustively.
- So, when we talk about God regretting or repenting we speak truly but not exhaustively. We speak analogically not univocally. He accommodates the revelation of himself to us. His passions are perfect, maximal, and eternal. If you want to meditate on something that’s perhaps more edifying think about this. Is God grieved over sinners? Yes, maximally and eternally – far more than we could ever comprehend. Does God rejoice over saints? Yes, maximally, perfectly, eternally – far more than you or I could ever begin to comprehend. Far from being intellectual, cold, or sterile, this stuff should move our hearts as we meditate upon his greatness.
Anything else you’d add or I’ve missed?