(Genesis 6:7) “So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”
To read that God, the Father, “regretted” is one of the most painful moments in the reading of the scriptures. It is a violently, troubling idea. It is an opportunity to reject Him or to love Him more. I stirred in this tension all day yesterday. I prayed, skeptically.
Regretting God, how could you possibly be all knowing? Flooding God, how could you possibly be good? But other, quite opposite, questions arose in me too. Regretting God, why continue with us at all? Why spare even one of us? Flooding God, why didn’t you make the water to put an end to us entirely? Why make us in the first place? A part of me can understand completely why God would regret making us, and that part of me doesn’t understand why a regretting God wouldn’t just deal with the regret entirely—wouldn’t just wipe us out.
I find myself agreeing with Robin William’s character in Patch Adams sometimes: “Maybe you should have had just a few more brainstorming sessions prior to creation. You rested on the seventh day, maybe you should have spent that day on compassion.” Maybe you should have instilled in us, without room for error, the ability to resist the fruit. The avoidance of the fall.
I don’t deal well with regret. I am human, and humans are exceptionally versed in avoiding and rejecting regret. Regret nothing—you only live once! Yet, I think we are bit turned around on this matter. Jesus came to clear us of the burden of guilt, but regret is a human emotion that is reflective and compassionate—an emotion that leads us to take ownership for our actions and to make peace with our past. I can imagine that God, for all that He is, would look upon creation and feel tremendously saddened by all that we have become, and that He would regret how His own hand crafted us into being. In fact, when I really think about this, I can’t imagine Him any other way. For if He is good, He feels to the fullest extent. In Genesis, God regretted making us because He felt responsible for what had become of us, because He loved us; in the flood, perhaps He suffered more than any living creature that was consumed by the waves of His wrath.
I think again about the line from Patch Adams and my own questions, and I realize that God did instill in us compassion and the ability to resist the fall. He gave us all of this when He gave us Himself. But He also gave us freedom—because in order to love, truly, we must be free to give it. In our freedom, we are the ones who committed the regrettable act. We traded everything for the only thing He asked us not to take.
To love, we must be free. Regrettably, awfully, beautifully free.
As I wrote earlier, regret leads us to take ownership and to make peace with our past. Perhaps, therefore, the regret of God in Genesis was necessary to set into motion His great plan; perhaps this was the moment when the entire story flashed before Him. He would suffer as He flooded His creation, He would spare Noah, and all of creation would multiply again through the Ark. Then, in time, He would give His most precious of gifts to us—He would give Jesus. And through Him, every bit of regret would be taken away. Something feels right about that. We’ve always wanted to be free from regret, but catchy sayings and quotes won’t do the trick. The hard part to fathom is that we should have been the ones to feel the pain of regret, to feel the weight of our sin, and yet God took this upon Himself.
Regret is a painful awareness of something that we wish were not so, but perhaps must be. I can’t pretend to imagine what the alternative would have been for God—how things would have been if He had not made us at all. Ultimately, I recognize that we humans are not a mistake. If we were, He would not have given us Himself. He would not have given Noah the Ark. He would not have given us Jesus. He would not have sent His Spirit.
I’m not a scholar. I haven’t done much research. I am sure that I still have so much to learn about the story of the flood and the magnitude of God’s decisions and emotions, but tomorrow, I doubt I’ll regret these hours I’ve spent talking with Him about all of this. Don’t take my word for any of it; take it up with God Himself.