Then the word of the LORD came to Samuel, saying, “I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me and has not carried out My commands.” 1 Samuel 15:10-11How can God regret doing something?
This isn’t the first time we see God express regret; the first time is Genesis 6:6-7 which says The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” This is problematic, if one believes God (as I do) when He says, “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’.” Isaiah 46:9-10
If God knows the end from the beginning, being Creator God outside the constraints of the time domain, why would He do anything He would regret? Would He not foresee His regret? Perhaps God doesn’t foresee His own emotional responses or, more likely, His emotional reactions are not the basis on which He makes decisions (what a thought— would that we all had that capacity).
Maybe ‘regret’ (nacham) doesn’t fully encompass His thinking, His emotions – or at least doesn’t for us. Certainly Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us that God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways; perhaps this post is simply folly because I’m pondering things that I cannot know. At the same time, God invites us to know Him better, to enter in, to strive to come into agreement with Him.
But I think it may be related to the fact that God values freewill; He lets us make our choices even when they hurt us. He tells us what is good, what is the way of life and blessing versus the way of death and cursing, and He exhorts us to “choose life that you might live” but He doesn’t impose that choice upon us.
So, despite the fact that God sees the end from the beginning, God lets us go through the experience. He doesn’t sit at the beginning and judge humanity, choosing some and damning some based upon His foreknowledge. If He did, we would of course cry out, “That’s not fair! I haven’t done anything!” We go through the painful and joyful reality of life and freedom to make stupid and glorious choices.
This is always a poignant and delicate area for me: I married at 25 under the firm conviction that God told me to marry this man. This man wasn’t my ‘type’, this man didn’t make my heart catch in my throat or my stomach drop out from under me (those indicators I sought in the past, looking for chemistry) – but this man was a professing Christian, a virtuous man, a man who ardently pursued me (warts and all, divorced with child and all), an intelligent man, a funny man, an excellent musician with whom I enjoyed playing and performing and attending concerts. This man asked God to give me to him for a wife – and God granted that request.
Now this man might look at it and think, “why did I ever ask such a thing?” – if this man does any self-examination at all, which I suspect is not the case. But that would be his blog, not mine. I look at it and ask, “God, why did you tell me (invite me, anyway) to marry this man knowing that he would blindside me 17 years later, that he would blow up the marriage in as destructive a way as he could manage?”
And maybe, just maybe, it relates to this Saul thing– that God, rejected by Israel from being King over them, gave them Saul because they wanted a king (and Saul appeared to be kingly; he was an imposing figure) – so Samuel anoints Saul and prophesies to him and concludes with, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you mightily, and you shall prophesy with them and be changed into another man.” 1 Samuel 10:6
Saul was given the opportunity to be a godly king over Israel; God put His Spirit upon him and changed him into another kind of man, but Saul continually made choices inconsistent with God’s clear direction (via Samuel) and will (evident in the Torah) – so at a certain point God removed His Spirit from Saul (Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD terrorized him. 1 Samuel 16:14 — a truly terrifying thought) and He removed His blessing from Saul as the anointed king of Israel.
A year or so into the long, grievous divorce process God showed me that our marriage had the opportunity to be a good thing, He had a vision for our marriage – but we weren’t faithful to that vision and finally He redeemed out of the marriage that which was willing to be redeemed. Thus far that’s me. I hope one day it will include my ex – but it hasn’t yet; God has shown me specific things that will mark that redemption. Not things I’m looking forward to, btw, except in the sense that they’re signs of that redemption.
Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death; for Samuel grieved over Saul. And the LORD regretted that He had made Saul king over Israel. (1 Samuel 15:35 to end of the chapter).
Tags: Bible questions, divorce, freewill, marriage, pondering