Divine Sorrow

And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen. 6:6).

- Genesis 6:5–7

Should there be any doubt about the gravity of sin prior to the flood, today’s passage states in no uncertain terms what has been assumed in the preceding chapters of Genesis. In the days of Noah, man’s perversion was so great that “every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Humanity in bondage to sin was (and is, Rom. 3:23) corrupt in its entire being.

Moses continues detailing God’s response to human depravity, writing of His sorrow at man’s evil and His regret that He created humanity. As such, the Lord pledges to wipe out every created thing, both men and those things corrupted by their evil (Gen. 6:6–7).

When we read passages like these that speak of the Lord’s sorrow or, in the King James Version, His “repentance,” we must be careful not to fall into two different errors. The first is to assume divine regret is the same as ours. Many so-called evangelicals who espouse Open Theism read these passages and assert God changes His mind and experiences sorrow in response to unknown future events. Because our feelings and plans change when the unexpected happens, these theologians posit the Lord can only truly do the same if He does not have full knowledge of what tomorrow will bring.

Faithful interpreters of Scripture, however, recognize the absurdity of this position. Our Creator’s full knowledge of all things yet to come is affirmed repeatedly in the Bible (Isa. 46:8–10; Rev. 4:1). Furthermore, Moses later teaches that God’s “repentance” is different from the sorrow expressed by man (Num. 23:19).

Secondly, we cannot also think today’s verses fail to express divine reality in any sense. We are important to the Lord, and He expresses grief and anger when we sin, albeit in a manner appropriate to His own nature. Yet He is never incapacitated by such emotions, tomorrow never surprises Him, and His character never changes. God ordains all things (Eph. 1:11), whether or not they bring Him joy. Ultimately, He does this for His good purpose (Ps. 135:6). He has a real relationship with His sin-stricken people and this necessarily means a real, divine, affective response to us.

Coram Deo

If the Lord could not be sorrowful or angry at our sin or joyful at our obedience, we could not believe He is unchangeably holy, righteous, and good. Though our character may change, our Father’s does not, and therefore we can consistently expect His pleasure or displeasure depending on our behavior. Let us then heed John Calvin’s words: “unless we wish to provoke God, and to put him to grief, let us learn to abhor and to flee from sin.”

Passages for Further Study

Ps. 115
Prov. 16:7
Isa. 63
Luke 19:41–44
Eph. 4:30

We Recommend

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to www.ligonier.org.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries, the teaching fellowship of R.C. Sproul. All rights reserved. Website: www.ligonier.org | Phone: 1-800-435-4343