Does God Repent?
Bassam Zawadi thinks that the God of the Bible is imperfect because he repents or is grieved over sin (here). Zawadi claims:
Here are a few verses that show the God of the Bible grieving or repenting...
LORD was grieved (nacham) that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain
If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent (nacham) of the evil that I thought to do unto them.
If so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent (nacham) me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.
Who can tell if God will turn and repent (nacham), and turn away from his fierce anger, that we perish not?
The word nacham has several meanings...
1) to be sorry, console oneself, repent, regret, comfort, be comforted
1) to be sorry, be moved to pity, have compassion
2) to be sorry, rue, suffer grief, repent
3) to comfort oneself, be comforted
4) to comfort oneself, ease oneself
b) (Piel) to comfort, console
c) (Pual) to be comforted, be consoled
1) to be sorry, have compassion
2) to rue, repent of
3) to comfort oneself, be comforted
4) to ease oneself
However, the only appropriate word that could make sense in the context of those verses is 'repent'.
And after quoting John Gill, Zawadi states:
Even for sake of argument, lets say the word meant 'regret' or 'to be sorry'. How can a perfect God regret, be sorry, grieve or repent of something he did?
Here is the answer taken from our response to Abdullah Smith (*) since there is no need to reinvent the wheel:
When this word is used in reference to God regretting having made man this doesnt necessarily imply that God had second thoughts. In those specific contexts it simply means that God hates sin and is grieved when his creatures rebel against him. Smith assumes that God must be impassionate in order for him to be all-knowing, that God cannot have any feelings towards the actions of his creatures but must remain indifferent. The fact of the matter is that God is not indifferent towards sinners but is hurt and angered by our sins and rebellion:
"How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness And grieved Him in the desert!" Psalm 78:40
"You have bought Me not sweet cane with money, Nor have you filled Me with the fat of your sacrifices; Rather you have burdened Me with your sins, You have wearied Me with your iniquities." Isaiah 43:24
"But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them." Isaiah 63:10
"Then those of you who escape will remember Me among the nations to which they will be carried captive, how I have been hurt by their adulterous hearts which turned away from Me, and by their eyes which played the harlot after their idols; and they will loathe themselves in their own sight for the evils which they have committed, for all their abominations." Ezekiel 6:9
This is why specific translations render nacham in these specific contexts as God being grieved and pained:
"The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain." Genesis 6:6 NIV
In other words, being all-knowing doesnt mean that God must remain indifferent or dispassionate about actions which he fully knows will occur.
Furthermore, when this word is used in reference to God refraining from bringing judgment upon a nation this again doesnt necessarily imply that God changed his mind. If anything, it proves that God is immutable and remains consistent to his nature. After all, if God continues to bless a nation that has turned away from righteousness then God would be unholy and unjust. Likewise, if God destroys a nation that repents of its wickedness then God would be unmerciful and unkind. Since God cannot deny himself, but must always remain faithful, he must either refrain from punishing a nation that has repented or destroy one that has turned away from righteousness. In other words, since God acts consistently he must take into account the actions of his creatures and deal with them accordingly; he cannot continue to bless evildoers or punish repentant sinners. In the words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel:
"Then the word of the LORD came to me: O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the LORD. Behold, like the clay in the potters hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: "Thus says the LORD, behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds." But they say, That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart."" Jeremiah 18:5-12
Note that God tells Jeremiah in advance what the response of the people will be, clearly showing that he knows what will happen even before it occurs!
"The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself. But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die. Yet you say, "The way of the Lord is not just." Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, "The way of the Lord is not just." O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live." Ezekiel 18:20-32
God tells Israel that he will judge them but also commands them to repent, demonstrating that God takes into consideration the actions of the people in determining whether he will show judgment or mercy.
This also shows that Gods threat of judgment isnt necessarily the last word since, as the above texts indicate, God will use warnings and the threat of judgment in order to lead the people into repentance. This obviously implies that God allows enough time for the people to repent of their actions in order to spare them from destruction. Putting it simply, God sometimes uses the threat of judgment as a means of drawing people to repent.
We add just a few more points to the foregoing. Zawadi claims that the context of the respective passages that he cited show that nacham is better rendered as "repent." Although this is true for most of the passages Zawadi cited, this is not the case with Genesis 6:6 since the context is speaking of Gods view towards the sins of the men whom he created. As we already stated above, God is grieved and angered when men rebel and disobey, which is actually the point that Genesis 6:6 is conveying. This is similar to the following text:
"I am grieved that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions. Samuel was troubled, and he cried out to the LORD all that night He who is the Glory of Israel DOES NOT LIE OR CHANGE HIS MIND; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD was grieved that he had made Saul king over Israel." 1 Samuel 15:11, 29, 35 NIV
Here nacham is used in reference to how God viewed Sauls rebellion against him. And note that within the same context the inspired author affirms that a) God does not change his mind, and that b) he was grieved over appointing Saul as king! The Bible authors obviously had no problem with affirming both truths, that God does not change his mind while also expressing genuine emotions at the same time.
Moreover, God grieving over sin isnt a sign of Gods imperfection, but evidence that God is a real personal Being. God expressing emotions is a demonstration of his Personhood, that he has an actual Personality (in fact he is tri-Personal in nature), which dispels the notion of God being nothing more than an impersonal force or energy.
Further support that God didnt repent or was grieved because he was unaware of what was going to happen, thereby implying an imperfection in his knowledge, comes from the fact that God had already announced centuries beforehand that Israel would ask for a king and that the kings would come from the line of Judah:
"Judah, your brothers shall praise you; your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; your father's sons shall bow down before you. Judah is a lion's cub; from the prey, my son, you have gone up. He stooped down; he crouched as a lion and as a lioness; who dares rouse him? The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Binding his foal to the vine and his donkey's colt to the choice vine, he has washed his garments in wine and his vesture in the blood of grapes. His eyes are darker than wine, and his teeth whiter than milk." Genesis 49:8-12 ESV
"When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me, you may indeed set a king over you whom the LORD your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, You shall never return that way again. And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold. And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel." Deuteronomy 17:14-20
And, just as God had predicted, Israel did ask for a king during the days of the prophet Samuel:
"When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel. The name of his firstborn son was Joel, and the name of his second, Abijah; they were judges in Beersheba. Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice. Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them. So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking for a king from him. He said, These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the LORD will not answer you in that day. But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles. And when Samuel had heard all the words of the people, he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, Obey their voice and make them a king. Samuel then said to the men of Israel, Go every man to his city. 1 Samuel 8:1-22
What the foregoing shows is that God wasnt caught by surprise when Israel asked for a king, since he had already prophesied that this was what they were going to do, nor was he surprised by Sauls rebellion. We know that he wasnt caught off guard by what Saul did since God had already stated that the kings would come from the line of Judah, and yet Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin!
"Now the day before Saul came, the LORD had revealed to Samuel: Tomorrow about this time I will send to you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over my people Israel. He shall save my people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have seen my people, because their cry has come to me. When Samuel saw Saul, the LORD told him, Here is the man of whom I spoke to you! He it is who shall restrain my people. Then Saul approached Samuel in the gate and said, Tell me where is the house of the seer? Samuel answered Saul, I am the seer. Go up before me to the high place, for today you shall eat with me, and in the morning I will let you go and will tell you all that is on your mind. As for your donkeys that were lost three days ago, do not set your mind on them, for they have been found. And for whom is all that is desirable in Israel? Is it not for you and for all your father's house? Saul answered, Am I not a Benjaminite, from the least of the tribes of Israel? And is not my clan the humblest of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then have you spoken to me in this way?" 1 Samuel 9:15-21 ESV
Thus, Saul wasnt destined to rule permanently as king, but only temporarily until the one whom God had decreed would rule from the tribe of Judah was ready:
"Yet the LORD God of Israel chose me from all my father's house to be king over Israel forever. For he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took pleasure in me to make me king over all Israel. And of all my sons (for the LORD has given me many sons) he has chosen Solomon my son to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel. He said to me, It is Solomon your son who shall build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he continues strong in keeping my commandments and my rules, as he is today." 1 Chronicles 28:4-7
Furthermore, here is Zawadis own quotation of John Gill, but with some added emphasis, in order to show what Zawadi missed:
I will repent of the evil that one thought to do unto them; as they change their course of life, God will change the dispensations of his providence towards them, and not bring upon them the evil of punishment he threatened them with; in which sense repentance CAN ONLY BE UNDERSTOOD OF GOD, he doing that which is similar to what men do when they repent of anything; they stop their proceedings, and change their outward conduct; so God proceeds not to do what he threatened to do, and changes his outward behaviour to men; he wills a change, and makes one in his methods of acting, BUT NEVER CHANGES HIS WILL. (Source; capital emphasis ours)
Gill is basically saying what we said, namely that God is not necessarily repenting but simply acting consistently with his nature. Gills comments that Gods repentance is in the sense of how God dispenses his providence towards men depending on their course of action, but not a change in his will, underscores this point.
It is time, once again, to turn the tables on Zawadi. The Quran says that Allah repents, or changes his mind and his course of action:
Then Adam received commandments from his Lord, and his Lord repented (fataba) towards him; for He is Oft-Repenting (huwa al-tawwabu), Most Merciful. S. 2:37
And remember Moses said to his people: O my people! ye have indeed wronged yourselves by your worship of the calf; so repent (fataboo) to your Maker, and slay yourselves (the wrong-doers); that will be better for you in the sight of your Maker. Then He repented (fataba) towards you: for He is Oft-Repenting (huwa al-tawwabu), Most Merciful. S. 2:54
Our Lord! And make us submissive unto you and of our seed a nation submissive unto you, and show us our ways of worship, and repent (watub) toward us. Lo! You, only You, are the Oft-Repenting (anta al-tawwabu), the Merciful. S. 2:128
Except those who repent (taboo) and make amends and openly declare: To them I repent (atoobu); for I am Oft-Repenting (wa ana al-tawwabu), Most Merciful. S. 2:160
Do they not know that Allah accepts repentance (al-tawbata) from His servants, and takes alms; and that Allah is He who is Oft-Repenting (huwa al-tawwabu) and merciful. S. 9:104
And to the three who were left behind, until the earth became strait to them notwithstanding its spaciousness and their souls were also straightened to them; and they knew it for certain that there was no refuge from Allah but in Him; then He repented (taba) to them that they might repent (liyatooboo); surely Allah is the Oft-repenting (huwa al-tawwabu), the Merciful. S. 9:118
These texts show that Allah turns towards his creatures by repenting, by changing his mind or the course of action he was going to take against them. Lest Zawadi tries to claim that these words do not mean that Allah repented and changed his mind, note carefully what Moses supposedly commanded the Israelites to do in Sura 2:54. He allegedly commanded them to turn or repent of their sins, which would result in Allah turning to them and repenting of the destruction that he was to bring on them for their evil act. And here are a few additional references where the words taba and tawwab are used for actual repentance or change of mind and/or of actions:
They will question thee concerning the monthly course. Say: 'It is hurt; so go apart from women during the monthly course, and do not approach them till they are clean. When they have cleansed themselves, then come unto them as God has commanded you.' Truly, God loves those who repent (al-tawwabeena), and He loves those who cleanse themselves. S. 2:222 Arberry
And when two of you commit indecency, punish them both; but if they repent (taba) and make amends, then suffer them to be; God turns, and is All-compassionate. S. 4:16 Arberry
And to Thamood their brother Salih; he said, 'O my people, serve God! You have no god other than He. It is He who produced you from the earth and has given you to live therein; so ask forgiveness of Him, then repent (tooboo) to Him; surely my Lord is nigh, and answers prayer. S. 11:61 Arberry
Save him who repenteth (taba) and believeth and doth righteous work; as for such, Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. And whosoever repenteth (taba) and doeth good, he verily repenteth (yatoobu) toward Allah with true repentance (mataban). S. 25:70-71 Pickthall
Believers, turn (tooboo) to God in sincere repentance (tawbatan); it may be that your Lord will acquit you of your evil deeds, and will admit you into gardens underneath which rivers flow. Upon the day when God will not degrade the Prophet and those who believe with him, their light running before them, and on their right hands; and they say, Our Lord, perfect for us our light, and forgive us; surely Thou art powerful over everything. S. 66:8 Arberry
What the foregoing shows is that when words such as taba and tawwab are used of Allah we are to assume that this is because Allah actually changes his mind and his course of action.
Moreover, Allah expresses emotions according to the Quran:
And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits. S. 2:190 Shakir
And spend in the way of Allah and cast not yourselves to perdition with your own hands, and do good (to others); surely Allah loves the doers of good. S. 2:195 Shakir
And when he turneth away (from thee) his effort in the land is to make mischief therein and to destroy the crops and the cattle; and Allah loveth not mischief. S. 2:205 Pickthall
Allah does not bless usury, and He causes charitable deeds to prosper, and Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner. S. 2:276 Shakir
Say, (O Muhammad, to mankind): If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. Say: Obey Allah and the messenger. But if they turn away, lo! Allah loveth not the disbelievers (in His guidance). S. 3:31-32 Pickthall
Yea, whoever fulfills his promise and guards (against evil) -- then surely Allah loves those who guard (against evil). S. 3:76 Shakir
Those who spend (of that which Allah hath given them) in ease and in adversity, those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind; Allah loveth the good; S. 3:134 Pickthall
What the foregoing implies is that if a person who does right Allah then will love him. Yet if that same person abandons what is right in Allahs sight then Allah will no longer love him. Likewise, Allah will not love anyone who does what is evil, but if that individual repents then Allah will start loving him. But in order for Allah to start or stop loving someone he must have a change of mind and emotions, i.e. he has to change his attitude towards anyone who repents or turns away from doing what pleases him.
Now watch Zawadi explain all this away by pretty much using the same kind of arguments that we used here regarding Yahweh repenting or being grieved.
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