DOES GOD REPENT?
Another apparent “contradiction” of the Scripture of which a great deal is made and which has puzzled a great many believers follows.
We read in Malachi 3:6, “For I am the LORD, I change not”; in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning”; and in 1 Samuel 15:29, “And also the Strength of Israel will not lie nor repent: for he is not a man, that he should repent.”
But in apparently flat contradiction of these we read in Jonah 3:10, “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not”; and in Genesis 6:6, “And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.” Here it not only says “it repented God,” but “it grieved him at his heart.” Now this appears like a flat contradiction. What is the explanation?
What the first set of passages says is absolutely true, that God is absolutely unchangeable. He is “the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8). But the second class of passages is also true, for if God does remain the same in character, infinitely hating sin and absolutely unchangeable in His purpose to visit sin with judgment, then if any city or any person changes in attitude toward sin, God must necessarily change in His attitude toward that person or city.
If God remains the same, if His attitude toward sin and righteousness is unchanging, then His dealings with men must change as they turn from sin to repentance. His character remains ever the same, but His dealings with men change as they change from the position that is hateful to His unchanging hatred of sin to one that is pleasing to His unchanging love of righteousness.
We may illustrate this by the direction of a railway station that remains stationary, relative to a train that moves along the track in front of the station. When the train begins to move it is to the east of the station, but as the train moves westward it is soon west of the station. The only way in which the station could maintain the same direction relative to the moving train would be by moving as the train moves.
If the station is unchangeable in its position, its direction relative to the train must change as the train moves. So it is with God’s attitude toward man. If God remains unchangeable in His character, His purpose and His position, then as man moves from sin to righteousness, God’s attitude relative to that man must change.
The very fact that God does not repent (change His mind), that He remains always the same in His attitude toward sin, makes it necessary that God should repent in His conduct (change His dealings) with men as they turn from sin to righteousness.
As to Jehovah’s repenting of having made man on the earth and its grieving Him at His heart, this too is necessitated by the unchanging attitude of God toward sin. If God does not repent (change His mind about sin, His attitude toward sin), and if man’s wickedness becomes great, then God’s unrepenting, unchanging hatred of sin necessitates that the man whom He has created, who has fallen into sin so great and so abhorrent to Himself, should become the object of great grief to Him, and that He should turn from His creative dealings with man to His destroying dealings with man.
This was necessitated by man’s sin. An unchangeably holy God must destroy man who has become so hopelessly sunken in sin. The only condition upon which He could spare him would be that God Himself change from the holiness of His character as it was when He created him to become an unholy God.
So again we see that what appears at the first glimpse like a flat contradiction is really no contradiction at all but an entire agreement in fact and thought between passages that seem to contradict in words.