The God Who Cares
The God Who Cares
Does God have a Plan B? Does God need contingency plans? Perhaps these questions confronted you last week when you read Genesis 6:6 in our Bible reading plan. Depending on the translation you were using you would have found that God “was grieved”(NIV), “was sorry”(ESV) or “repented”(KJV). Genesis 6:6 states, “The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” The same thought is repeated in verse 7 when God declares, “I am grieved that I have made them.”
How are we to understand this verse? The matter is complicated further when we find the same thought expressed in 1 Samuel 15:35 where we read, “And the Lord was grieved that he had made Saul King over Israel.” The reason for the statement in verse 35 is found in verse 11, “Because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” The same Hebrew word is used in all of these verses. A new twist is found in 1 Samuel 15:29 when Samuel asserts, “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.”
A dilemma confronts us now. For the word translated “change his mind” in verse 29 is the same word used in Genesis 6:6–7 and 1 Samuel 15:11 and 35. So is God playing mind games with us here? Are the writers of Scripture playing theological gymnastics with us? First they say God doesn’t change his mind, and then in the next breath we see God doing what we were just told he doesn’t do.
There are Christians today who would say, “Yes, these verses teach that God has a Plan B. In fact, God needs a Plan B because his plans are contingent on the actions of men and women.” Those who take such a view are called Open Theists. They believe God’s knowledge is limited, changing, in collaboration with human beings, and contingent or dependent on our choices.
The historic, orthodox Christian view stands in marked contrast to such beliefs. It affirms that God’s knowledge is infinite (unlimited), infallible, independent, and not contingent (dependent on uncertain circumstances). At New Covenant we hold to and confess this view. So how do we explain Genesis 6 and 1 Samuel 15?
First, we must realize that the same word can have different meanings. In such cases the context determines the meaning of a word. The word used in Genesis 6 and 1 Samuel 15 has four basic meanings: to be grieved, to be sorry, to repent, to change your mind. 1 Samuel 15:29 sets forth the basic revelation of God to us: He is not a man. He does not change his mind. The same truth is taught in Numbers 23:19. Psalm 110:4 expresses the same doctrine in these words, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind.” Psalm 139 clearly expresses God’s infinite knowledge. He searches us and knows us better than we know ourselves.
Second, when we express grief, sorrow, or repentance it is often with regret over decisions we have made. When we come to passages about God’s grief, our aim, because of 1 Samuel 15:29 and Numbers 23:19, is to show how God expresses grief or sorrow without implying that he made a mistake or chose a course of action that wasn’t the best. According to theologian H.C. Leopold, “When God’s repentance is mentioned, it should be noted that we are using an inadequate human term for a perfect and entirely good divine action. Luther especially stresses that such expressions are found in the Scriptures so that we mortals with our feeble understanding might be helped to catch hold on divine truth according to the measure of our poor human ability.” We should declare with the psalmist, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain” (Psalm 139:6).
Finally, the key to understanding God’s revelation of himself to us in these verses is found in Genesis 6:5-6, “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was filled with evil . . . his heart was filled with pain.” In some way that we cannot fully explain or understand, our sin and rebellion touches the heart of God. Think of it! Our wickedness moves God at the core of his being. The root of the word “grieve” in these verses means “breathing deeply”. Imagine that, God sighing deeply because of my sin and your sin. Like Job all we can do is put our hands over our mouths. To paraphrase Job, “Surely I speak of things I do not understand, things too wonderful for me to know”(42:3).
God really and truly cares. This is the truth we need to harvest from these verses. He repeatedly reveals himself as the God who cares. Have we grasped this great truth? Then we must heed his call. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”(Matthew 11:28). “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you”(1 Peter 5:7).
Gladly serving the God who cares,
Elder Jim Gordon