A quick note. I just read Greg Boyd’s blog piece “God’s Regrets and Divine Foreknowledge.” Does God ever regret his decisions? Of course he does, Boyd avers. The Bible tells us so. The most famous story of divine regret is found in the sixth chapter of Genesis: “And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the ground, man and beast and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.'” Thanks to the recent movie, we all know what happens next.
In response to the objection that the attribution of genuine regret to God compromises the perfection of divine wisdom, Boyd replies:
If God says he regretted a decision, and if Scripture elsewhere tells us that God is perfectly wise, then we should simply conclude that one can be perfectly wise and still regret a decision. Even if this is a mystery to us, it is better to allow the mystery to stand than to assume that we know what God’s wisdom is like and conclude on this basis that God can’t mean what he clearly says.
In other words, if the Bible says that God regrets some of his decisions and actions, then he does. But the sentence I just wrote doesn’t quite say what Boyd says, does it? What Boyd says is “If God says he regretted a decision …” I’m not sure if there’s a difference here, but I just want to acknowledge the possible difference, just in case.
My question is this: Does the God of the Bible in fact regret decisions he has made? I immediately concede that in some of the biblical stories, the story of Noah being the most notable, the narrated God most certainly does second-guess himself. “I sure blundered making man. Time to reboot.” But do these stories authorize us to infer that the God of the Bible actually regrets decisions he has made? If we interpret these stories along such literalistic lines, how are we any different from the ancient pagans who told their stories of Zeus, Athena, and Ares? Are we not reducing God to a god?
Those of us who cut our theological eye-teeth on narrative theology (think Robert Jenson, Jürgen Moltmann, George Lindbeck, Hans Frei, Ronald Thiemann—just to name those who influenced the younger me) will immediately insist that the narrated God is the God of the Christian gospel. How could he not be? Don’t the stories about God precede all subsequent philosophical reflection? Isn’t the economic Trinity identical to the immanent Trinity? Let’s not confuse the Scriptural rendering of the living God with the static deity of Greek philosophy! Underlying all of this is the grand modern narrative that the Church Fathers corrupted the biblical understanding of divinity. Instead of the God of Greek philosophy getting Christianized, the God of the Bible got Hellenized.
But what if this grand narrative is wrong or at least in need of drastic qualification? The great Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan certainly thought it was. And what if the Church Fathers in fact Christianized not only Hellenistic divinity but also the naïve anthropomorphic understanding of the narrated God? Have we completely forgotten the anthropomorphite controversy of the late fourth century? Take a look at St John Cassian’s discussion of this controversy in his Conferences (also see Mark DelCogliano’s fascinating discussion in his essay “Situating Sarapion’s Sorrow“).
What is so often forgotten in all of this is that the same Church Fathers who are popularly accused of Hellenizing the gospel are also the same Church Fathers who taught us how to read the Bible as Scripture and not just as ancient text. And these Church Fathers certainly did not think that the Bible taught a God who blunders and then regrets his decisions. They would have deemed it anthropomorphic foolishness. As St Ephrem the Syrian declares, “Although in His true Being there is no wrath or regret, yet He put on these names because of our weakness” (On Faith 31.1).