AskMark Question From Alaska: In your sermon, you said ‘God cannot be disappointed in us...that would be illogical because He already knows our future.’ According to the NIV God does have regrets and logically this means He can be disappointed. What are your thoughts on the matter? If God can have regrets and therefore be disappointed in those He has appointed, does this mean God makes mistakes as well?
The short answer is: No, God is not disappointed when His children mess up, God does not have regrets, meaning He never wishes He had done something differently, and He cannot change mind or His nature.
However, this short answer is not nearly enough. Truth cannot be based on my opinion or anyone else’s, but His. And this question is far, far too important to simply give an opinion. This question speaks directly to the eternal nature of God and why we can depend on Him completely, wholeheartedly, and throughout eternity.
To answer this based on biblical truth, we must dig deeper. We must look at both how words are defined and what God says about Himself. So now for the necessary, much longer answer.
(I am well-known for my very long answers to short questions. 😊)
1- Understanding how words are used in Scripture.
Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.
God frequently speaks in Scripture using anthropomorphic human terms that we can understand. God is a spirit. As such, He does not have hands or feet or wings though some verses use these terms so we can understand. Yet, He is infinitely more complex in His emotions than we can possibly imagine. God is fully capable of feeling “sorry” for the people He loves while fulling knowing what would happen long before it does. And as the eternal God who knows all things, “the end from the beginning,” He is never surprised and would never choose to do anything differently.
In a very limited sense, we can see circumstances develop and “know” that a child is going to make a bad choice. We can be sorry for the consequences that come to the child but not truly regret giving them the choice. The choice helps them learn life.
2- Words take on their meaning from the context in which they are used.
The word “trunk” has a different meaning in different contexts-
“I put my luggage in my trunk.”
“I put a peanut in the elephant’s trunk.”
“I’m doing exercises to strengthen the trunk of my body.”
“I scraped my arm on the trunk of the tree.”
Because of this, Scripture can say that God “regretted or felt sorry” and that He is the all-knowing God who will never “regret or change His mind.” And, as we will see, both are stated in the same chapter.
3- The two most common places where God “regretted” an outcome:
Gen 6:5-8- The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The Lord was grieved (regret, sorry, KJV-repent) that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth — men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air — for I am grieved (regret, KJV-repent, sorry) that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. NIV
When people make bad choices, which He always knows they will make, He already has the next plan prepared. In this case, it was Noah, and ultimately, Christ!
1 Sam 15:10-11- Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 "I am grieved (regret, KJV-repent, sorry) 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. NIV
1 Sam 15:35-16:1- Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the Lord was grieved (regret, KJV-repent, sorry) that he had made Saul king over Israel. 16:1- The Lord said to Samuel, "How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king." NIV
Again, when people make bad choices, which He always knows they will make, He already has the next plan prepared. In this case, it was David, and ultimately, Christ!
4- Between the above verses, Scripture makes sure we do not misunderstand the eternal, all-knowing, and unchanging nature of the true God. The context is always very important.
1 Samuel 15:28-29- And Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to a neighbor of yours, who is better than you. And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret.”
Same verses in NIV:
1 Sam 15:28-29- Samuel said to him, "The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors — to one better than you. 29 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 (regret, repent)." NIV
Samuel was instructed to make it clear that God felt “sorry” for Saul because of His great love for him and all the people and the consequences they endured. However, he also shows that God would still have made the same choice again and will never change His mind. This makes Him completely trustworthy!
5- Even Balaam had to acknowledge God’s all-knowing, unchanging nature.
-Balaam was a false prophet who would pronounce curses for money; he loved the wages of wickedness. (2 Peter 2:15) He was hired by Balak to curse the Israelites but was compelled by God to speak only blessing and describe God’s unchanging nature-
Num 23:17-19- So he went to him and found him standing beside his offering, with the princes of Moab. Balak asked him, "What did the Lord say?" 18 Then he uttered his oracle: "Arise, Balak, and listen; hear me, son of Zippor. 19 God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind (regret, repent). Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? NIV
6- Under the “Inferior Old Covenant” God continually revealed Himself as the One who is not bound by time but knows all things from before the beginning.
Isa.46:9–10- “Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.” NIV
Mal 3:6-7- "I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” NIV
Ps 139:1-18- O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord…When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. 17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. NIV
Dan 2:20-21- "Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” NIV
7- The early believers built their faith on the absolute assurance that God was always in control, never changed, and He could be trusted completely because He makes no mistakes!
--The following are all the same passage in four different translations-
Eph 1:11- “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will…” NIV
Eph 1:11- “In Him also, we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will…” NASB
Eph 1:11- Furthermore, because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan. NLT
Eph 1:11- “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…” NKJV
And this eternal truth about God’s nature continues throughout the rest of the New Testament.
Rom 8:28- “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” NASB
Heb 4:13- Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. NIV
James 1:17-18- “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” NIV
How can God be disappointed in us when He completely understands our weaknesses, sympathizes with our struggle, and supplies the answer? He can’t!
Heb 4:15-16- “This High Priest of ours understands (sympathizes with) our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. 16 So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most”.
We have a God who understands our weaknesses and invites to come to Him, BOLDLY, for the help we need! As we draw near to Him, we receive His mercy (unconditional love) and His grace (the power of His life is changing us from inside out) when we need it the most! We should make use of this promise far more often!
Thanks for the question because it’s one that many, many people ask and you’ve given me the opportunity to address it in depth.
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Mark Drake is an internationally known author, teacher and leader. He focuses on equipping leaders around the world in New Covenant Grace.