God’s Regrets

  1. Aborted Suicide

I was at a church service a few days ago to be with a beloved preacher visiting town.  During the service, a young woman told her touching story of a narrow rescue from the edge of an ignominious grave.  She had felt so frustrated with life that she was going to kill herself.  She considered several suicide options and settled for what she thought was the least painful exit out of her regretted world.  She was ready with the potent poison for her dispatch that evening, then she heard music from the church.  She pondered that she could, at least, go and confess to God before she took the fatal step, so she headed for the church.

At the entrance, she asked the usher if she could go in to pray.  She received a cordial welcome.  She went in and joined the evening crowd at the opening night of that weekend event.  Others might have come to church for the life of it; she was there to pray her last and bid God bye.  He should understand, she thought.  In the course of the service, however, she found a reason to live, not to die.  She was back to church that Sunday morning to tell the story of her aborted suicide two nights before, and her second chance at life.

I was on my feet in thanks to God when she finished, and the preacher had a word for her. He prophesied that she had a great future, but Satan was in a hurry to kill her before that time came.  He told his own story of how he had also nearly drunk his poisoned cup in a deserted land when a strange girl from behind knocked the cup out of his hand, to his utter infuriation.  Today, he is a precious preacher touching many lives in many lands.  Alas, what human regrets and depression can do!

  1. God’s Mistakes

Pardon the title and subtitles here.  If you are vexed, I understand.  It certainly sounds blasphemous to the devoted ear to suggest that the all-knowing, all-powerful God is capable of mistakes and regrets.  Are not regrets mortal emotions resulting often from mundane mistakes and other human weaknesses of choice?  How dare anyone reduce the Almighty God to the base level of His feeble creatures by associating Him with those expressions of their fleshly limitations?  Apologies.

Has God ever had regrets, like fickle mortals?  Does He make mistakes to warrant a regret?  God shall be His own witness on the matter, so let’s proceed to investigate the subject.

  1. God’s First Regret

At the end of Creation, God took a satisfying look at what He had accomplished in six short days, and it is reported that “God saw EVERY THING [mark the word ‘everything’] that he had made, and, behold, it was VERY GOOD” – again, mark the superlative assessment of His work as “very good” (Genesis 1:31).   After that excellent appraisal, God took a vacation on the seventh day, for 1/7 or 14.2% of the time He had been on the Creation job.  Put in contemporary human terms, we might say that God went back to His home above, and from up there often looked down in pleasure at the Very Good choices that He had lately made.

In that vacation Paradise far away from the recent ‘construction site,’ He enjoyed sweet cherubic music and the ceaseless polished service of immaculate angels.  Maybe they popped holy champagne at a party up there to celebrate the recent breakthrough and the new intimacy contracted with His new-made friends.   The Executive Trinity Board with the Twenty-four Elders in their festive marching colours of purple and blue may have been present, with banners and media headlines announcing the newest accomplishment of the all-knowing, all-powerful Boss.  None could fault what He had done.  None could judge it less excellently.  The plants, the animals, the birds, the stars, and the humans, “every thing” was “very good.”  The Sabbath was well deserved.

At specific moments, God took time away from His Paradise up there to enjoy nostalgic honeymoons with His brand-new beings in the new-found Garden down south (Genesis 3:8).  Maybe He was accompanied by a cheering herald of angels who watched in awe as He enjoyed those sweet evenings with Adam and Eve – the two prototypes on whose design He had personally invested the utmost of His creativities.  They were handmade.  He had even had to consult the Best Partners on the Project, and had received their unanimous collaboration to “make man in OUR own image” (Genesis 1:26). If God had been wrong, the other Partners could not also have been wrong.  Man was the “very good” product of excellent consultations by an excellent Team.

Five chapters from that honeymoon of Creation and commendation, just five chapters later, we hear an opposite report to those romantic inceptions.  God had begun to bitterly regret a choice that He had celebrated only a few chapters before – the creation of and partnership with Man.  If God were of my country, among my kind of clergy, we might have asked, Didn’t He pray ‘enough’ before He started the Project?  Didn’t God reveal to Him that this was going to happen?  ‘All-knowing’ that it is said He is, wasn’t He supposed to have known?  Could He have been so carried away with the grandeur of the Eden dream that He did not sense the signals not to venture into Man?  Didn’t He claim that He consulted with such powerful others as the “US,” when He said, “Let us make man…”?  So, what went wrong?  Why the regrets so early in the story?  Does God also make mistakes, like His creatures?

And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart (Genesis 6:6).

Maybe He wished that He had made only elephants and peacocks; not Man; or just trees and fishes and birds, but not this so-soon disappointment called Man.  He regretted His choice of Man in the positions and privileges that He had consigned him.  According to the New English Translation, he was highly offended.”  That’s a strong word.  The New Living Translation says it “broke his heart.”  Hmm, heartbreak, for a choice He made with His eyes open?  A choice that none had forced upon Him?  And He is still God?

Whereas the King James Version says, “it repented Him, other translations say He was “sorry” – sorry that He had made Man.  The Complete Jewish Bible says, “Adonai regretted.”  Is the Perfect God capable of making choices that He is later to regret so bitterly?  If you thought that that was the only case of God’s ‘mistakes,’ wait for the next.

  1. The Political Regret of God

Israel had been without a king for as long as they had been there.  One day, God spoke to one of His trusted prophets about a not-interested young man, “He will rule my people” (1 Samuel 9:17, Living Bible).  Now, someone might be about to throw some ‘corrective’ scriptures at me on the theology of the right or wrong choice of Saul, but the fact is that He was God’s preference for the people, even when he had been very reluctant about the offer (1 Samuel 10:21-23).  Not only was Saul anointed with God’s holy oil by a revered prophet, also, “the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied” (1 Samuel 10:10).  Three chapters later, we learn further from the same prophet that God actually had a plan to make that man the perpetual king of Israel, with his children in succeeding dynasties (1 Samuel 13:13).

A few years later, however, God says to the same prophet whom He had sent to anoint Saul as king, “It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king” (1 Samuel 15:11).  Does that sound familiar, “repenteth”?  Here also, the Complete Jewish Bible uses the word “regret”: “I regret….”  The New Living Translation says God was grieved.”  In the New Living Translation, it says, “I am sorry that I ever made Saul King.”  Who is being sorry here?  God.  Who put Saul into the office of which God was being sorry?  God.  So…?

The choice and regret were both God’s. Why should God so often ‘repent’ or be “sorry” or “grieve” about His own choices?  Is it the same all-powerful God that we worship, or a lesser one?  In case this narrative is too unacceptably ‘Old Testament,’ let’s take the next slide from the New Testament.  In case it is always the ageless Old Man making choices and soon regretting them, let’s see the matter with His Son.

  1. The Leadership Regret of Jesus

If the Father often ‘repented’ His choices because He never prayed, Jesus was a man of prayer and fasting.  If the regrets were because He was Ancient of Days, Jesus was Son, of only about thirty years of age.  If the Father had frequent regrets because He lived far away in Heaven, Jesus lived with those that His choices impacted.

To choose His twelve disciples or ministry ‘Associates’ the following day, Jesus spent a whole night in isolated prayers (Luke 6:12-13).  One of those that He chose after that night of prayers was Judas Iscariot, a man described as “a [very] devil,” not just as one who ‘had’ a devil (John 6:70).  Along with the others, Judas was also ordained to heal the sick and cast out devils (Luke 9:1-2).  A paradox?

About forty months later, what Jesus had to say about Judas His trusted Treasurer and commissioned ‘deliverance minister,’ was shocking: “it had been good for that man if he had not been born” (Matthew 26:24).  In other words, “I regret not only his appointment as a disciple but even his birth into the world.”

Does that not sound like the feeble complaint of a failed and prayerless leader at the loss of one of his sheep?  Couldn’t Jesus have prayed for Judas as He did for Peter (Luke 22:31-32)?  Did He really ‘pray through’ in that vigil before He chose the Twelve?  Does He still hear the voice of God since after God spoke to Him audibly in the River Jordan in the days of Papa John the Baptist?  If He still hears God, couldn’t God have warned Him of Judas?  Did the tragedy reside in Jesus the Master or in Judas the member?  It is reported that Satan got into Judas (Luke 22:3).  Where was Jesus when Satan was entering into one of His close disciples – a prominent official in the ministry at that? Did Jesus really give to Judas enough attention and love for Judas to not have opened his heart to Satan – to another master?  Who called and ordained the person of whom Jesus was now regretting?  Himself.  So…?

The questions are endless, but the fact remains that Jesus regretted one man that He had ordained with others in His ministry.  If you thought that this was Jesus’ only regret in life and ministry, wait for the next.  Maybe I should not use the seemingly sacrilegious word “regret”; maybe I should more righteously say, Jesus mourned, or He lamented the fate of Judas, or He was disappointed; but “regret” still serves my purpose well, and it has not been ‘unscriptural,’ at least from earlier scriptures and other translations of the Holy Bible.  Or is it possible that that was the best human language God could find to communicate His high and holy thoughts to us?  Were those expressions God’s attempt to speak the human language to feeble mortals?

  1. The Ministry Regret of Jesus

Jerusalem was one ‘church branch’ or ‘missionary centre’ where Jesus invested much energy in preaching and teaching and healings.  In the end, all the investments towards saving Jerusalem seemed to have been wasted, for when the historic moment eventually came to key into its eternal destiny, Jerusalem missed it so badly that Jesus not only grieved but wept publicly, saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:41-44).

Was there a prayer that Jesus might have prayed that He did not pray?  Was there a ‘prophetic action’ that He missed in all His missions to that land?  What was the use of His late public tears?  Was He merely trying to make a public show of those tears to cover for His ministry failure?  Did God never show Him the city strongholds to deal with?  What could anyone else have done if even the Son of God acted so helplessly in the matter of Jerusalem?

  1. Managing Mistakes

Sometimes, mortals have been so unforgiving of themselves or of others at the sense of failure that, like Judas, and urged on by Satan the Accuser of the brethren, they have killed themselves before they have seen God’s bigger picture, or driven others to the gallows who might have seen a better season.  If God Himself could make choices that later became the subjects of gargantuan regrets, and He did not cease to be God therefore, should mortals hang themselves because of a sincere choice of yesterday that turned out sour today?

At Creation, “every thing,” as reported, was “very good.”  God did not intend the regretted future when He made His “very good” choices of the past.  If God could regret and grieve the degeneration of a past great choice and still be God, still be holy, still be loving and all-knowing, should mortals kill themselves for wrong or right choices of yesterday that turned out wrong today?  Man’s unintended degeneration didn’t make God less good or less God.  Your mistakes should neither reduce you – they don’t, unless you were judging yourself by the trivial voices of the Accuser’s human agents, some of them in clerical collars.

What did Jesus do after weeping over Jerusalem?  He did not resign His mission.  He proceeded to the Temple of God, cast out the trespassers, preached some more and healed some more (Luke 19:45-47; Matthew 21:12-14).  Are there irrefutable regrets over the past?  Have ‘very good’ Edenic models degraded into Nephilim monsters?  Even God had His regrets without regressing.  March on into the Temple despite the failed city in which that Temple is.  There is much more to do.  There’s a crowd waiting there.

  1. Understanding Some ‘Mistakes’

Divine choice is not always exclusive of the human will.  The fact that God has made a choice does not mean that He enforces it despite a person’s willing participation in that process.  That is where the matter lies.  Jesus called Judas with the same mandate as He called Peter: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).  In the process of following, some were made but one was lost – of his own accord (John 17:12).  He got distracted by greed, opened his heart to the enemy, “Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot” (Luke 22:3).  Peter faced similar temptations but when he fell, he promptly took advantage of the rather  cockcrow reminders “And he went out, and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75).  Judas nowhere wept.

  1. Satan’s Blueprint

Just as God has His good will for us (Jeremiah 29:11), Satan also has his will for everyone, especially a counter will for the one with an evident divine will (Revelation 12:12-13).  For instance, Jesus had an agenda for Peter, to make him into a ‘fisher of men’ (Matthew 4:19; 16:18, 23).  Satan also had an agenda for him, to sift him as wheat (Luke 22:31; Revelation 12:12-13).  Any of the options could become that man’s future, depending on which of them he allowed.  Sometimes the seductive wrong option gets allowed by a person, to the regret of God (Deuteronomy 30:19).  When that happens, the leader is not always to blame, not even if that leader were more prophetic than Samuel, more anointed than Jesus, and all-mightier than the Creator.  Only when divine will finds a cooperating human choice is the ‘very good’ state realized and sustained.

… I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore CHOOSE life, that both thou and thy seed may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).

  1. Tragic Consequences of Divine Regrets

In all the cases where God ‘repented’ over something that missed its purpose, judgment followed in the form of death and replacement.  When He regretted creating Man, the Flood came to wipe out the entire human race, and God started a new breed with the family of Noah.  When God regretted King Saul, the man died sorrily in battle as though he was never anointed with oil.  David was a ready replacement.  When Jesus regretted Judas, the gallows beckoned and a vacancy was soon announced: “and his bishoprick let another take.”  Matthias did (Acts 1:20, 26). When a celebrated choice of yesterday becomes the constant source of divine regrets today, judgment and replacement might be about to follow.  Even human regrets sometimes follow the same pattern (Esther 1:19).

This is true of individuals, of leaders, of cities and nations.  Failures are not often without consequences to the mourned.  In the case of Jerusalem, for example, Jesus not only mourned that they had missed their timing, He also announced that, as a consequence, terrible disaster was coming (Luke 19:41-44).

Whereas divine regret is often followed by judgment, in some cases, the regret comes after the judgment.  For instance, when David conducted his stubborn census of Israel, God judged the nation with a plague that killed many.  It was in the course of the plague that “the LORD repented him of the evil and restrained the angel of death from further harm (2 Samuel 24:16); meanwhile, 70,000 were already dead.  God regrets, but not without consequences to whom or what He regrets.

  1. The Parable of the Potter

It sometimes happens that things turn out differently than initially envisaged, even with God; yet, if God is allowed the charge, regrets can still turn into newer joys.  That was one important lesson that God was going to pass through Prophet Jeremiah; so important that He chose to do it practically.  As a result, God gave the prophet an appointment at the potter’s house.

When the prophet got there, he found the potter forming a vessel at the wheel, but suddenly, there was an unplanned hitch.  The clay got spoilt in the master potter’s hands.  The potter did not get mad at the clay, throw it down, walk away.  He settled down and repurposed the same ‘failed’ clay into a different design than was being originally attempted.  That was possible so long as the clay remained in the potter’s hands.  Then came the word of the Lord to the prophet, “Cannot I do with you as this potter?” (Jeremiah 18:6). In other words, Trust me to turn unplanned failures and regrets into unplanned vessels of a different beauty.

Divine regrets may have their consequences, but they may not lead in every case to irredeemable disaster.  They can become the gateway to a different wonder if the clay remains submitted in the Great Potter’s hands.  After all, Rahab of Jericho was a public prostitute of a social regret who made the most of her encounter with the two ‘angels’ from Israel.  They were her divine bridge out of that shame into Messianic glory (Joshua 2:1; Hebrews 11:31; Matthew 1:5-6).  To faltering Peter, Jesus said, “when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32).  In other words, Beyond your shameful fall, there is still a divine purpose with your name on it.

Don’t be stopped where you slipped.  God still makes miracles out of mistakes.  Even the broken end of a pencil can be sharpened into a fresher writing point.

Come to think of it, the potter ‘failed’ initially, not because he was not good at his trade.  A Spirit had purposefully engineered his failure despite his best efforts, because there was a secret prophetic watcher to whom that Spirit was going to convey an eternal message.  In other words, there are even ‘failures’ that have their origin in God; worrisome public failures that could not have been wished, yet allowed or designed by God for higher purposes of which the actors might never know (Job 1:1-22).  Prophet Hosea is an architype, with his prophetically allegorical home and a most embarrassing wife than any good prophet could have wished.  He was a Message; a message he never wished.  So also was Peter, supported stoutly in prayers and trusted by the Master to “STRENGTHEN thy brethren” after he shall have been “converted” from his fall (Luke 22:32).  Out of his weaknesses and regrets, he was to become a strengthener of other ‘holy’ weaklings who, more luckily, never fell like him.  His fall, in other words, was merely going to be a rite of passage to the next phase of a divine mandate to many more.

Sometimes good plans turn out bad, even with God involved.  It does not make God less God; it does not redefine Him as planless or loveless or evil.  If even God, with the Trinity, could make ‘very good’ choices that He was later to regret bitterly, should mortals kill themselves because good dreams turned out differently?  Yet, even failed dreams can be repurposed into alternative forms of glory if they would stay in the Potter’s hands.

Sometimes it is not so much with the mourner whose dreams turned out differently; it is with us bystanders, who think that the fact of ‘regrets’ means that the mourner does not deserve to live.  We harangue them with holy woes and creeds of accusation, like the unfortunate friends of Job, until they should sacrifice themselves on the altar of some suicide tree to appease our merciless pharisaic selfishness.

  1. Beyond Regrets

Peter did not manage well a dream that the Master had committed to him.  The failure brought deep regrets for which “he went out, and wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75), but he rose up beyond those tears to ascend the more noble international podium at Pentecost (Acts 2:14).  He did not, like Judas, kill himself.

Jesus lamented Jerusalem’s tragic failure, but He would not stop or be stopped at the place of those public tears.  He went ON, and “went INTO the temple” (Luke 19:45), and then “the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them” – there (Matthew 21: 14).  What if He had spent the rest of His life regretting Jerusalem?

Rise up.  Go on, and go “into the temple.”  There is much more waiting to be done.

There will always be something to regret on this side of living; something small or something great, in marriage, finances, ministry, career, relationships.  That is where the Great Potter can be trusted, to make a new beauty out of the old mess.  “God is faithful [He really is], who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able”; and, programmed into every temptation, is the very _“way to escape” out of it, if only the tears are not a blinder (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Regrets along the streets of Jerusalem should not stop one from arriving at the Temple gates.  Keep going – unstoppable – go ”on” and “into the Temple” (2 Samuel 12: 19-20); there’s so much awaiting your reviving potter’s touch.  Amen.

 

From The Preacher’s diary,

December 3, 2021.

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