Genesis 6:6 says: “And the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and it grieved Him to His heart” (ESV, also NIV).
When we read a verse in the Bible that we don’t understand, or are surprised by, there are a few things we should do to help us understand it.
First, we can read same the same verse in some other translations of the Bible. This will help us to see whether the question we have (here, to do with God regretting) is down to a particular word that a certain translation has used. Or whether every translation uses the same word, or different words but having the same meaning.
For Genesis 6:6, other translations have “And the LORD was sorry…” (RSV, NRSV, NLT). That’s a helpful start, since regretting and feeling sorry are closely related ideas but are not necessarily exactly the same.
Second, we must consider the context that the verse in question appears in. Here the immediate context is Genesis 6:1-5:
“When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in[a] man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown. The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
The desires of human hearts
Now these verses are quite tricky to understand (check out the article ‘Who are ‘the sons of God’ in Genesis 6?‘ for more information). But in essence what the sons of God are doing in verse 2 is very wicked, hence God’s judgement in verse 3. This is also shown by the summary in verse 5. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”
So at this point in Genesis, mankind has become very corrupt. The desires of human hearts are ‘only evil all the time’. This has led to human wickedness to become very great.
In response to this God is sorry, or regrets that He has made humanity. This is understandable. If we think back to Genesis 1 and 2, where God describes His creation as “very good” (Genesis 1:31), we see what God’s creation was originally like. But now, creation and humanity are nothing like this. This leads to God’s sorrow or regret.
Lastly, it can be helpful to check the definition of the word in question in a dictionary. The Oxford dictionary defines regret as: ‘to feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that one has done or failed to do)’. And it defines sorry as: ‘to feel regret’. Therefore, in this case both translations ‘regret’ and ‘sorry’ have the same meaning.
God provides a rescuer
This meaning indeed makes sense of Genesis 6:6. God is sad and disappointed that He made mankind, because of what mankind is now like. That God is sad and regrets His creation of men and women also conveys to us just how serious mankind’s sin in chapter 6 is. However, the wonder of the gospel is that though God regrets making men and women, He still provides a rescuer for us in the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:18). Praise God!