Yes, he does, in the sense that he changes his attitude when people change their behavior. For example, when God sent a judgment message to the people of ancient Israel, he said: “Perhaps they will listen and each one will turn back from his evil way, and I will change my mind concerning the calamity that I intend to bring on them because of their evil deeds.”—Jeremiah 26:3.
Many Bible translations render this verse as saying that God would “repent” over the intended calamity, which could be understood to mean that he had made a mistake. However, the original Hebrew word can mean “change of mind or intention.” One scholar wrote: “A change in man’s conduct brings about a change in God’s judgment.”
Of course, just because God can change his mind does not mean that he must change it. Consider some situations where the Bible says that God has not changed his mind:
God did not allow Balak to make Him change His mind and curse the nation of Israel.—Numbers 23:18-20.
Once King Saul of Israel became firmly set in badness, God did not change his mind about rejecting him as king.—1 Samuel 15:28, 29.
God will fulfill his promise to make his Son a priest forever. God will not change His mind.—Psalm 110:4.
Doesn’t the Bible say that God never changes?
Yes, the Bible records God as saying: “I am Jehovah; I do not change.” (Malachi 3:6) Similarly, the Bible says that God “does not vary or change like the shifting shadows.” (James 1:17) This, however, does not contradict what the Bible says about God changing his mind. God is unchangeable in that his personality and standards of love and justice never alter. (Deuteronomy 32:4; 1 John 4:8) Still, he can give different instructions to people at different times. For instance, God gave opposite instructions to King David for fighting two consecutive battles, yet both methods succeeded.—2 Samuel 5:18-25.
Is God sorry that he created humans?
No, although he does regret that most people ignore or reject him. Describing conditions before the global Flood of Noah’s day, the Bible says: “Jehovah regretted that he had made men on the earth, and his heart was saddened.” (Genesis 6:6) In this verse, the word “regretted” comes from the Hebrew word that can mean “change of mind.” God changed his mind about most of the people who lived before the Flood because they had become wicked. (Genesis 6:5, 11) Even though he was saddened that they chose to follow a bad course, he did not change his attitude toward the entire human race. In fact, he preserved mankind through the Flood by means of Noah and his family.—Genesis 8:21; 2 Peter 2:5, 9.
How can God, who is perfect, “feel regret”?
In the majority of cases where the Hebrew na·chamʹ is used in the sense of “feeling regret,” the reference is to Jehovah God. Genesis 6:6, 7 states that “Jehovah felt regrets that he had made men in the earth, and he felt hurt at his heart,” their wickedness being so great that God determined he would wipe them off the surface of the ground by means of the global Flood. This cannot mean that God felt regret in the sense of having made a mistake in his work of creation, for “perfect is his activity.” (De 32:4, 5) Regret is the opposite of pleasurable satisfaction and rejoicing. Hence, it must be that God regretted that after he had created mankind, their conduct became so evil that he now found himself obliged (and justly so) to destroy all mankind with the exception of Noah and his family. For God ‘takes no delight in the death of the wicked.’—Eze 33:11.
M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia comments: “God himself is said to repent [na·chamʹ,feel regret]; but this can only be understood of his altering his conduct towards his creatures, either in the bestowing of good or infliction of evil—which change in the divine conduct is founded on a change in his creatures; and thus, speaking after the manner of men, God is said to repent.” (1894, Vol. VIII, p. 1042) God’s righteous standards remain constant, stable, unchanging, free from fluctuation. (Mal 3:6; Jas 1:17) No circumstance can cause him to change his mind about these, to turn from them, or to abandon them. However, the attitude and reactions of his intelligent creatures toward those perfect standards and toward God’s application of them can be good or bad. If good, this is pleasing to God; if bad, it causes regret. Moreover, the creature’s attitude can change from good to bad or bad to good, and since God does not change his standards to accommodate them, his pleasure (and accompanying blessings) can accordingly change to regret (and accompanying discipline or punishment) or vice versa. His judgments and decisions, then, are totally free from caprice, fickleness, unreliability, or error; hence he is free from all erratic or eccentric conduct.—Eze 18:21-30; 33:7-20.
A potter may begin to make one type of vessel and then change to another style if the vessel is “spoiled by the potter’s hand.” (Jer 18:3, 4) By this example Jehovah illustrates, not that he is like a human potter in ‘spoiling by his hand,’ but rather, that he has divine authority over mankind, authority to adjust his dealings with them according to the way they respond or fail to respond to his righteousness and mercy. (Compare Isa 45:9; Ro 9:19-21.) He can thus “feel regret over the calamity that [he] had thought to execute” upon a nation, or “feel regret over the good that [he] said to [himself] to do for its good,” all depending upon the reaction of the nation to his prior dealings with it. (Jer 18:5-10) Thus, it is not that the Great Potter, Jehovah, errs, but rather, that the human “clay” undergoes a “metamorphosis” (change of form or composition) as to its heart condition, producing regret, or a change of feeling, on Jehovah’s part.
This is true of individuals as well as of nations, and the very fact that Jehovah God speaks of his ‘feeling regret’ over certain of his servants, such as King Saul, who turned away from righteousness, shows that God does not predestinate the future of such individuals. God’s regret over Saul’s deviation does not mean that God’s choice of him as king had been erroneous and was to be regretted on that ground. God must rather have felt regret because Saul, as a free moral agent, had not made good use of the splendid privilege and opportunity God had afforded him, and because Saul’s change called for a change in God’s dealings with him.—1Sa 15:10, 11, 26.
The prophet Samuel, in declaring God’s adverse decision regarding Saul, stated that “the Excellency of Israel will not prove false, and He will not feel regrets, for He is not an earthling man so as to feel regrets.” (1Sa 15:28, 29) Earthling men frequently prove untrue to their word, fail to make good their promises, or do not live up to the terms of their agreements; being imperfect, they commit errors in judgment, causing them regret. This is never the case with God.—Ps 132:11; Isa 45:23, 24; 55:10, 11.
God’s covenant made between God and “all flesh” after the Flood, for example, unconditionally guaranteed that God would never again bring a flood of waters over all the earth. (Ge 9:8-17) There is, then, no possibility of God’s changing with regard to that covenant or ‘regretting it.’ Similarly, in his covenant with Abraham, God “stepped in with an oath” as “a legal guarantee” so as to “demonstrate more abundantly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of his counsel,” his promise and his oath being “two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie.” (Heb 6:13-18) God’s sworn covenant with his Son for a priesthood like that of Melchizedek was likewise something over which God would “feel no regret.”—Heb 7:20, 21; Ps 110:4; compare Ro 11:29.
However, in stating a promise or making a covenant, God may set out requirements, conditions to be met by those with whom the promise or covenant is made. He promised Israel that they would become his “special property” and “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” if they would strictly obey his voice and keep his covenant. (Ex 19:5, 6) God held true to his side of the covenant, but Israel failed; they violated that covenant time and again. (Mal 3:6, 7; compare Ne 9:16-19, 26-31.) So, when God finally annulled that covenant he did so with complete justice, the responsibility for the nonfulfillment of his promise resting entirely with the offending Israelites.—Mt 21:43; Heb 8:7-9.
In the same way God can “feel regret” and ‘turn back’ from carrying out some punishment when his warning of such action produces a change in attitude and conduct on the part of the offenders. (De 13:17; Ps 90:13) They have returned to him and he ‘returns’ to them. (Zec 8:3; Mal 3:7) Instead of being ‘pained,’ he now rejoices, for he finds no delight in bringing death to sinners. (Lu 15:10; Eze 18:32) While never shifting away from his righteous standards, God extends help so that persons can return to him; they are encouraged to do so. He kindly invites them to return, ‘spreading out his hands’ and saying by means of his representatives, “Turn back, please, . . . that I may not cause calamity to you,” “Do not do, please, this detestable sort of thing that I have hated.” (Isa 65:1, 2; Jer 25:5, 6; 44:4, 5) He gives ample time for change (Ne 9:30; compare Re 2:20-23) and shows great patience and forbearance, since “he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (2Pe 3:8, 9; Ro 2:4, 5) On occasion he kindly saw to it that his message was accompanied by powerful works, or miracles, that established the divine commission of his messengers and helped strengthen faith in those hearing. (Ac 9:32-35) When his message receives no response, he employs discipline; he withdraws his favor and protection, thereby allowing the unrepentant ones to undergo privations, famine, suffering of oppression from their enemies. This may bring them to their senses, may restore their proper fear of God, or may cause them to realize that their course was stupid and that their set of values was wrong.—2Ch 33:10-13; Ne 9:28, 29;Am 4:6-11.
However, his patience has its limits, and when these are reached he gets “tired of feeling regret”; then his decision to render punishment is unchangeable. (Jer 15:6, 7; 23:19, 20;Le 26:14-33) He is no longer merely “thinking” or “forming” against such ones a calamity (Jer 18:11; 26:3-6) but has reached an irreversible decision.—2Ki 23:24-27; Isa 43:13;Jer 4:28; Zep 3:8; Re 11:17, 18.
God’s willingness to forgive repentant ones, as well as his mercifully opening the way to such forgiveness even in the face of repeated offenses, sets the example for all of his servants.—Mt 18:21, 22; Mr 3:28; Lu 17:3, 4; 1Jo 1:9