Implications of Divine Repentance For the Attributes of God

William Hasker

The notion of divine repentance is pivotal for the differences between classical theism and open theism. If God repents, then God undergoes change. If so, then God is not absolutely unchangeable, and certainly is not timeless. Divine repentance is closely associated with expressions of divine sorrow and regret over a decision previously made, or at least over the consequences that have flowed from such a decision. But a God who can experience such sorrow and regret is emotionally affected by his creatures; he is by no means impassible. Furthermore, divine repentance is typically a response to actions and decisions made by human beings which were not in accord with God’s intentions. If this really occurs, then God is not all-controlling but rather has placed some of the control in human hands – control that, in this instance, has been exercised contrary to what God wished to have happen. And finally, divine repentance of this sort strongly suggests that a previous divine decision has had unforeseen consequences. But if this is true, it negates the view that God has certain and comprehensive knowledge of the entire future. It is entirely understandable, then, that the proponents of classical theism have found the biblical references to divine repentance to be problematic, and have mustered all their interpretive resources in order to dispose of them in some acceptable manner.

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