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What is the significance of 1 Samuel 15:10?

In light of Saul’s sin the Lord says, “I regret that I made Saul king, for he has turned back from following me.”

Common sense would suggest that one can only regret a decision one makes if the decision results in an outcome other than what was expected or hoped for. If God foreknows all that shall ever occur, however, he can never truly expect or hope for something to occur which doesn’t come to pass. Hence it rules out God experiencing bona fide regret over his own decisions. Could God genuinely confess “I regret that I made Saul king” if he could in the same breathe also proclaim “I was eternally certain of what would happen if I decided to make Saul king”?

Some may object that if God truly regretted a decision he made, he must not be perfectly wise. Two considerations alleviate this objection, however. First, it is better to allow Scripture to inform us regarding the nature of divine wisdom than it is to reinterpret the clear meaning of a passage of Scripture in order to make it square with our preconceptions of what divine wisdom must be like.

Second, once we consider that the future is partly open and humans are genuinely free, the paradox of how God could experience real regret over a decision he made disappears. God made a wise decision because it had the greatest possibility of yielding the best results. But God’s decision isn’t the only variable in this matter: there is also the variable of Saul’s will. Saul freely strayed from God’s plan, but that is not God’s fault. Nor does it make his decision unwise.

The God of the possible always makes the best decision: but because he is dealing with possibilities and not certainties—because he is dealing with free moral agents—he cannot guarantee that things will always go as he would wish. The God of the possible is, to a limited extent at least, a risk-taking God.

Many reject the notion that God takes risks of any sort. To them, it seems to undermine his sovereignty. Two further comments may be made about this, however. First, do we not normally regard someone who refuses to take risks as being insecure? Don’t we normally regard someone who is compelled to meticulously control everything as evidencing weakness, not strength? Of course we do. So why do we reverse all of our ordinary assumptions about this when we think about God, especially since Scripture depicts God as taking risks?

Second, the only way to deny that God takes risks is by maintaining that everything that occurs in world history is exactly what God wanted to occur. Sin, pain, child mutilations, eternal hell—all are exactly according to God’s will. Some Calvinists are willing to accept this, but most of us find the idea deplorable. And this means that we must accept the idea that God is a risk-taking God. His risks are always wise, but they are risks nonetheless, for some things may not turn out as he wishes. While some things about the future are settled according to God’s will, it was also God’s will to create a cosmos populated by free agents. This means that the outcome of some things will to some degree be uncertain.

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