Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - August 1, 1995 

The Repentance of God in the Bible

by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1995

No biblical teaching is more misunderstood and avoided by theologians and preachers than the doctrine of Godís repentance. Yet, it represents one of the foundational revelations of the apostle Paul and other biblical writers. It shows how mankind becomes reconciled to God and also (importantly) how God becomes reconciled to mankind. This is one of the most significant teachings of the Bible that humans should comprehend. It represents nothing less than the bedrock teaching of Godís atoning power and his authority in granting salvation to mankind. What we discover in the Bible is that not only should humans repent of evil, but believe it or not, the Holy Scriptures also reveal that God himself "repents of evil." This Doctrinal Report explains this essential truth.

One of the principal teachings of Christian ministers in most fundamentalist churches is that of manís need to repent and get right with God. Since the Bible emphasizes this essential requirement for coming into a proper relationship with God, it is reasonable for Christians to consider this doctrine in detail and be aware of its prime characteristics as they are stated in the Holy Scriptures. Truly, mankind sincerely needs to repent to God for the sins that mankind (all of us) have done against God. What mankind needs to do is be reconciled to God.

But there is another side of the coin in the doctrine of manís reconciliation to God. True, we certainly need to repent and get reconciled to God, but what about God getting reconciled to mankind? Have you ever wondered about that part of reconciliationí? And indeed, the Bible shows most clearly that God will also repent of His ways in the manner in which He has dealt with mankind in order for Him to become thoroughly reconciled to mankind as well. This is the other part of repentance and reconciliation arid the Bible deals with this matter in a clear way. You see, the word "reconciliation" in its meaning demands that the restoring of a harmonious relationship between two parties (who are at odds with each other) is for both sides to take part in the reconciliation. Both have to forgive and forget. It is not a proper reconciliation if one party forgives and forgets about the wrongs which have caused hostility between the two parties, while the other party does not also forgive and forget. There must be the action of repentance and forgiveness among both parties to avoid further hostility in order for a true harmony to come back into force between the two. And the Bible shows that this is precisely what God will do with us. He not only demands repentance from us for our ways against Him, but He will equally repent of His ways that we have thought are against us. Thus, a true reconciliation can take place between God and ourselves. The Bible shows plainly that this will indeed take place.

Preachers Are Unaware

How many sermons have you heard that illustrate the biblical teaching that God will equally repent and get reconciled with mankindí? I dare say that most readers have not even heard that such a teaching is in the Bible. But that doctrine is of paramount importance in the biblical revelation. As a matter of fact, it is one of the most important doctrines in showing why Christ came to earth to live and die for all men.

Without the understanding of this point one could hardly comprehend the nature of God; why He does what He does among humans; or why He sent Jesus Christ to earth some 2000 years ago to rescue mankind from their sins. But Paul explained the matter clearly and in a way that shows its importance. If one is willing to believe Paulís teaching, we will see that God sent Christ into the world as a first step in showing Godís own repentance to mankind. And Godís repentance to man is the real means He devised to grant salvation to all humanity within a true harmony to Himself.

An Important Favor to Ask

I would now like to ask a favor of you readers. The information in this Doctrinal Report may be so new (even revolutionary) to some that I ask all of you to first read the material before any judgments are made on the matter. Truly, what I will be showing in this Report will be backed up by the scriptural revelation. But most of us (including myself) have been so wedded to a wrong appraisal of God and His ways in dealing with mankind, that many of us have missed the comprehension of this foundational teaching of the Holy Bible. Though a book-length treatment of the subject is essential for a full understanding of the subject [and I hope to provide that later], this Doctrinal Report is designed to reveal the essence of this most beautiful and awe-inspiring doctrine of the Bible ó the doctrine of The Repentance of God.

A Pre-Requisite Teaching

There is one biblical teaching that must be understood before we proceed in our subject. We must realize that God is the sovereign of the universe and that He is in total control of everything that exists within the whole of creation. In a word, the sovereignty of God must be acknowledged as fact. God reigns supreme in the universe. He dominates all things whether they are visible or invisible, whether they are spirits or humans, whether they are animal or inanimate (Colossians 1:15-17). The fact is, God created the totality of things and He rules among His creation as the supreme power over all. And what most people have not understood is the fact that for God to be the ruler over all, He must also control all the forces on earth and in the universe. Those forces produce both good and evil things. But God is in charge of them all.

"Yours, O YHWH, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty: for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is yours; yours is the kingdom. O YHWH, and you are exalted as head above all."

"You, even you, are YHWH alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their hosts, the earth and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and you preserve them all; and the host of heaven worship you."

"O Lord God of our fathers, are not you God in heaven? and rule you not over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in your hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand you?"

God Also Rules Over Evil

"Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and YHWH has not done it?"

The point is, Almighty God is responsible for all things that happen in the universe whether they be good or evil. The Bible teaches this. On occasion, God even creates individuals to waste and destroy.

"I have created the waster to destroy."

These scriptures (and there are many more) show that God is the sovereign ruler of the universe. His superintendence embraces all activity within the entirety of creation even to the numbering of hairs on a human head (Matthew 10:30). He is also in charge of all human political activity.

"Jesus answered, You could have no power at all against me, except it were given you from above."

"A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven."

Even the destinies and boundaries of nations (both past and present) are under the control of God.

"[God] has made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined the times before appointed [through predestination] and the bounds of their habitation."

Or, to make it even clearer, all things that God has allowed to happen to nations or individuals in the past, present, or future are precisely known by God.

"Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world."

Importantly, God knows all works, even those which are evil. Nothing escapes His supervision. Yes, even evil works are within the creative activity of God.

"I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: [the Lord does all these things]."

The ancient Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who destroyed the Temple of God and the city of Jerusalem [killing both the guilty and the innocent], was called by God "my servant" (Jeremiah 25:9). The pharaoh of the Exodus was prevented by the direct intervention of God from letting the Israelites leave Egypt because God hardened his attitude (Exodus 4:21, 27:3, 14:4) Pharaoh was more than willing to release the Israelites but God stepped in to change his mind and to harden his heart.

This may appear to be an "evil" action in some peopleís eyes but it is clearly the teaching of the Bible. And why not? God has continually used "evil" when it suits His purpose. For some eye-opening examples of this please see Jeremiah 11:23; 16:10; 19:3, 15; 21:10; 32:42; 40:2; 44:2, 27, 29; 45:5 also Daniel 9:12-14; Micah 1:12; etc. The word "evil" when it is associated with God is not to be reckoned as "sin." It is impossible for God to "sin." He can do as He pleases and no one could ever call Him a sinner. Indeed, it is God who determines what "sin" is. We humans have nothing to say in the matter.

It may be surprising to some but even Satan the Devil was created by God to be an evil spirit. Jesus said of Satan that he "was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth" (John 8:44). From the very start of his creation, Satan was a liar. He was a sinner. "The devil sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). There is much nonsense being taught about the origin of Satan. Some think he was once an angel with utter spiritual perfection until, after many long years, he began to let vanity creep into his life and then he became a sinner. This is not true. Satan was a liar, a murderer, and a sinner "from the beginning" Thatís what the Bible teaches.

The truth is, Satan was created by God to be Satan. Satan was not created first as a righteous angel. God said: "I have created the waster to destroy" (Isaiah 54:16). Satan was brought into being by God to perform a purpose for God. He is completely under the control of God. When Satan wanted to destroy the children and property of righteous Job, Satan had to get permission from God to do it (Job 1:12). When Satan finally wanted to injure Job himself with great afflictions, he again had to obtain an allowance from God to perform those sufferings upon Job. Even then, God put limits on Satan by telling him not to kill Job himself (Job 2:6). God could easily have stopped Satan from doing any of his works against Job, but He didnít.

God Actually Afflicted Job

This shows, in reality, that it was God who was responsible for afflicting Job. True, God did it through the agency of Satan, but it was God who ordained it. This example, among others, shows that God even uses supreme sinners, murderers, and liars to perform His purposes when He so desires. Since He is in charge of the universe and nothing escapes His superintendence, then God can do with the creatures He has created in the manner that best suits Him. He even sends spiritual powers to earth to lie (tell falsehoods) to certain people at times.

"And YHWH said, 'Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?' And one [spirit] said on this manner, and another [spirit] said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before [the Lord], and said, 'I will persuade him.' And YHWH said unto him, 'Wherewith?' And he said, 'I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.' And he [God] said, 'you shall persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.'"

It seems almost incomprehensible to some people that God would allow such a thing as lying to be done in His name, but God has ordered it and the example just given shows it clearly. Even in the period just prior to the Second Coming of Christ, the apostle Paul tells us that "God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie" (2 Thessalonians 2:11). Even the prophet Jeremiah admitted that God was responsible for allowing the people to be deceived. "Then said I, Ah, Lord God! surely you have greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, You shall have peace; whereas the sword reached unto the soul" (Jeremiah 4:10). God will even use and direct the ten evil kings who are associated with the Beast of Revelation in accomplishing His purpose (Revelation 17:17).

God has even given statutes and ordinances to mankind that were not good for humanity (or for Israel).

The interesting thing about these deceptions and evils just mentioned is the fact that God has commanded us not to commit any of them. But He uses these tactics quite freely whenever He deems it best to do so. Now, this may seem at first very unfair (and even unjust), but let us not make too harsh an opinion yet. There is much more to the story that all of us need to realize. The fact is, God could not be God unless He had control over evil as well as good. Let us look at even more ways in which God uses evil devices to bring judgments upon men.

Godís Use of Evil in Prophecy

The Book of Revelation and many prophecies of the Old Testament show precise historical occurrences which will happen in the period of seven years just prior to Christís Second Advent. Some of those prophecies were made about 3500 years ago, while those in the Book of Revelation about 1900 years ago. No human (or groups of humans), no spirit (or groups of spirits), no Satan (or all the Satanic forces in the universe) can change one iota what God has decreed will happen in the future! When God prophesies something, the only person who can change His mind about the matter is God Himself. It is true that God indeed "repented" of some of His intended actions in the past (Jeremiah 26:13,19; 42:10), but that "repentance" has come to pass because God wanted it. So, if the prophecies of the Book of Revelation (which are mostly future to us) are "repented ofí [and He does not allow them to happen], it is because God wills to change His mind. But up to now, there is no indication that God will release the world from the great traumas that God has prophesied will occur in the years ahead of us. And some of those occurrences will involve plagues, curses, earthquakes, upset weather conditions, economic chaos, and even death. They will happen to the guilty (adults who know better) and to the innocent (infants in arms who do not know better).

Besides disastrous prophecies concerning the future that are destined to happen upon mankind, look at our own recent past and the matter of Hitler. Why, within a recent generation of ours, Hitler systematically killed millions of Jews, Poles, Russians, Gypsies, and others (including infants and young children) but God allowed it to occur. True, we have no record that God commanded such, but the fact that He is all-powerful and has all things under His control means He is still responsible.

Why should we consider God to be responsible? Simply because God had (and has) the power to stop all the carnage being done in the world, both today, in the past and in the future, but He has not yet stopped it nor is He prophesied to stop it as far as the Book of Revelation is concerned. Indeed, look at ourselves. Even Christians have many problems.

"For we know that the whole creation groans and travails in pain together until now. And not only they [the world], but ourselves also [even Christians], which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our bodies."

Paul said that Christians are no more exempted from pain and anguish at the present than all others in the world. True enough, God sometimes responds to our prayers and releases us from specific problems from time to time, but not in every circumstance God will aid us if it is in accordance with His over-all will.

"And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he hears us."

The truth is, God does not always want His children to have utopia here on earth. Under various circumstances, even we are subjected to pain and groanings.

Reconciliation Is Promised

God, however, does promise us something very wonderful. We shall have relief (and so will the whole world) at the time of our redemption ó when our bodies are changed into spirit. "The creature [creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. ... waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body" (Romans 8:21,23).

A redemption and a reconciliation will come from God and it shall embrace the whole world.

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them: and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation."

One of the major commissions that God gave Paul was to preach this word of reconciliation. It was to be a reconciliation between mankind and God. God Himself began the reconciliation by having His son to die on the tree of crucifixion for all the sins that mankind has done against God And God commenced the reconciliation while mankind was reckoned to be Godís enemies, Paul spoke of this in Romans.

"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."

We were not reconciled to God when we became righteous. It was when we were His enemies and ungodly.

God Will Soon Change His Mind

God could stop all the evil on earth in an instant if He so willed. He has not yet willed it. But thanks be to God, He has prophesied that He will change. He, Himself, will "repent" of the evil that He has allowed mankind to undergo. This does not mean that God will have to get down on his knees before man and ask forgiveness of His ways. Of course not! All that God does is entirely justifiable on account of who He is, but He does say that He will change His ways of action in regard to His human creation on earth and the spiritual creation He has brought into being in the heavens. Does it seem odd to say that God will repent of His ways towards man? He has repented of evil He caused in the past, why not in the future?

"Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he has pronounced against you."

This "repentance" of God is an essential doctrine of the New Testament revelation. Indeed, the apostle Paul made the "repentance" on Godís part as one of Paulís cardinal teachings. It is found in the Pauline doctrine of "reconciliation." Let us now look at this most important revelation of the Bible. Once it is understood, it can be seen very clearly why it was necessary for Jesus Christ (the Son of God) to come into this world some 1900 years ago and to live and to die for mankind. It shows God totally loving man.

The Doctrine of Reconciliation

God the Father sent Jesus Christ into the world to reconcile the world to Himself because He loves mankind supremely. Note the apostle Paulís words.

"God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them, and has committed unto us the word of reconciliation."

One of the major commissions that God gave Paul was to preach this word of reconciliation. It was to be a reconciliation between mankind and God. He further spoke of this in the Book of Romans.

"For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life."

The first step in the reconciliation process between God and man was made by God Himself He sent Christ to die for us (out of His great love for us) while we were enemies of His (Romans 5:10); also while we were sinners (verse 8); and also while we were ungodly (verse 6). Paul said that at the time God stepped in to make amends to mankind, mankind was in no way yet willing to make amends to God. When God because of His love for mankind started the reconciliation process by sending Christ Jesus and having him die for all mankind, mankind was still Godís enemy. They were also ungodly and all of them were still active sinners. That is what Paul said. None of us wanted to be in harmony with God when the Father commenced His reconciliation process.

This means that the reconciliation was at first completely one-sided. It was on Godís part alone. After all, while mankind (as Paul said) was ungodly, sinners and enemies of God (Romans 5:6,10), one could hardly say that man wanted to be in harmony with God. However, the word "reconciliation" always signifies that a harmony must exist, though the reconciliation is still one-sided on Godís part as far as all humanity is concerned. God started the process off by sending Jesus Christ to die for mankind and to cleanse us of all sin. [Notice that the reconciliation involves the totality of the world, not just a select few.] "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Corinthians 5:19).

But why has mankind been at logger-heads with God? It is simple. Though God is Almighty and could make mankind have all blessings right here and now, God has not yet willed to do so. He has allowed evil (as well as good) to permeate the environment of the earth. He has permitted diseases to exist that afflict mankind. He has allowed and caused famines that have hurt mankind whether they are guilty or innocent. He has allowed and caused wars of great magnitude (and even commanded them) which have caused much pain to many people. God has even said He has hated people even before they were born who had done nothing bad or good.

"For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."

This "hating" of Esau by God was ordained by God even before Esau was born. This may seem a very unfair thing (and from a human point of view it is), but Paul came back quickly with a following statement. "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid" (Romans 9:14). The point is, God can do anything He wishes with His creation. There is no one who can hold Him accountable for any wrong deeds that mankind might think He does. Yet it must be admitted that Esau got (what we humans would call) a raw deal. He was even chosen before his birth to be hated of God.

Some misinformed people cannot believe that God would ever do such a thing to a person, but they are avoiding all scriptural teaching when they say such a thing. They say that God really didnít "hate" Esau; He only loved him less. Oh? The word used by Paul was niseo and is shown throughout the New Testament as meaning "complete antipathy, disdain and hatred." One should see Matthew 5:43,44; Mark 13:13; John 15:18; Titus 3:3; 1 John 2:11; etc.

God Will Repent Of His Ways

God is going to change this method of dealing with humanity. He is going to stop allowing man to be afflicted with diseases and pain. He will soon cease His permission for wars or for ordering them to be done. "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain" (Revelation 2 1:4). In a word, God is soon going "to repent of the evil" which He has allowed mankind to undergo. He has repented of such things in the past. Notice again what Jeremiah said to the elders of Judah back in the sixth century B.C.

"Therefore now amend your ways and your doings, and obey the voice of the Lord your God; and the Lord will repent him of the evil that he has pronounced against you."

Yes, the Bible clearly says that God repents of evil.

"If you will still abide in this land, then will I build you, and not pull you down, and I will plant you, and not pluck you up: for I repent me of the evil that I have done unto you."

And though this "repentance of God" pertained only to the Jews of Judah in the sixth century before Christ, Paul makes it clear that God is now willing to be reconciled to all in the world (and even all the universe) if they will but do one thing. What is that action that must be done by mankind? Since God has already started the reconciliation from His point of view by sending Jesus Christ to die for all the sins of the world (even when we were ungodly and enemies of His), He will now forget all our trespasses "not imputing their trespasses unto them" (2 Corinthians 5:19). The apostle Paul then said:

"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christís stead, BE YOU RECONCILED TO GOD."

There it is! God started out the reconciliation of Himself to man by first sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins and to wipe our former paths clean: and by "not imputing their trespasses unto them." He did this while we were ungodly, sinners, and abject enemies of Him [mankind has never liked the way God has treated them over the years]. But now, Jesus Christ has started something for all mankind. Godís reconciliation in Christ shows that God really does love mankind. Though it may not appear so on the surface, considering the things that God has allowed to happen to mankind that cause us harm. God has done the things He does since in Godís infinite wisdom He knows this is the way to learn love.

"All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose."

For some reason known to God, sufferings and afflictions which are allowed by God, or even on some occasions commanded by Him, in the long run are the means of creating love and concern in people. The Scriptures tell us that even Christ learned by His suffering (Hebrews 5:8).

One of these days, however, all of the suffering that God has permitted or caused to happen will cease. He will change His mind and "repent of the evil" over which He has superintended while we have been on earth. We will come to acknowledge that God has all along known what He was doing to and for mankind and we will discover that all of what He has done was for our ultimate welfare. What God requires of us is for us to repent of our evil ways. God will also "repent of the evil" that He has done or even plans to do. Remember, God never sins when He uses evil, but He has allowed evil to exist among us. And, remember also, He demands of us that we also repent of our ways. Even in our repentance, however, God is the One who inspires us to perform.

"For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure."

One of these days we will thank God for all the things which He has allowed (or even ordered) to happen to us. We may not always like what is occurring at the present time, but one day we will find that God has allowed these things eventually to show His infinite love to us. God has promised that he will indeed "repent of the evil" that He now allots to mankind. He has started the process by sending Christ to live and die for all mankind as a token of that repentance and reconciliation. Now, what He asks of you is to respond to His gesture of reconciliation by your own reconciliation to Him (2 Corinthians 5:20) done by your own free will which the Holy Spirit inspires you to perform (Philippians 2:13). When this is done, the reconciliation will be complete.

Ernest L. Martin

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