Fretheim on the Meaning of Genesis 6

God’s regretful response assumes that humans have successfully resisted God’s will for the creation. For God to continue to interact with this creation in the wake of such defiance involves God’s decision to continue to live with such resisting creatures (not the response of your typical CEO). In addition, God’s regret assumes that God did not know for sure that this would happen (as elsewhere, see Gen 22:12; Deut 8:2).32 Moreover, the text provides no support for a position that claims God planned for the creation to take this course. What has happened to the creation is due to human activity, not divine. At the same time, God bears some responsibility for setting up the creation in such a way that it could go wrong and have such devastating effects.

While this story does recharacterize the divine relationship to the world, it also makes clear that God is not simply resigned to evil. God must find a new way of dealing with the problem of evil. Two complementary directions are taken:

(a) For God to promise not to do something again entails an eternal self-limitation regarding the exercise of divine freedom and power. God thereby limits the divine options in dealing with evil in the life of the world. And, given the fact that God will keep promises, divine selflimitation yields real limitation. The route of world annihilation has been set aside as a divine possibility. Divine judgment there will be, but it will be limited in scope. And hence no simple retributive system is put into place; sin and evil will be allowed to have their day, and God will work from within such a world to redeem it, not overpower the world from without. This divine direction with the world is developed further in 9:8-17.

(b) Genesis 6:5-7 makes the bold claim that this kind of divine response means that God will take the route of suffering.33 For God to decide to endure a wicked world, while continuing to open up the divine heart to that world, means that God’s grief is ongoing. God thus determines to take suffering into God’s own self and bear it there for the sake of the future of the world. It is precisely this kind of God with whom ancient readers are involved, and it is primarily the divine commitment to promises made that they need most to hear.

Fretheim, Terence E.. God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation . Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.


  1. Great explanation. This is the biblical narrative shown over and over to any simple straight forward reading of the text, unlike the Platonists in some theological circles who claim everything was planned and decreed by God and things will turn out exactly (good and evil) as God wants. The nonsense of their position is suited for the trash heap of history.

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