In Greg Boyd’s brief commentary on 1 Samuel 15:11 he espouses his Openness reading of “divine repentance” or “divine regret.” From his perspective as an Open Theist, we must read God’s regret with common sense, assuming it means the same thing that it would mean for any person to regret a decision. Here is Boyd in his own words,
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”?https://reknew.org/2008/01/what-is-the-significance-of-1-samuel-1510/
Boyd then anticipates what might be a strong objection to his position, that it is an attack on the wisdom of God. Here, God’s wisdom and God’s knowledge are properly distinguished. Hypothetically, a person could be omniscient, knowing all knowable things, but still make an unwise choice. A less dramatic hypothetical could be in a person choosing to start smoking even though they know full well the risks and consequences. There knowledge is not the same as wisdom.
Knowledge vs. Wisdom
Both Open-Theists and Classical Theists alike affirm the wisdom of God, God is all-wise. So, were an Open-Theist to espouse a position that undercuts the wisdom of God, he would be demonstrating an internal contradiction. And it would seem that Boyd is unable to have his cake and eat it too. While wisdom and knowledge can be distinct, the texts that Open-Theists turn to in order to prove God’s knowledge does not include a settled future do in fact turn on God’s wisdom when interpreted as the Open Theist does.
Is God Perfectly Wise?
Take the example of 1 Samuel 15:11 when God expresses His regret for making Saul king. Boyd wants us to take the “common sense” understanding of that word which implies that God did not see the outcome coming. God did not know how His decision would turn out, and now that He has learned its consequences, He regrets it. But the same common sense reading has another implication, that God made a foolish choice, or at least, not the most wise choice He could have made. Boyd’s interpretation makes God incompetent, and Boyd’s attempt to get out of the accusation fails.
Some may object that if God truly regretted a decision he made, he must not be perfectly wise… 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.Ibid
This response fails because it lacks a full “common sense” understanding of the word “regret,” the one he admonished us to use in interpreting the passage. Boyd here assumes that the only reason we would accuse God, on Boyd’s interpretation, is due to the fact that the outcome of God’s choice was not preferable. Boyd rightly points out that does not necessarily deem a choice unwise. In human affairs, in a fallen world, it’s possible to find ourselves in a bind, wherein no matter what we choose to do, the outcome will be painful. In other words, “the lesser of two evils” exists, and the wisest choice in that scenario would be the lesser. However, that choice would negate feeling true regret of the choice. One might feel lament, or anger, or sadness at the outcome, but one would not “regret” the decision if they knew it was, at the time, the best possible decision to make. If they knew, going back in time, they would not do anything differently, than they would not rightly regret their decision, but they might merely lament the inevitable undesired consequences nonetheless.
Back to Boyd, if God is regretting a decision, this is not merely lamenting the outcome. That’s not the full “common sense” understanding of the term regret. God regretting a decision implies He should have made a better one. Thus, Saul’s (alleged) free will misses the mark of the objection. If God made the best decision, if He made a perfectly wise decision, why would He ever regret that decision? If God could go back in time would He have made another choice? If not, then how could he regret that choice? If yes, then how was the first choice “wise”? Boyd’s interpretation does attack the wisdom of God. In His view, God is not perfectly wise. He makes bad decisions sometimes. And an unwise God, a God of incompetency, is no God at all.
Boyd says, “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.” I contend that common sense would also suggest that one can only regret a decision if it was the wrong decision to make, and that a more wise decision was available at the time. Given this understanding, Boyd’s god is not perfectly wise. Boyd asks, “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’?” In response, I ask: Could God genuinely confess ‘I regret that I made Saul king’ if he could in the same breathe also proclaim ‘In making Saul King, I made the wisest decision possible, and I would not go back and make another if I could’?
God Knows All Possibilities
This problem is compounded when we consider the overall claims of the Open-Theist position. In a blog Boyd wrote clarifying common misconceptions of Open-Theism, he defines his view of God’s knowledge this way:
Open theism holds that, because agents are free, the future includes possibilities (what agents may and may not choose to do). Since God’s knowledge is perfect, open theists hold that God knows the future partly as a realm of possibilities…The debate is not about the scope and perfection of Gods’ knowledge, for both open theists and classical theists affirm God’s omniscience. God always knows everything. The debate, rather, is about the content of the reality God perfectly knows. It comes down to the question of whether or not possibilities are real.https://reknew.org/2019/06/how-people-misunderstand-open-theism/
He concludes the blog like this,
Contrary to what critics of open theism claim, open theists affirm that God always knows everything perfectly. It’s just that we have reason to believe a partly open future is part of what God perfectly knows.Ibid
Since the future exists in possibilities, and since God’s knowledge is perfect, God foreknows all future possibilities in the Open-Theist model. Thus, God does not know the future in the sense of which possibility will happen, but He knows all possibilities. Thus, as history unfolds, God is never completely surprised by what happens. He saw it coming in that He knew the boundaries of the possible outcomes. Thus, according to Boyd, God did not know what Saul would do after becoming king. Nonetheless, God saw this as a possibility, and He saw it among all other possibilities. So it seems again that a most wise God would have, given all the possibilities presented to Him, chosen the best option. If that is the case, and God is regretting His decision, and now taking another route, is that not an admission that He could have made a better choice? God saw greater potentials than Saul’s rebellion, and God’s choice did not bring about any of those more preferable outcomes. That implies God could have made a better choice. If God knows the possible futures perfectly, and ends up regretting a decision He makes, then that does cause us to infer there was wiser course of action that God unfortunately bypassed.
Boyd’s god is truly a most unwise God. His god is not as wise a being possibly could be. He has the potential to be incompetent, and when interpreted the way Boyd and other Open-Theists ask us to interpret the text, Scripture does offer to us a God of the incompetent. A God who makes unfortunate mistakes, a God who lacks a level of wisdom. And that god, again, is no God at all.