ANTHROPOMORPHISMS

Commenting on Genesis 6:7, where God says that He repents that He made man, Reformer, Henry Bullinger (successor to Zwingli in Zurich) wrote,

. . . repentance is figuratively attributed to God, like to the affection of mortal men: as when he saith, “I repent me that I Have made man.” For God in his own nature doth not repent as men do, so that he should be touched with grief, and that the thing should now mislike him which he before did like of. (Decade Four; Sermon two).

Anthropomorphic language is that which God frequently used to explain something to us in terms we can understand. He says, for instance, that his arm is not shortened, that he cannot save. He is using a figure of speech to say that he has all the power he needs to save. So when he speaks of repenting, God is saying something more about us and our wickedness than about Himself. To let us know that He doesn’t miss anything that we do He also speaks of His eyes and ears.  But He has no body. So, He is saying that, if He were a man, He would have to change His mind about making man because he has become so sinful. How do we know this? Because elsewhere, when actually speaking of God’s nature Scripture says, “God is not a man that He should repent” (I Samuel 15:29). There is no contradiction—one passage speaks of His actual being; the other speaks in human terms (anthropomorphically) as if He were a man in order to help us understand what he is saying.

God uses other figures of speech to help us thick-headed humans.  God is not a Rock, though the Scripture calls Him such, or a Fortress as, again, we are told in the Bible that He is. He is not a cosmic chicken, even though we are protected “under His wings.” We’re not chicks. All these figurative terms are for our benefit. We are so dull, we need to hear truth in such a manner.

So, when reading about God grieving—as Bullinger notes—understand: God isn’t sitting in the heavens weeping over a mistake He made. He stoops to our level to speak in terms we can understand for our benefit. Moreover, such figures of speech are usually more graphic and, therefore, striking, and memorable.

A concluding note: The word “Anthropomorphic” is composed of two Greek loan words, anthropos (meaning , “man”), and morphe (meaning “likeness, form”). God speaks in such passages as Genesis 6 as if he were man-like.

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