And the LORD was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
Read Chapter 6
Ambrose of Milan
“I will blot out man and beasts and creeping things and birds of the air.” What transgression could the irrational creatures have ever committed? But since they had been created for the sake of man, after that for whom they had been created was wiped out, it was logical that they were destroyed too, because there was no one who could profit from them. This is also clear in a deeper sense. Man is a mind endowed with reason. Man is defined as a living, mortal and rational being. When he, who is the principal element, disappears, every aspect of sensible life also disappears.
God’s “anger” implies no perturbation of the divine mind. It is simply the divine judgment passing sentence on sin. And when God “thinks and then has second thoughts,” this merely means that changeable realities come into relation with his immutable reason. For God cannot “repent,” as human beings repent, of what he has done, since in regard to everything his judgment is as fixed as his foreknowledge is clear. But it is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home. Only thus can Scripture frighten the proud and arouse the slothful, provoke inquiries and provide food for the convinced. This is possible only when Scripture gets right down to the level of the lowliest readers.
When God announces the death of all animals on the earth and in the air, the intention is to declare the magnitude of the coming disaster. There is no question here of punishing with death irrational animals as though they were guilty of sin.
It repented him God, who is unchangeable, is not capable of repentance, grief, or any other passion. But these expressions are used to declare the enormity of the sins of men, which was so provoking as to determine their Creator to destroy these his creatures, whom before he had so much favoured. (Challoner)
God acted outwardly as a man would do who repented. (Haydock)
Let us consider how both the solicitude and severity of the Lord are shown equally in all these words. First, he said, “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great.” Second, he said, “He was touched inwardly with sorrow of heart.” Third, “I will destroy man whom I have created.” In the first statement, wherein it is said that God sees all things, his providential care is shown. In the statement that he has sorrow is shown his solicitude amid the dread of his wrath. The statement about his punishment shows his severity as a judge. Holy Scripture says, “God repented that he had made man on earth.” This does not mean that God is affected by emotion or is subject to any passion. Rather, the Divine Word, to impart more fully to us a true understanding of the Scriptures, speaks “as if” in terms of human emotions. By using the term “repentant God,” it shows the force of God’s rejection. God’s anger is simply the punishment of the sinner.