Should We Regret?
There is a perspective on my rebellious years from both Christians and non-Christians that does not sit comfortably with me. Let me unpack this a little. Since I have now come back to the Lord and decided that I want to serve Him with my life, both Christian and non-Christian friends say ‘you should not regret’. This is stated, of course, after I have said that I do indeed regret some of the things that I did. The main reasons that both camps say I should not regret are as follows. The first two points are the result of predominant Western morally-liberal individualism. The other two are more common in Christian circles, but I believe have been affected in application by the first two:
1. I would not be who I am today if I didn’t ‘go through’ those things. (Christians and non-Christians)
2. I have learnt things I wouldn’t have done otherwise. (Christians and non-Christians)
3. I can now be a great witness to those in a similar position. (Christians)
4. Jesus has taken my shame, and therefore I should feel as if I am spotless like Christ. (Christians)
There are elements of truth in many of these. The problem is that they are often stated as absolutes, implying that one should not regret time away from the Lord. Often in these conversations 2 Corinthians 7:10 is brought to the table: “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret”. But the question about this verse is to do with definitions. If one believes that regret means mournful sorrow over previous actions that are still felt to affect the self image then, yes, I agree that that type of regret is not helpful nor an appropriate reaction to the truth. But if regret means thinking that if one could one would change the events of the past, but also understanding that God has forgiven the past, then I believe this type of regret is healthy.
Some have thought this understanding of ‘appropriate regret’ in relation to 2 Cor. 7 is bad theology. But the question one needs to ask is: What is the alternative? The answer that has been given to this question is that “God works all things for the good of those that love Him”, which is of course true. But should Romans 8 be used as justification that sin somehow ‘makes me who I am today’, and therefore should not be regretted? Because that is the alternative mentioned above; it means thinking of sin as somehow a part of one, as defining. Sin never develops people, though, rather God heals as a result of it, and can develop you. The sin itself should not be seen as doing this. As James 4:8-10 states:
Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
Therefore I will regret the sin, but love the God who heals and teaches me.
Let me explain this in another way. You are married. But you decide to be unfaithful and separate for a few years. Later you come back to your spouse and say that you are very sorry and that you would like to work on the marriage again. Your spouse forgives you totally and accepts you back. Does that acceptance mean you think ‘because I am forgiven, I will not regret what I did because it has made the relationship what it is today’? I would be shocked if that were the case. I rather think, although the marriage may be now stronger by the grace of God, the guilty party would regret the pain that they caused the other. But they would do so in the knowledge that their spouse had completely forgiven them. They would regret, but from a position of security in the spouse’s love and forgiveness.
The purpose of this article is to articulate my thoughts on the subject as a result of numerous conversations. I’d be interested to get anyone’s thoughts on the issue.