Back in August, Luella and I celebrated 50 years of marriage. Imagine if, while out to dinner to celebrate the grace and generosity of God, I looked at my wife and said, “After all these years, all the places we’ve been, all the jobs I’ve had, and raising four kids, I don’t regret anything I’ve ever said or done.”
It would be the world’s most absurd, delusional, self-righteous statement!
But consider this: there was a time when there was no reason in the world to regret. Everything people thought, desired, said, and did was entirely in accord with the will of the Creator.
As a parent, imagine examining your words and actions towards your children and not having any regrets. As a pastor or ministry leader, imagine reading the transcripts of every message you taught and never wishing you could go back and phrase it differently. As a neighbor, co-worker, or church member, imagine having complete confidence that you always said the right thing, at the right time, when the Lord presented you with a ministry opportunity.
What would it be like never to feel regret, never to experience remorse, and never to lug around the heavy weight of guilt? Don’t let yourself think that what I am describing is totally unrealistic. The world was once this way.
But on that horrible day with the snake in the Garden, the beauty of a regretless world was shattered. The Bible records the first feeling of regret in the history of humanity:
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.’” (Genesis 3:7-10, ESV)
In the coming weeks, I want to propose biblical strategies for dealing with regret. No one reading this is free from it. In fact, there may be no more common human experience. Regret is with you all the time. And because of remaining sin, there will never be a day when it is not right to regret a thought, a desire, a word, or a response.
Regret is evidence that we are still in deep spiritual need. Regret is a reminder that salvation has come and victory has been won. And regret is a longing, a cry of the soul, for a better place—an eternal destination to come where regret is no more.
The sad songs of regret today call us to listen for the joyful hymns from the other side of tomorrow. There will be a day when the last regret is felt, and the final remorse will die. On the other side, there will be no more bad choices, unwise reactions, inappropriate thoughts, or evil desires.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Paul David Tripp
1. What have you thought, said, or done already today that you regret? How could you have acted differently in a way that was in accord with the will of the Creator? Be specific.
2. Consider the difference between “selfish regret” and Holy Spirit conviction. Think back to a feeling of “regret” because you could have experienced a better, self-focused outcome if you had acted differently. Compare that to feeling crushed because you sinned against a Holy God (see Psalm 51:4).
3. What sense of regret do you still have right now? Should this lead you to confession, repentance, and seeking forgiveness from someone? What is holding you back from doing this right now?
4. What is the most crushing regret that you have in your life? Why does this instance hold more power than any other?
5. What are some ways that you have tried to deal with your regret in the past? Are these biblical? What might be some unbiblical, unhelpful ways of dealing with regret?