I am writing this from New England, USA, where I am to speak at a conference, preach and present the South African Theological Seminary to prospective post-graduate students. And while here I am also staying with two dear friends, Gavin and Gill, who emigrated from South Africa. I have known them for longer than I care to admit and we have been spending time chatting and reminiscing. At one point Gavin asked me if I have any regrets.
Well, I have done some stupid things in my time and I have also done and said things that have hurt others. I regret these instances, of course, because I regard hurting others, and myself for that matter, as reprehensible. But do I regret these times in the sense that I wish they hadn’t happened? You see, if I had chosen, spoken, or done differently then would I not be a different man to the one I am right now? If people had treated me differently in the past, or circumstances had been other than they were, then I would not be the same today. Can I or should I regret this?
Regret, firstly, is a pretty useless emotion unless it triggers an action that is in some way redemptive. If I have wronged someone and my regret leads me to confess, beg forgiveness and restore what I can, then, in this sense, it is good to regret. Constructive regret of this nature is the exception rather than the rule. Usually, when we regret we just feel sorry for ourselves or beat ourselves up for being stupid or worthless. But there is another aspect relating to regret: God’s gracious providence.
One of the texts which I find myself quoting most often is Romans 8:28; “…and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I am not a Christianised fatalist and I do not believe that God has foreordained everything that happens to us. If something bad happens to me I do not think, “Oh well, this is God’s will so I’d better just suck it up.” What I believe is that no matter what happens to us God can and does work good for us and for others.
Because I love him and acknowledge that I have been called according to his purpose, I have no hesitation in applying this promise to myself. This means that God is at work in my life crafting good out of my hardship, and even my selfishness and error. Who I am now is not only the sum of my experiences. Rather, I am the product of God’s grace and love as he has salvaged and redeemed my past, so that I can be who I am today. How can I regret this?
So, to my friend Gavin, the answer to your question is, “No there is nothing that I regret.” How would you answer the question?