How distressed my heart can become when, after having committed myself to one course of action, hindsight indicates that another would have been wiser. Regret — this is a very painful difficulty we often face in life. John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem “Maud Muller,” captured its pain in these words, “For of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: ‘It might have been.’” “If only I had taken more time to consider, then I wouldn’t have involved myself in that business deal which has pushed me so far into debt.” “If only I had kept my heart’s affection fixed firmly upon God, then I would not have been lured into sin which has left such scars of shame and hurt on my life.” “If only I had followed the advice of my doctor …” “If only I had spent more time with my children …” “If only …”
Life affords a great variety of circumstances in which regret can pierce the heart like a fiery dart. As the devil seeks to weaken our confidence and joy in Christ, he often finds it useful to accuse us of having made the wrong choice. Since not even God can change what has happened in the past, our foolish actions seem to deprive the future of all hope. But God has said many things in his Word which fill the future with hope, regardless of what there is in the past.
He tells us that “All things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). And Jesus said, “All sins will be forgiven the sons of men” (Mark 3:28). While the fact of what has happened cannot be changed, yet God declares that he will use even our mistakes to bring us a blessing. In Psalm 138:8 he promises to fulfill his purpose for us, and so he commands, “Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will act” (Psalm 37:5). Surely with such promises as these — and many more — there is no reason to let regret plunge us into despair.
We must overcome regret by faith in God’s promises. Not to overcome regret is to remain in unbelief, and if unbelief persists, then there will really be something to regret. No matter how foolish the decision, no matter how shameful the sin, yet not to believe that God forgives all sins, not to believe that he works all things together for good—such unbelief will plunge one into an ultimate regret lasting for eternity. Why will some at the judgment day weep and gnash their teeth? For only one reason: they persistently refused to believe and rejoice in God’s promises.
I find it helpful to remember, when I feel a stab of regret, that I will really have something to regret unless I turn the whole matter over to the Lord and believe that it is one of the “all things” that he works together for good. Sometimes I find it hard to believe God, but the fear of the ultimate regret of not having believed, powerfully moves me to trust him. Consequently the fiery dart of the present regret is quenched, and the fear of ultimate regret is removed. How sad are the words which describe the ultimate regret — the regret felt by those at the day of judgment who did not trust God. Their unbelief will be so foolish in the face of the promises of the God who cannot lie, and their loss in being separated from God and his new creation throughout eternity will be so great, that it is no wonder that they will weep and gnash their teeth at the judgment.
This is one regret I never want to have! And I never will have it if I simply keep my confidence in God firm to the end.
Daniel P. Fuller