Thursday, 12 November 2009

No Regrets?

No regrets. So sang Robbie Williams a few years ago. But is it actually possible to go through life with no regrets? I don't think so. If anything, the older we get the longer the list of regrets becomes. The job we didn't take. The opportunity we turned down. The relationship we let slip away from us. Or, maybe for you, its the other way round - the job you wish you hadn't taken, the opportunity you wish you had walked away from...

Some of these regrets can be like deep scars that never fully heal. The things we wish we hadn't said or done. The hurt we wish we hadn't caused. We try to forget about them but they never completely go away. We try to suppress it but deep down the guilt remains, like Macbeth's damn spot. Regrets leave us bitter or defensive or both.

Regret comes when we realise we’ve made the wrong choice between two or more conflicting alternatives. We think, “If only I could learn to make the right choices!” Pop-psychologists tell us we need to move on and focus on new goals to combat the feelings of failure or guilt. It may work for a while, but ultimately this just sets us up for more failure. Sooner or later we’ll mess up again. Why does life seem to involve so many disappointments and regrets?

The answer lies in what we think life is all about. If we think we are here as a result of some amazingly complex series of random events and that therefore the way we find meaning is to seek our own happiness, health and prosperity then failure is inevitable. People let us down. We let ourselves down. Things break and go wrong. Eventually we die. The world we live in is broken and messed up. And we are the reason why. God made the world perfect but we live in rebellion against Him. We reject His purposes for our lives and choose to live for our own selfish ends. The result is chaos and decay, death and destruction. All our yearnings for happiness, health and prosperity are really our God-given desire for the restoration of His creation to the perfection in which He first made it. But because we want to tune God out of our lives we try to substitute our own goals to satisfy the longings that He gave us. It’ll never work!

So how does all this help us with our regrets? When we admit that we have rebelled against God and ask Him to forgive us, He gives us new desires. Or, rather, He restores our original desire to find meaning in Him. When we have Him, our other desires fade away. He is the only one who will never disappoint us or leave us with regrets. Of course, we still live in a messed-up world, but now the things of this world no longer have the same attraction. So when things don’t go how we’d like it doesn’t lead to disappointment or regret because we know our happiness doesn’t depend on the same things any more. Now we look forward to the day when God has promised to restore His creation back to its original perfection, free from decay and corruption.

What about the question of guilt? Sometimes our regret is because we know we’ve done something wrong. Perhaps other people got hurt. Guilt is a reminder that we deserve punishment. That’s why we try to suppress it for deep down we know we have sinned against God. Even when we forget what we have done, God doesn’t. But this is where something incredible happens. God is holy and just. Just like we know that justice must be done, so God must punish sin. Yet God loves us and wants to forgive us and so Jesus was punished in our place. Through Jesus’ death on the cross justice has already been done, all our guilt has been ‘paid for’ and God can be merciful to us. All we must do is turn to Him and confess our sins and put our trust in Jesus. When we do that God no longer counts our sins against us and He gives us His Holy Spirit as a guarantee that He will never again do so. The question then is have you turned to Him? Or are you still on a course that will inevitably lead to regret? To regret something means it’s too late to do anything about it. God has already provided a way by which you need never experience regret again but you must turn to Him – before it is too late.

Of course, even when we believe all this we can sometimes forget and go back to trying to find our meaning in other ways and yet, instead of lasting regret, it becomes an opportunity to see even more of the wonder of God’s great love for us. For God is patient with us and, like the perfect, loving Father that He is, He allows us to wander from His ways, lets us see the futility of seeking happiness apart from Him and then gently draws us back to Him to see that He is what our hearts need. Guilt is replaced by forgiveness. Regret becomes rejoicing. Instead of feeling bitter we become joy-filled and thankful. He never tires of us. He never rejects us. He always works for our good – even when we stupidly and blindly run in the other direction. Why would we ever turn from such perfect love as this?

In a sense, the pop psychologists are right - we do need different goals but the only goal that really matters, the only pursuit in which will find significance and happiness is to know Jesus Christ. Ultimately, it’s not about what you have or haven’t done, it’s not even about what you know, it’s about who you know.

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