|The Temptation to Regret|
by William Ryzek
In his Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis has Aslan, the Great Lion, say that "it is not given to man to know what might have been" in order to discourage any speculation by one of the children about choices made. It refers to the great 'what if' questions like "what if I had done this and not that", "gone here and not there", or "what if I had taken another path than the one I'm on", and so on.
In real life, it seems most of the time these "what if" questions come up when we experience deep regret for inappropriate or harmful decisions made and, in some cases, have a profound and lingering sense of guilt for having made them. In milder forms, regret can get us to fantasizing about "what might have been"; in extreme examples, regret causes such despair that people exist in alternative realities of "might have beens". For Christians, this extreme kind of regret comes when it is believed the consequence of bad choices (whether made in ignorance or rebellion) has resulted in missing God's best and perfect will for their lives. They despair of ever getting back on track and think, even if they could, so much time has passed that is too late to enjoy whatever it was God had planned.
It must be admitted that our choices make a difference in what happens in life. After all, it is nearly impossible to make sense of moral responsibility and accountability without ascribing some power to the choices we make. On the other hand, it must be the case that, if God truly knows everything past, present and future, our choices, bad (or good) as they might be, must have already been anticipated by God and 'taken into account'. Therefore, our choices alone cannot be the sole reason we are here, in this place at this time.
Now, let's suppose it is true that decisions made or not made have brought us to this place and let's further suppose that, given hindsight analysis, we can imagine a much better "what might have been" scenario. This kind of thinking implies that God's will can be marked out somewhere on a scale of 'good, better, best'. If this is so, then God's will must be adjustable and with each adjustment made according to what we are deciding to do we find ourselves either closer or further away from His 'best'. It is unlikely, however, that God's intentions are so fluid and easily diverted nor is it likely His will is a matter of degree. It seems to me that God's will, whatever it might be in its details, is always the best.
All this leads us to why we might consider extreme regret a temptation. If we think that God is sovereign over all creation, then regretting our decisions flies in the face of God's will; we simply have no room for complaint because God has put us where we are, in spite of ourselves. On the other hand, if we think our freedom to make ill-advised or disastrous decisions can trump God's sovereignty, then our whole focus is on our limitations and failures and not His grace and power. So, extreme regret is a temptation to either rebellion or self-aggrandizement with the 'what might have been's of life" only chimeras and occasions for self pity. Instead of thankfulness and hope, we experience a kind of spiritual malaise of hopelessness, which is nothing more than self-centered pride and most likely the very reason for all the choices we now regret. In other words, being disappointed that God has not provided a more suitable place in life for us (He is, after all sovereign and could have had He wanted to) or disappointment at our own failures (I missed God's best because of ignorance or rebellion) seem to be focused entirely on our selves rather than God.
But, of even more serious consequence is that regret distracts us from the only thing we have in which do to anything and that is today, the present in which we live. Being preoccupied with "what might have been" hides the 'what is now the case" from our attention. It is a favored tactic of the Enemy because it is so effective, especially to those who fervently desire God's best and to those entangled in self-centeredness. Being filled with regret paralyzes us from doing anything now. We can either be afraid of making yet more regrettable decisions or so preoccupied with past decisions that the moment in which we live simply passes us by, both being the occasion for yet more regret.
Paul's advice is most helpful here: "Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing you be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you."
William Ryzek, PhD has been both a pastor and academic for several years. He has published articles in various magazines and newspapers. He is presently seeking to return to pastoral ministry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article Source: www.faithwriters.com-CHRISTIAN WRITERS