Most of us at some point in our lives have regretted something we’ve done, choices we’ve made, or perhaps things we did not do. The Greek word for regret is metamelomai, and interestingly, this also means to repent. We may also be familiar with the Hebrew meaning which is to sigh. It is truly a part of being a carnal being that we do not always consider the ramifications of our choices and actions in the moment. It is later as we reflect on the outcome that the path seems so clear and our decision so flawed. However, if we experience regret, we may be on the path of creating a positive outcome, that is to repent and alter our course.
This is what God wants from us: to follow His commandments, to love Him, and to rely solely on Him. In Psalm 51, verses 10-14, David speaks to God and implores Him as follows: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.”
David was ashamed and disgusted with himself for what he had chosen to do with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. He knew he had done wrong and broken his bond with God. He regretted his actions and repented before God.
God also can feel and understand regret. In Genesis 6, and in verses 5 and 6, we read this account of God’s righteous anger, and His sadness: “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.”
The Creator felt the sadness and regret that we too experience when something we chose to do turned out badly, or not as we intended. This is significant in our relationship with God knowing that He understands us completely and stands by us despite our actions. This is not unconditional; however, we must recognize our sin and seek His forgiveness and His mercy. As with David, we must humble ourselves before God to receive that restoration. We can ask God to help us turn our failure and our sin into something positive through our pain and repentance. Consider Paul’s letter to the Romans in Chapter 8, and verse 28:“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Through our repentance and the renewal of our relationship with God we can learn from our mistakes and strive for good.
Charles Dickens wrote these words in the 1800’s: “No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunities misused”. The writer reminds us that regret is a common human emotion, and it can alter the course of one’s life, in a positive or a negative manner. For those called by God, it is important that we not dwell in the past but change our course, right our ship and stay close to our Creator.
There are two obvious examples of deep regret in our Bible that are instructive and can help God’s people avoid falling away from the Truth: in Luke 22, and in verses 60 to 62, we are transported to that moment after Jesus has been arrested and a man confronts Peter, stating that Peter must have been a follower of Jesus. Beginning in verse 60 we read: “But Peter said, ‘Man, I do not know what you are saying!’ Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the words of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ So Peter went out and wept bitterly.”
Peter’s regret was overwhelming; he had rejected Jesus Christ, and he began to realize that he would never again walk with his Master or dine with Him as a human being. His regret for denying his Master was profound, and he wept. Peter would live with this regret, but he, with God’s help through the Holy Spirit, turned his human weakness into his zeal for the Church.
Similarly, Judas knew profound regret as well, but his story does not end well. We read this account in Matthew 27, and in verses 3-5: “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’ And they said, ‘What is that to us? You see to it!’Then he threw down the pieces of silver in the temple and departed, and went and hanged himself.”
Judas understood what he had done and regretted his actions and his betrayal of Jesus Christ. This was necessary in God’s plan for our salvation through Jesus Christ, but the action consumed and destroyed Judas. Judas had “worldly sorrow,” not “godly sorrow” or true repentance (compare 2 Corinthians 7:9-10). This is what regret can do to us; it can consume us and prevent us from moving forward as Peter was able to do. The only answer for true Christians is to acknowledge our mistakes and change.
Repentance is a gift and God will accept our sincere remorse if it is coupled with a change of heart and obedience in our thoughts and actions. Those we’ve wronged may not accept our remorse but there too we must turn to God.