Most of us understand the pain of regret. For many, the older we get, the longer our list of ‘Things I Would’ve Done Differently’. Mankind has always been fascinated with the idea of fixing the past. This is evident from the number of movies and books devoted to time travel.
I don’t know a parent that wouldn’t love to go back and do some things differently in the way they raised their children, myself included. In fact, how many of us have wished we could rewind time by just 30 seconds to stop ourselves from saying something we immediately regretted? Interestingly, with the many miracles recorded throughout the Bible, the one thing we never read about is God allowing someone to go back in time. So why do we spend so much time wishing we could?
Man has always been fascinated with the idea of fixing the past
Many of us are familiar with the story of the brothers Cain and Abel from the book of Genesis. Both brothers offered sacrifices before the Lord. Abel’s sacrifice was pleasing to the Lord, but his older brother Cain’s was rejected. Scripture tells us that Cain was angry that the Lord did not respect his offering. Subsequently, God confronts him.
So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it. Genesis 4:6-7
As I read this passage recently, it occurred to me that God was giving Cain a second chance. “If you do well, will you not be accepted?” No verbal response from Cain is recorded and we read that he chose to murder his brother, instead of trying to do right by God. Naturally, God judged him for his actions, and he was cursed. Although there is no record of him regretting his decisions, I bet that even if he didn’t feel repentant, there was a part of him that wished he hadn’t killed his brother — simply because of the consequences that followed.
Often, once we have made a major mistake, we dwell in the land of, I Wish I Could Go Back. It’s a tempting place to stay because it’s always open. In this land, we get to imagine things were different. We get to ignore the reality that time is moving on as we concentrate our thoughts on a past that we cannot change. In this land, the scenarios change and the players act differently. Living here allows us to put off accepting real life as it is now, a result of bad decisions past. However, the danger of dwelling in this place is that it negates the power of God to bring beauty from the ashes.
The land of ‘I Wish I Could Go Back’ is a tempting place to stay, because it’s always open. But it negates the power of God to bring beauty from the ashes
One of my favourite second-chance stories in the Bible is about John Mark. We aren’t told much but, for some reason, he abruptly left gospel work and went home. It was a huge point of contention between the Apostle Paul and Barnabas. In fact, it caused these two major missionaries and friends to part ways.
John Mark could have easily dwelt in his regret, fretting over the problems he caused. He could have feared the idea of having to face Paul again to the extent of never returning. However, the Lord eventually brought John Mark back. Paul who didn’t trust him in the book of Acts later says this about him:
“…Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11
I believe John Mark allowed the Lord to work in his heart and he had the humility to return to Paul and the others he had deserted. The Lord blessed this decision tremendously even moving Paul to praise his work.
When Cain sinned, God gave him a second chance which he rejected. Every time we sin, God gives us the same opportunity. Will you do well? Dwelling on the regret of the past, willing it to be different, is a rejection of God’s offer to do well now. Are you struggling with past mistakes? Does a previous sin, cause you to commit further sins because you can’t trust that God has a better way?
Humility is a necessary ingredient to moving on. It allows us to accept and confess that we completely messed up. It gives us the freedom to depend on God to fix our mess. It removes the blinders from our eyes that make us believe that we can somehow right our own situation. If you find that your thoughts tend to loop back in time so that things could be different today, ask the Lord for help to do well now. May we go to the grave testifying of God’s redemptive work in our lives instead of living our days stuck in a fruitless state of regret, remorse, or even anger.
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