Imagine that somewhere out there, past the swirling veils of starry darkness that make up our galaxy, you existed.
Perhaps not the you you're familiar with, but another version of you. A 'you' who got that grade, made up with that friend, won that award, said the right things.
A better 'you'.
A 'you' that you don't regret.
I've always had a particular interest in science fiction, and a particular aspect that I've found is pretty popular in this specific genre (and even in others) is the idea of 'parallel universes'.
Simply put, it's the theory that somewhere beyond our universe, exists other universes where we exist as well - yet it's not really 'us'. In these parallel universes are versions of us where we made better choices; we didn't talk back to our parents, we didn't procrastinate before the math exam, we didn't carelessly say words that hurt our friends.
But what makes this idea so appealing to us? What inner desire do we perhaps unconsciously have that drives us to produce stories, movies, and other media forms about this specific topic?
One thing I can change..
It's the typical icebreaker question. Maybe a friend would ask this during a lull in conversation, or maybe you'll come across it on the back of those fruity chews wrappers.
It's a no-brainer, really.
"If you could change one thing in your past, what would it be?"
I'm not sure about you, but when I heard this question, my mind immediately jumped to the answer, "I wished I'd started studying for my math exam earlier."
But my thoughts didnt stop there.
"What if I'd studied harder? I could've gotten a better grade.”
"Maybe if I didn't waste my time as often, I'd be more successful. "
"If only I didn't do this thing, I could've still been friends with that person."
These are the words that we often associate with the feeling of regret.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, regret is defined as "a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish it could have been different or better. "
And I'm confident that most, if not all, of us would agree with this definition.
I'm certain all of us have experienced regret before. Even the most popular, successful, and prestigious of people that we see on media and the news, who we assume would be satisfied in their success, all have had regrets in their lives.
It's only natural that we, as humans, experience regret. It's inevitable in this sin-filled world that we live in.
Because when sin first seeped into our hearts during Adam and Eve's fall into temptation, it was then when our free will was corrupted. This distortion and corruption of the free will God gave us is the catalyst of our feeling of regret.
Even though we've fallen into sin, and turned away from the fulfilling and joyful purpose that God has intended in His love and goodness for us, we still feel guilt.
Because, deep inside the sin-invaded fortress of our hearts, a little watchman continues to berate and rebuke us whenever we sin.
He reminds us that our sin is wrong. He tells us we shouldn't be doing it. Yet we still do it anyway.
And so, the watchman shouts. Not for joy, but with tears, in righteous sorrow and anger as all the while, we continue to sin.
And that's precisely what regret is.
Regret’s sinful side
Don't get me wrong. Regret can often be a good thing - when the watchman's cry is drowned out by the racous pleasure of the world, God still can use our feelings of regret to lead us back to the right path.
But, just like any other blessing, regret can be corrupted.
Just like how drinking water is vital for our survival, great quantities of water left unrestricted, such as a flood, can easily engulf entire cities. And it's the same way for regret. Left unchecked, regret can easily cause us to self pity, or, in an opposite effect, cause us to get lost in our own self hate. Either way, the devil uses regret and guilt to discourage us, and tempt us to think that it's useless to return to God.
Even as a Christian, my guilty regrets over certain sins make me unmotivated and reluctant to come before Him in worship, let alone serve Him in ministry. Just like Adam and Eve, hiding from God in their shame, we too often hide our faces in shame from the light of God's mercy. There’s a verse that summarises this pretty well, and it goes as follows.
“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” (2 Corinthians 7:10)
Brought to light
But for us, the story doesn’t have to end there.
As children of God, we are able to rest assured in His promises. And this includes His promise of redemption! As it says in Ephesians 1:7, “In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”
John Piper, an American theologist and pastor, elaborates on this verse, revealing that this redemption God gives us is far more complex than we would originally think. Referring to Hebrews 9:15, “he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant,” John Piper explains that this redemption, this ‘freedom through payment’ that he grants us, is a freedom from sin - and this includes the guilt that comes from our past sins. Just like it says in Isaiah, God tells us, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
The fact that we’ve sinned will never change.
We’ll never be able to travel to a parallel universe where we didn’t make those mistakes. Neither can we time travel again to the past and take back our sins.
But we can be confident and assured that “.. in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28).
In all things. It’s only because of God’s mercy and love that He is willing to work in us, through the mistakes we’ve made. It’s because of His grace that we’re able to, just as it described in Proverbs 24:16, “who though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again.”
A Final Note
Almost a skeleton, Betsie Ten Boom lay on the small cot dying. Imprisoned in Hitler’s infamous concentration camp for aiding and hiding Jews from the Nazi government, they, along with countless others, had suffered hellish imprisonment, starvation, abuse and countless other horrors.
From the world’s perspective, it seemed that Betsie would have had many regrets.
After all, she could have easily looked the other way and avoided all the suffering that had come with following her God.
But she didn’t.
In her very words, “There are no ifs in God’s Kingdom.”
Why stay in the land of ‘what ifs’? It’s time to start living for now - and for God.