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What the Bible Says About Regrets

Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.


Regret: Definition

According to most dictionaries, a regret is a sorrow or remorse over something you have said or done. Regret can also be a disappointment over what has not happened or something you didn't say or do. Everyone knows about a regret because it is a universal experience that has perhaps come into everybody's life.

A regret is a deep sorrow about something a person did or something he failed to do. In other words, regret is a disappointment over a missed opportunity.

Regret is always a negative reaction to an undesirable situation. The intensity of a person's regret varies. It might start out being very strong, but then the emotion grows weaker over time.

Most people blame themselves for having regrets. They usually believe there was something they could have done or not done depending on the situation. No matter who is to blame for causing a regret, the Bible has a lot to say about it.

Regrets Are Different

Do not mistake regrets to be like other emotions. Some people associate regret with remorse. However, the two emotions are different.

Regret is also different from disappointment. Both of them are negative emotional experiences, but they differ because of unwanted outcomes.

Man with regrets

Man with regrets

Types of Regrets

Just as there are degrees of intensity of regrets, there are also different kinds of regrets.

Anticipated regret is predicting you will experience sorrow in the future even before a choice has been made or any action taken. Usually, regrets follow the action or decision. However, in this case, regret comes first. You might have heard someone say, "I know I am going to regret this, but I am buying this car anyway." Perhaps you have said some similar yourself.

Existential regret is defined as having a desire to go back and change a past experience that didn't work out to a person's satisfaction. Even though the desire is there, some past regrets are impossible to change.

Process regret may occur if a person does not get all the information available before making major decisions. For example, a person may regret buying a used car before getting details about the car when it was previously owned by someone else. Every time something goes wrong with the car, the person regrets having bought it.

How to Have Fewer Regrets

Regret happens when people act without knowing all the details concerning a thing. Older people often look back over their lives and regret foolish mistakes made when they were younger. Those regrets usually come as a result of foolish choices or sin choices.

The Bible gives guidelines for people to have fewer regrets. If we obey God, then we will have fewer things to regret. God says we can deal with regrets when obey and trust Him. In 2 Corinthians 7:10, "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death."

Foolish Choices

People may experience regret because of foolish choices they made in the past. They might regret marrying their spouse, going to a specific college just to please their parents, or leaving their job without having another one. These are examples of foolish choices and are not sins. According to Romans 8:28, "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good." That means God can bring something good out of your regrets when you let Him do so.

First of all, we should forgive ourselves and purpose to grow wiser from what we learned. Paul said, "One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead (Philippians 3:13).

Sin Choices

Some regrets are the results of sin choices. The consequences of some people's sins may affect them for years and even lead to self-destruction. After Judas Iscariot received thirty pieces of silver for betraying Jesus, he was filled with so much regret that he tried to return the money. When that didn't undo what he had done, he went out and hanged himself (Matthew 27:3–5).

Get a handle on your regrets and do not let them lead you to self-destruction as it was the case with Judas, one of Jesus' own disciples.

Examples of Biblical Regrets

Peter deeply regretted having made a foolish decision to deny Jesus three times and to run away when soldiers came to the garden to arrest Jesus. His actions did not come from a desire to sin, but he made foolish choices. He deeply regretted his actions and wept bitterly, according to Luke 22:62.

Judas regretted how he betrayed Jesus. His regret led to his death. Peter regretted how he had treated Jesus, and his life was transformed. Peter ultimately chose to be crucified upward down because he didn't feel worthy enough to be crucified the way his Master was crucified.

When we regret a foolish choice or a sin, we can either let it consume our lives like Judas, or we can turn from it and be transformed like Peter.


Death Bed Regrets

According to a 2018 study, many people are more likely to share their regrets when they are on their deathbed. An Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware wrote a book about the most common regrets she has heard expressed by those nearing death. Family members and friends said they also have heard some deathbed regrets.

  1. "I wish I lived my life according to what I wanted instead of following the advice of others."
  2. "I wish I had spent more time with my family instead of working so much."
  3. "I wish I had been bold enough to stand up for what I believe."
  4. "I wish I had traveled more and done other things to enjoy myself."
  5. "I wish I had let people know I loved them."

It is not unusual for people at the end of their lives to say they wish they had followed their dreams and lived up to their full potential. Don't let that be your regret.

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