How God Redeems Regret
From the moment I wake up, before I put on my…eau de cologne…
I make many decisions, both small and great. Many of them I end up regretting.
Regret is a part of the texture of the life we live. It feels like it is the cost of moving forward through the day, especially when I consider that I have to wade through both choices of types of things, as well as the versions of each type of thing. The variety is often paralysing, and I am often forced to make a decision to break the deadlock. More often than I care for, I end up wondering what life would have been like if I had a latte instead of a flat white.
Like coffee, a number of regrets concern banal things. They are so small in the greater scheme of things that any regret I experience is quickly overcome by the next thing demanding my attention (ok I’m Australian, so coffee is not really a banal thing).
However, some decisions concern life choices that touch upon the core of who we are as persons – jobs, relocations and friendships, just to name a few. When we make these choices, we often find ourselves building a world around the objects of these choices with our thoughts, our words and our actions.
What makes these worlds different from the world of everyday life is that unlike the everyday life we actually live, these worlds are built on possibility, a life not yet fully actualised or lived out. They may be imagined worlds, but they are worlds nonetheless, at least to us. So unlike choices of coffee, when these choices come to nothing, these possible worlds shatter.
When this occurs, we may try to compulsively reenact these possible worlds, conjuring them up again (and again) so that we might live that possible world once more, without the misstep or wrong word that led to its shattering. More often than not, however, the compulsion wears thin, and we are left helplessly watching the pieces of that world rain down around us. The regret that is generated is often coupled with pain so great that we often wonder if we can ever leave these regrets behind. We also thereby anxiously wonder how we can run the gauntlet of life living with such regrets and the remnants of that world in which we could have lived.
What I also experience is that, because I am a Christian, the problem of regret becomes compounded. This is not merely an assessment on my ability to make good life choices, nor is it simply a piece of baggage that I have to learn to live with. When a Christian experiences regret in these important areas of life, regret becomes the occasion where we are moved to question the workings of divine providence.
How does this crumbling world of possibility fit into the plan of the Divine Mind? Does this plan even deserve the name “providential” if this regret has been allowed to occur and hang awkwardly on the edges of my story?
What is most frustrating with these regrets would be that they risk becoming meaningless appendages to our lives. These grotesque appendages to my beautifully crafted story mock the scriptural idea that God is somehow ordering all things towards an end that is good (Rom 8:28).
Only, it is my scriptural idea, for God did not promise that the beautifully crafted story would follow my specifications of beauty.
In the face of the seeming futility of that possible world we could have lived with someone or something, I have found that a source of comfort is, wait for it, the metaphysics of Christ as the Divine Word (Logos).
(…and the readers nodded in agreement…or politely…)
For the early Church Fathers, Christ was a person. Yet, as the Word of God, the second person of the Trinity was also a deposit of an endless multitude of ideas generated by the first person. Because of the Father’s endless creativity, an infinity of ideas are consequently found within the Divine Word. As such, the Word of God contains in it, not only every idea that is, but also every idea that could be. Everything that exists, and everything that could exist, find their home in the Divine Word.
What is more, the Christian life is a habitation in the Body of Christ, this ecosystem of ideas and worlds, through baptism initially and renewed regularly through the sacraments and prayer. When I truly abide within this infinite deposit of ideas and worlds, the world in which I live live, and the worlds that I could have lived, are left in the custody of He that brings all things to their Divinely ordained end.
In Christ, the possible world I could have lived but did not - and the regret that emits from that - need not be a futile and meaningless fantasy. Instead, when I bring my unfulfilled desire to Christ, that seemingly futile dream could be given efficacy, even salvific efficacy, for the sake of another member of Christ who is suffering.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul said that, looking through a glass darkly, we will only know things in fragments. Similarly, the world we live in and the possible worlds we wish we can inhabit, are worlds that we know only in part. By contrast Christ – He who is whole (1 Cor 13:10) – will perfect and redeem those things which for now only exist in part, including the sources of our regret and the partial worlds that generated them.
What is left of us is the hard labour of waiting in the storm of fragments of our shattered dreams, and waiting for the voice of stability that says “It is I, do not be afraid”.
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