Do you sometimes struggle with regrets? I certainly do.
Part of the glory of Christianity is the forgiveness we have in Christ Jesus. We should never cease to rejoice in the fact that the blood of Christ has cleansed us from the stain of past sins (2 Pet. 1:9). This forgiveness does not, however, always alleviate consequences from the poor decisions we made prior to trusting in Christ, nor does it always relieve us of the consequences of sinful decisions that we make after conversion.
David is a stunning example. God forgave David for his sin with Bathsheba, and against Uriah, but he still had to suffer tremendous consequences for that sin. His child died, and his son, Absalom, rose up against him, and was killed as a result (2 Sam. 12; 15-18). I would bet that David had regrets. He suffered the scars of his decisions for the rest of his life. Sin is devastating and regrets can be crippling.
While we all have regrets, we must not dwell on the past to the point of preventing us from growing. We cannot change the past, but we can still effect our future. We must learn from our mistakes and move on in the grace of God.
It would seem that regrets can only make sense, however, if we hold to a libertarian view of free will. Regrets are nonsensical if we believe that all of our actions are determined by decree and circumstances which are beyond our control. There is no point feeling regret for something you could not possibly have done otherwise; yet we still feel regret.
Do Calvinists feel regret? How do they work such feelings into their worldview? Do they temporally shelve their worldview when confronted with the experiences of daily human life? Do they somehow train themselves to have no regrets so as to conform their feelings with their belief in determinism? I am curious to know.
I used to enjoy listening to Calvinist Greg Bahnsen’s lectures on apologetics. His approach was presuppositional and he used this approach to demonstrate the incoherence of materialistic atheist thought. He would often point out that atheists do not live in harmony with the world view that they claim. They believe we are merely animals, for instance, yet honor their dead as if they have value beyond that which we would assign to animals. They deny absolute truths, yet are quite certain about their own belief systems, and very critical of others, etc. The atheist lives according to presuppositions that reveal the very God he or she denies.
I wonder that Greg Bahnsen seemed oblivious to such inconsistency in his own Calvinistic world view. I wonder what Greg Bahnsen thought of regrets. That we have regrets should tell us something about our presuppositions. I firmly believe that if we are honest with these presuppositions we will discover that only an Arminian account of free will and responsibility can make sense of the universal human experience of regret.
I am an Arminian primarily because I believe the word of God reveals the basic theological assumptions of Arminian theology. My convictions are based foremost on what I consider to be a more responsible exegesis of the Biblical data on salvation. That is not to say that our personal experiences have no worth or bearing on how we understand God’s word. Paul taught that men are accountable to God because creation is an undeniable testimony to his existence (Rom. 1:18-22). Bahnsen rightly noted that unbelievers actively repress this knowledge (Rom. 1:18).
I remember playing in my pool as a child and enjoying holding an air filled ball under water. I would hold it down as far as I could and then release it. I was amused by the way the ball would quickly rise to the surface and explode out of the water. I think that is what unbelievers do. They hold down the truth of God’s revelation. Every now and then they lose their grip and God’s truth explodes up into their face. When this happens, they can either respond to that revelation or quickly submerge the truth again.
I wonder how Calvinists can hold to their worldview without constantly struggling to re submerge the ball of reality that confronts them in everyday practical life. I believe that regrets are just one facet of reality that Calvinists should honestly deal with and examine.
I have many regrets. I regret that I turned from the Lord as a young teenager and was useless to him during that stage in my life. I regret that I never shared the truth with those who later took their lives during that time of rebellion in my life. I regret that I have often been disobedient to my Lord as a believer, and have often thwarted His efforts to use me and sanctify me. I regret when I have failed to restrain my tongue; or spoke before thinking, and allowed the words that passed from my lips to harm another human being. I regret that I did not boldly share the gospel with the strangers I sat next to at the laundry mat yesterday afternoon. I have many regrets. I do not focus on them to the point of being unhealthy, but I cannot help but to have them. I have them because I know that I am to blame for my actions, and should have done otherwise than I did.
It is true that God can, and often does, use these regrets to show us our need for a Redeemer. This does not change the fact that our regrets are legitimate. It is precisely because our regrets are legitimate that God can use them to reveal our need of Him in order to live a life that is pleasing to Him. It still remains that if God controlled our every decision we should not regret our actions, even if God uses those regrets to draw us to Him.
We need to also remember that believers have regrets as well. God will use these regrets to bring us to a point of confession and repentance. Our conscience troubles us because we know that we should have done otherwise. It is this knowledge that God uses to bring us to a point of change. However, the truth remains that our regrets could not be used by God to bring about change unless they were grounded in our power to choose. The moment we say that we could not have done otherwise than we did, we remove any legitimate grounds for regrets and render them useless to God as a tool to bring about confession, repentance, and change.
For this reason it is impossible to escape the logical implication that “should have” implies “could have”. We can develop a philosophy that says otherwise, but I do not know how we can keep the ball from ever coming to the surface again. If Calvinistic determinism be true, then I simply should not have regrets. All that I have done is just as God intended and decreed. Why should I regret that?