Redeeming Regret

Regret is a part of the life we live. While a number of  regrets concern things so banal and are easily forgotten, others that concern life choices can touch on the core of who we are as persons – jobs, relocations and relationships, just to name a few. In making these choices, we often build a world around the objects of these choices with our thoughts, our words and our actions. It is a possible world and life and a world not yet fully actualised or a life not fully lived out. When these choices come to nothing, these possible worlds shatter.

When this occurs, we may try to reenact these possible worlds so that we could somehow magically preempt and even avoid the breakdown of these worlds. More often than not, however, we are left helplessly watching the pieces of that world rain down around us. The resultant regret can generate 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.

The problem of regret becomes compounded for the Christian, since this might not be just a piece of emotional baggage, but an occasion to question the workings of divine providence. How does this fit into the plan of the Divine Mind? Does God even have a plan that deserves the name “providential” if such an occasion of regret is allowed to occur and hang awkwardly on the edges of one’s story? Part of the frustration with these regrets, for Christian and non-Christian alike, would be that they risk becoming meaningless appendages to our lives (whether by choice or by forced reminder), making a mockery of the idea that God is somehow ordering all things towards an end that is good.
In the face of the seeming futility of that possible world we could have lived with someone or something, the idea of Christ as the Divine Word (Logos) can be a source of comfort for the Christian. The philosophy of the early Church Fathers took the notion of Christ as the Word incredibly seriously. For the Patristic writers, Christ was not just a person, but also a deposit of an endless multitude of ideas from the Father. Because the Father was good and creative, an infinity of ideas could be found within the Divine Word. This included 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.
The Christian can find comfort in this idea of Christ being the deposit of anything that could be, and the fact that one’s discipleship involves fundamentally a real substantial abiding in the Body of Christ, through baptism initially and renewed through the sacraments and prayer. In the Body of that infinite deposit of ideas and worlds, the world in which the Christian has lived, and the worlds that could have been lived, are left in the custody of He that brings all things to their Divinely ordained end. In Christ, the possible world one could have lived, and the lack of fulfillment of which has become a source of regret, need not be rendered  a futile and meaningless fantasy. Instead, that seemingly futile dream could be given meaning and efficacy, even salvific efficacy, for the sake of another member of Christ who is suffering.
Moreover, while the possible world in which we could have lived was a world that we know only in part 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.

2 thoughts on “Redeeming Regret

  1. Dr Tan,

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

    Could you briefly (in the inadequate space of a comment box) expand on what exactly you mean by, “…given meaning and efficacy, even salvific efficacy, for the sake of another member of Christ who is suffering”. Are you implying that certain regrets and misfortunes are providential in that they, ultimately, lead a person to salvation; or that someone who is dealing with regret — as member of the Body of Christ — can act as a witness (I'm thinking here of Nouwen's “wounded healer”) to others which may lead them to seek salvation in Christ? Or both?



  2. Dear Justin,

    Many thanks for your feedback. I talk about its salvific effect in both senses, with the important proviso that its salvific affect comes not from the regret itself, but by the fact that it participates in the sufferings of the Body of Christ. In a way it fulfils Paul's notion of “fill[ing] up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24).

    But apart from the sufferings of Christ, what also connects the person's regret to Christ in a real way is because of the fact that the possible idea and world resides also in the Logos of Christ, in which everything that could be resides.

    Thank you once again for your feedback.


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