Friday, 17 January 2014

Regret is (almost) the opposite of repentance


Regret seems a very secular, and modern, emotion.

Regret is the desire to remake the present. To go back and take a different path.


But to repent is to acknowledge that we were wrong; a decision was wrong, a choice was wrong, a reaction was wrong.

Repentance does not, therefore, entail wanting to re-shape the present: It is possible, quite normal indeed, to repent past actions, yet be grateful for the present. Or vice versa.


What about the "Je ne regrette rien"/ "I did it my way" attitude which so typifies the modern Man?

If it was really about 'regret' then that would be fine - but the context tell us it is actually about repentance - the person is saying (in a Nietzschian spirit) I repent nothing.

They are saying: if I had my life over, I would do everything exactly the same all over again. Even knowing the full import and consequences - I would choose to re-live my life precisely, rather than any other possible life.

And that attitude is impossible to a Christian - is profoundly anti-Christian (which is of course why Nietzsche made having that belief the touchstone of existential sincerity).



GFC said...

When I was young I had great difficulty coming to terms with the idea that anyone could freely choose Hell, which is what we are taught regarding damnation - that all souls in Hell are there by choice; one is not condemned against one's will.

The mentality you just described in this post however is exactly the mentality of the damned - they will lament no doubt the sorry state in which they end up but paradoxically hold all the tighter to the sin responsible for it. They will rail at God for being so unfair instead of repent of the thing that kills their souls. And one can see that mindset everywhere you look today in the modern West. It is celebrated. Lord have mercy.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GFC - Very good.

It brings me to recognize that it is only when one has appreciated how it is, how *easy* it is, that someone would choose hell - that the reality of the choice becomes apparent. Until then - there is a much greater danger of choosing hell without ever being aware that one has done so. (This is brilliantly expressed i CS Lewis's most underrated book - The Great Divorce.

Adam Greenwood said...

There's a famous passage in the Book of Mormon that touches on this:

when I, Mormon, saw their lamentation and their mourning and their sorrow before the Lord, my heart did begin to rejoice within me, knowing the mercies and the long-suffering of the Lord, therefore supposing that he would be merciful unto them that they would again become a righteous people.

13 But behold this my joy was vain, for their sorrowing was not unto repentance, because of the goodness of God; but it was rather the sorrowing of the damned, because the Lord would not always suffer them to take happiness in sin.

14 And they did not come unto Jesus with broken hearts and contrite spirits, but they did curse God, and wish to die. Nevertheless they would struggle with the sword for their lives.

Paul also said something like what you are saying:

For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.

Repentance is change. Regret is not. Repentance can end. Regret is forever.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AG - Thanks for that.

It does seem that regret can be 'forever' - as far as we can see, anyway.