Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Guilt Versus Regret

When one has done something they feel to be very wrong, it can leave that person with permanent emotional hurt. Those feelings can be devastating, taking happiness away from them. Those negative feelings must surely impact on one's physical health if left unresolved. In such a situation is there a difference between regret and guilt? I believe so, and will explain how I perceive the two through an example from long ago.

There was a man people know as Paul, who belonged to a religious sect within Judaism. He strongly believed he was doing good in viciously persecuting Christians. Through a miraculous light that blinded him temporarily, he joined the faith he had badly mistreated. How did he feel? He described himself "Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief". (NIV)

He clearly didn't minimise his wrong attitude and actions. He humbly accepted he wasn't nice, but realised it was based on ignorance. He also understood he had been forgiven because of his regret and how he turned his life around. This left him with sad feelings of his former way, but not with guilt. Guilt is something you should feel if know you were wrong, and have yet to do anything about it. By genuinely sorting out the wrong behaviour and results therefrom as best you can, you are able to move forward. You regret the bad way, but the feeling of guilt is removed.

Having said that, people who have been hurt by what you did may not be ready to forgive, despite your efforts to sort out your wrong(s). Paul mentioned earlier became a travelling minister to the Christians of the region, but not all accepted him. Perhaps his past was too much for some, feeling he could never have freeness of speech because of his past. It seems Paul was not fazed. He knew that God's mercy is great and that He saw Paul's sincere repentance.

In summary, I see regret as an essential feeling for failings. However, once we have genuinely done all we can with repentance and actions to put things right, guilt is then nothing but a damaging emotion. Even if others cannot forgive and forget, we can do nothing about that. Sympathise with their hurt, but don't let their reaction drag you into the guilt trap. Move on and hopefully they will one day too. There are things we cannot undo, but in due time, our loving Creator will do just so with all human pain. (Revelation 21:4)

When you forgive the truly repentant, then everyone's a winner.

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