Irreversible decisions are the hardest to live with. You know you’ve done wrong, but it is too late to undo it. Now you must live with the consequences, whatever they may be. But how? Do you beat yourself up forever? Do you live in a state of habitual sullenness? Do you become bitter toward others or God? The pain of regret and the constant nagging of a conscience that knows you have sinned and been foolish have the potential of crippling you forever. Is this how it must be, or is there a better way?
King David was a man forced to live with the consequences of his own irreversible choices. After his escapade with the midnight bather (Bathsheba), he could no longer pretend it was just a bad dream: She was pregnant with his illegitimate son. Her husband was dead and the blood was on his hands—and the whole kingdom knew it. His sin was ever before him. Feelings of regret had the potential of haunting him forever, leaving him spiritually incapacitated and useless to God. But did it have to be this way? Or, was there a better way?
Psalm 51 reveals that indeed there was a better way, and David found it. It is the way of being cleansed by the forgiveness of God. It is the way of ceaseless praise for grace that is greater than sin. His musical prayer begins with a plea for grace: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of your tender mercies” (v. 1). His plea to the God whom he knew could only act in accordance with his character produced a bold request for pardon: “Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin…purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (vv. 2, 7). So conﬁdent was David in the promise of God’s forgiveness that he sang, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (v. 12).
Herein lies the secret to dismantling the crippling power of regret: we must refuse to allow the painful reality of our sin to get the upper hand by casting a dark shadow over the grace and forgiveness of God. Satan, the accuser of the brethren, would love for us to become so obsessed by regret that we no longer stand in awe of a God who delights in restoring hopelessly ﬂawed sinners. Restored to God, David was ready to be used by Him. “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall be converted to you” (v. 13). Were the consequences gone? No. But the guilt was. Were regretful thoughts totally nonexistent? I doubt it. But David was determined to move on with God anyway.
This was the Apostle Paul’s choice, as well. He told the Philippians: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14).
Like you, I too have made foolish and sinful decisions. In fact, at times I have allowed the pain of regret to overwhelm me almost completely. But God’s empowering grace has been sufﬁcient in the end. We all have things in our past we wish we could change, but some things cannot be undone.
Many of our bad choices might be redeemed by the Lord. For all of them, praise him! But many may not. Some consequences will remain until the end of time, until the groaning will be removed at His glorious return. However, that does not mean we must let them cripple us now. We do not have to be slaves to regret; we can make it our slave, if we keep the restoration of God always at the forefront of our minds. Let us forbid regrets from hindering our growth. Let us steadfastly refuse to let regrets interrupt our praise or steal our joy. Let us give painful consequences and feelings of regret permission to exist only as reminders of the marvelous grace of our loving Lord.
Sin and despair, like the sea waves cold,
Threaten the soul with inﬁnite loss;
Grace that is greater, yes, grace untold,
Points to the refuge, the mighty cross.
Let us not allow the effects of irreversible choices enslave us to regret or pirate away our joy—the joy that is found in knowing Christ and taking refuge in the cross!