Quite often, when people talk about things that they regret having happened at a certain time in their past, they will use phrases such as “I messed up” or “I did my best” or “I can’t believe I did that”. Using such phrases is a widely accepted and commonplace manner of speaking, but in this article I would like to examine what is going on in reality, and whether or not such expressions of regret are warranted.
I see the unfolding of events in the universe as a kind of play, or a puppet show or game, under the control of God. People of faith acknowledge God’s sovereign control over their lives when they pray about their future, or when they believe in prophecy, for instance. Prayer and prophecy only make sense if God is in control of the unfolding of future events.
Within what I describe as God’s Grand Game, we do have the illusion of decision making and responsibility. It seems that in this moment I can choose whether or not to make a cup of tea, whether or not to put on some worship music, or whether or not to finish typing this article. But when I am making these decisions, am I really doing so freely?
I believe the truth of the matter is that everything I do is caused by God in the ultimate dimension of reality, but is simultaneously caused by me in the human dimension. God is the primary cause of my actions, and I am the secondary cause. The important point to note is that there is no freedom in the secondary cause; all of my actions are willed and determined by God, whose sovereignty and omnipresence leave no room for free action (or free will).
Relating this discussion back to my comments about expressions of regret, if we are speaking in accord with ultimate truth we should be more inclined to reflect on past events with the simple expression, “It was God’s will”, rather than feeling a sense of absolute personal responsibility. It is liberating to know that what we perceive to be our past mistakes were willed and directed by God and we could not have done anything differently.
You are not an autonomous being who is controlling your activities while God watches on from an uninvolved distance. In reality, God unfolds the story of your life down to every detail — he is the puppet master and you are a puppet of his sovereign will.
So what of divine command and obedience? What of sin and salvation? If we are speaking the truth, we must understand and acknowledge that God causes our obedience or disobedience, and our sin as well as our salvation. To view things differently would be to limit God’s sovereignty, which would be foolish, as an omnipresent God must logically be sovereign over all events, and not just some events.
In the Bible, God’s absolute sovereignty is expressed throughout both the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, God continually speaks to people with descriptions concerning how he will unfold events in the future (the examples of this are far too numerous to cite). And the passages in the New Testament that describe foreknowledge and election clearly accord with the high view of God’s sovereignty that I am describing here, as does the entirety of prophecy concerning the End Times, for instance, which we read about in the Book of Revelation and elsewhere.
God is not only the creator, but also the sustainer and animator of the universe.
As you go about your daily life, be aware that you are not freely beating your heart, or growing your hair, or digesting your food, or choosing what you are going to be thinking about in an hour’s time or before you go to bed tonight. You are only the secondary cause of these experiences; these processes are being done through you, and not by you. Your actions are all under the direct control of God, who is the primary cause of all activity in existence.
When it comes to the subject of regret, it is natural to feel remorse over things, and it’s okay to take responsibility for how certain events unfolded, as long as in doing so we are not denying God’s control and sovereignty. While taking responsibility, we can allow ourselves to be comforted by the knowledge that God brought about the events that we are regretting, and there is ample support in Scripture for this way of viewing things. Whatever happened in your past, it was God’s will; whether that’s comforting or challenging for you, I hope you can acknowledge that it’s the way things really are.
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