Do you ever wake in the early hours and suddenly see something really clearly that you haven't seen before? Lying awake one morning some time ago, I began to think about all that I've done in my life that I regret. Not grossly illegal or immoral things, but the petty sulks, the mean-spirited words, the judgmental attitudes, the timidity, the passive-aggressiveness that have so often been my response to life and to people.
Sure, I've repented of them at the time, or when I became conscious of doing them. I've apologised and made amends as best I could. But I suddenly became acutely aware that I will never be able to undo any of these things. I'll never be able to go back and change most of them. And I thought to myself "I don't just want a saviour to save me from God's wrath. I want a saviour who will put right all the things I've done wrong."
As I grow older, I become more and more aware of how finite life is, and how little time there is to change what needs changing. Regret could become stifling, if I let it. I've been taught that regret is not a Christian way of viewing things, that what is called for is repentance. In the sense that regret can become overwhelming and inhibiting, that is true. Repentance brings forth action, while regret may lead to inactivity and despair. But I think the argument was based on the idea that we should be aware of how God sees our actions rather than only considering how they affect us emotionally.
Regret is mostly self-focused. Yet my regret at not being able to go back and put things right was not, at that moment, driven by self-pity and perfectionism. I also had a sense that it was the life God gave me that I have wasted and misused. And mixed with the other feelings was something at least akin to godly sorrow.
In the past, thinking about wasting what God had given me would have produced fear and anxiety. Now that's not the overriding factor. What I would really love to know for sure is that in some way God himself, in his mercy, was going to put right the things I've done wrong, and not simply forgive me for them.
I don't mean that I want to be rid of the consequences and not take responsibility for them. But my being forgiven will not give back what I've misused, will not undo the hurt and offense I've caused. Does 'the restoration of all things" include putting right the things that I've put wrong? I like to hope that it does. Personal salvation on its own seems less appealing than being part of a process in which God restores and renews all things, including me, and including the things and people I've harmed.
"In Christ Jesus God was reconciling the world to himself". "The whole creation groans in eager longing for the sons of God to be revealed." "The gospel must be preached to the whole creation". So much of the New Testament seems to speak of something much broader, more cosmic even, than simply saving individuals from their sins. It gives me hope that things will be put right at some stage.
We all go through life damaging and wounding each other, spoiling the creation, wasting our talents and opportunities. Surely redemption will involve more than just letting a chosen few into heaven. We also go through life doing good things that don't have good results. We work and strive for the kingdom and it seems to bear no fruit. Won't God also have some means of revealing and redeeming and blessing those things too?
If there is a freedom in knowing Christ it is surely more than just freedom from fear of punishment. To be freed from the fear that the consequences of our sins will endure forever would itself be a great freedom. I suppose some would argue that if we know the consequences of our sins are not permanent, we would sin more, just as some argue that if we know we're forgiven we'll sin more. But such people have obviously never felt a sense of loss and sadness caused by knowing that we've hurt others, including those we love. I want a saviour who heals and restores not just me, but all that I've damaged, deliberately or inadvertently, in this life.
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