I have regrets. Lots of them.
But, wait? How can I have regrets when I believe in the providence of God? How can I have regrets when I know that God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28)?
It's simple, really. I've sinned. And, though repentance is more than simple regret, it is certainly not less. I have made mistakes, many of them sinful, and, by the grace of God, I have come to regret them. Yes, I've learned from them. Yes, God has used them for my good and for his glory. But, nonetheless, I regret my past sins and failures. If I could go back, knowing what I know now, I would do many things differently. And, if you're being honest, so would you.
It may sound pious to say, "I regret none of my mistakes because God was at work in every one of them teaching me, disciplining me, and making me more like Christ" but it isn't quite biblical. The fact that God uses our sins for good does not make those sins good in and of themselves. If that were the case, then the answer to Paul's rhetorical question, "Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?" (Romans 6:1) would have to be, "Yes!" Instead, with Paul, I say, "By no means!" (Romans 6:2). Like Paul, we must praise God for using all things—even our sins—for our good, while simultaneously hating those very sins.
I can know that, given God's sovereign control over all things, everything in my life has worked out exactly how it was supposed to. Everything has been part of God's providential plan—his secret will. But, nonetheless, even though the course of my life has never veered from God's plan, I have still violated his revealed will. I have sinned against God. And besides that, I've made many other mistakes that, while not necessarily sinful, were the result of a lack of prudence and wisdom. These mistakes have resulted in much pain and anguish for me as well as others. Only a callous fool wouldn't regret mistakes like those.
Despite the fact that God has used my failures for good, they have not retroactively become victories. Here's a relatively trivial example: I once had a long, drawn-out text message exchange while driving at high speed on a dark road. It worked out in the end. No damage to life or property. Yet, it was still a terrible idea. And this terrible idea did not magically become a good idea just because it happened to work out alright in the end. Similarly, I have a friend who fathered a child outside of marriage. He loves his daughter. Much good has come from his sin. Yet, it was still sin. I know a believer who, years ago, began a romantic relationship with an unbeliever. That's sinful, and sin, of course, is always a bad idea. Yet, by the grace of God, that unbeliever eventually came to faith, and the two are now happily married. It worked out quite well for them, but that doesn't mean it was a good idea. Bad ideas don't become good ones just because they happen to work. Sin does not cease being sinful just because God uses it for good.
So, I praise God for how he has used my many mistakes for good. I've learned many valuable lessons. I've grown closer to God along the way. But, I still cringe at the thought of my past sins. I still regret every mistake.
I wish that I'd been patient those times when I acted rashly. I wish that I'd acted sooner those times when I was plagued by fear and indecision. I wish that I'd been obedient those times when I sinned. I wish that I hadn't taken so many wrong turns before I finally found the right path.
Just because God works all things for good, that does not mean that all things, in and of themselves, are good. The fact that God brought something good out of my sinful behavior does not excuse it. If I'd only done the right thing to start with, he wouldn't have had to.
No regrets? You must be joking.