These three terms begin with the prefix “re” which tells us that what we are talking about happened in the past. Re goes back – remember, things of the past; regret, what has happened; restore, what was once in good condition, revisit, and so on. In fact you could invent your own word by adding re. Re calls up our past, our history.
Animals do not have a history; they keep no records of their ancestry. They remember bad behavior, locations, and events with people but the notion that their baby cat is a child ends when the cat is adult. He or she just becomes another adult cat.
Memory for human beings helps them to make contact with God. If we were not able to contemplate the past we would not also be able to consider our future. Animals avoid danger because they have a will to live, as do we all. The tiny baby facing a knife in the womb fights back! But humans know that death is permanent and that the life thereafter is up for grabs. Animals don’t know this and they don’t need to.
There are levels of dealing with the past. To regret may be a simple oversight. I regret not closing that window; the rain has ruined those books on the window sill. If regret is allowed to eat away at your personality, it can become an obsession.
A woman with a unicornuate womb wrote to me in a deep depression. This malformation means she may not be able to have a baby. And if this depression increases she is at risk of suicide. So regret can lead to serious problems if you do not work on controlling your mind, and seeking a plan to meet your life head-on.
Remorse involves deeds, in fact sins, you have committed which eat away in guilt. Sometimes remorse leads to suicide as well, if you let what you did, or what someone else did to you to take over your personality. Many people can run to God for help but in fact it is only remorse. They are sorry they did something but more often, more sorry they were caught or unable to have their own will in their situation.
Only repentance leads to God. The word repent means literally “to change your mind; “meta” Greek for change, and “nous” Greek for “mind.” You need to think differently about your situation. For atheists it could encourage them not to cut God out of their lives. All of us face death. There is no escape. Even the man that Jesus raised from the dead, Lazarus, eventually died a second time.
And what happens after death is determined by what happens in life. No one faces death without realizing that s/he has made some very bad mistakes, both deliberate and accidental. And all cultures believe in life after death.
Ministers may even be fooled into thinking the new believer has truly repented when he’s only become sick with remorse. There is a test for that; it’s called the “fruits of repentance.” A changed attitude will lead to changed behavior.
Fruits are things that show up after a growing season. Berries take only one season to bear fruit; apples require at least three years before the first crop. The wise minister waits to see those fruits before he accepts the new life of the believer.
We often hear of Christians who “lose their salvation.” More often than not their commitment was weak and they had not really turned their life over to God. We must always be quick to forgive but expect the Christian life to grow slowly.