Is There Regret in Heaven?

Life As a VaporJohn Piper is one of my favorite living theologians. His writings and preaching have had a profound impact on my thinking, and he is regularly a means of great encouragement and motivation. I rarely find myself disagreeing with him.

I recently picked up the 24-volume John Piper Collection from Logos and have been enjoying working through Life As a Vapor. It’s composed of 31 chapters making it an ideal book to read for a month’s worth of devotional reading.

The second chapter is entitled “Suffering, Mercy, and Heavenly Regret,” in which Piper poses the question, “Is there regret in heaven?” He continues, “Can regret be part of the ever-increasing, unspeakable joy of the age to come, purchased by Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32)? My answer is yes” (19).

Piper reasons that since we will spend eternity praising Christ for ransoming us (e.g., Rev 5:9), we’ll certainly remember our sinful condition from which we’ve been ransomed. And those memories will yield feelings of regret.

It is inconceivable to me that we will remember our sin for what it really was, and the suffering of Christ for what it really was, and not feel regretful joy. . . . It does mean that regret will not ruin heaven. There will be kinds of joys, and complexities of happiness, and combinations of emotions in heaven of which we have never dreamed. (20)

Piper feels some tension leading him to speak in terms of “regretful joy.” He addresses Revelation 21:4, but concludes that he doesn’t think that it “rules out tears of joy” or “regretful joy.”

I’m having trouble being convinced. Regret is defined as “a feeling of sorrow, repentance, or disappointment” (Concise OED), “a sense of repentance, guilt, or sorrow, as over some wrong done or an unfulfilled ambition” or “a sense of loss or grief” (Collins English Dictionary), and “sorrow aroused by circumstances beyond one’s control or power to repair” or “an expression of distressing emotion (as sorrow or disappointment)” (Merriam-Webster’s).

Revelation 21:4 speaks of the permanent removal of mourning (πένθος), crying (κραυγὴ), and pain (πόνος). BDAG defines πένθος as “sorrow as experience or expression, grief, sadness, mourning” (795), κραυγὴ as “outcry in grief or anxiety, wailing, crying” (565), and πόνος as “experience of great trouble, pain, distress, affliction” (852). It’s clear from a passage like Isaiah 65:14 that πόνος can refer to emotional pain (πόνον τῆς καρδίας) as well.

I struggle to see how the elimination of these leaves room for genuine regret (i.e., sorrow, disappointment, grief, guilt, distress). But since Piper never defines regret or “joyful regret,” it’s hard for me to know exactly what he has in mind. I’m really having a difficult time getting my mind around the concept of “joyful regret.” And if our praise of Christ for His work of ransoming us will be unceasing, and that praise requires that we remember our sin, then it would seem that our regret would be as constant as our praise.

Is it even right for believers to feel regret when recalling past sin? If it is right, should we do it intentionally? In other words, should we try to conjure up feelings of regret? Should we do so frequently? Or does genuine confession and faith in the work of Christ—and confidence in the sovereignty of God—put regret away permanently and give place to unceasing joy so that whenever our minds recall past sin we turn immediately to the cross? Is regret something to strive for or against? Or is it more like a necessary evil of sorts?

What are your thoughts? Will regret be part of the ongoing experience of the redeemed when God makes all things new?

See also “More Thoughts on Regret.”

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16 Responses to Is There Regret in Heaven?

  1. Sam Sutter April 3, 2008 at 5:40 am #

    calling Piper on semantics and word definitions? unbelievable.

    • Laura Matula January 4, 2011 at 1:16 pm #

      Questioning those who teach with authority? Absolutely. Act 17:11 “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

  2. James Steinbach April 3, 2008 at 1:25 pm #

    According to your review, for Piper’s “regretful joy” to work, redemption-based rejoicing must include the memory of sin. I don’t think that’s necessary. Under the New Covenant, God promises not to remember sin any longer (Jer. 31.34). It seems that in Scripture, God’s remembering involves more than simply intellectual possession of facts, but a deliberate response to those facts. If God promises that He won’t remember (respond to) forgiven sins, should we insist that rejoicing requires us to remember our sin and to respond emotionally to it? Respond to forgiveness, yes! To our security, of course! To our position in the Beloved, absolutely! To God Himself, without a doubt! But does joy require us to focus on sin? Not that I’m aware of. I see great joy over the destruction of sin’s dominion (I Cor. 15.55-57), our repentance from sin (Lk. 15.7, 10) and the Savior’s triumphant atonement for sin (Col. 2.13-15). In Revelation itself, the worship centers on who the Lamb is and what He has done – not what the worshipers formerly did (Rev. 4, 5, 7, 11, 19). We can rejoice in God’s judgment of sin without dwelling on the details of the sins we committed. I strongly suspect that the glory of God’s character is infinite enough that we can spend eternity rejoicing in it – we will see the brilliance of light without needing a dark background (Rev. 21.23).

  3. Mike Johnson April 4, 2008 at 6:38 pm #

    Piper has a point. We will look to the One who is worthy and worship him on the basis of his worthiness. And we will worship the redeemer and rejoice in his gracious redemption. Inherent in that is an acknowledgment of one’s own unworthiness and need of redemption. Will we forget why we are unworthy (our sin) and from what we were redeemed? If we will not forget that, then we would surely have to regret; for not regretting a rebellion against God would in itself be immoral.

    However, the focus will surely be on the redeemer. In the same way, Paul tells us to remember our past condition in order to fully appreciate the grace we have in Christ (Ephesians 2.11)—and in that teaching there is no sense of focusing on past sin or conjuring up regret.

  4. Kevin April 7, 2008 at 2:52 pm #

    “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” 2 Cor 7:10

    My experience has been that genuine repentance over my own sin and a deeper revelation of the mercy of God and His love for me demonstrated on the cross produces joy in God without any regret. He removes our sin and shame and brings us from glory to glory as we behold him.

    When I have regret over past sin it usually turns out to be that I truly haven’t brought it to the cross. Also, often I think our regret is an inverted form of pride. “I should have done better or be more Christ like by now.”

  5. Richard April 21, 2008 at 7:53 pm #

    You pose a very interesting question. You would think in heaven there would be nothing but positive things, and something like regret would not be in heaven. But in the afterlife we will remember everything. We will remember our family, friends and everything we have done. If there is regret in heaven, the love that Jesus has for us will over power it. It is God’s love that draws us to repentance. —Richard

  6. Kenneth Ross April 27, 2008 at 12:42 am #

    “By and by, when I look on his face, I’ll wish I had given him more”

    The song these words are from is in many old hymn books. But hymnology does not always equal good theology.

    John Piper’s preaching does my heart immense good, but there are occasions when some of his writing leaves me with a ‘rushed to print’ feeling. Maybe this is one such case.

    I have heard the ‘no regret in heaven’ discussion before, and I think it is still an unsettled question in my mind. The verses I have heard used in the past to defend the position are Ecc. 1 v.11 and Ps. 9 v.6. However, I believe using them to support the present matter is to take them out of context.

    I think I look to another hymn writer to set my impression of heaven; ‘Till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.’

  7. Phil Gons May 7, 2008 at 9:25 pm #

    Thanks for all the comments, guys. Some helpful thoughts.

  8. Johann December 29, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    If you are a believer in Christ yet have done wrong our outright evil things in this life that are not atoned for before you die, you will certainly be made aware of them on the Day of Judgement. You will have regrets, receive your just punishment and have to live with a conscience on those matters for a rather lengthy time.

    However, in the course of time, those regrets will eventually pass. Even so, even if at some point in the very far future you cannot remember those evil things that you once did on Earth, you will be aware of one very important thing. You will always see others around you who are more blessed than you are and most likely even those less blessed than you are.

    Every believer will receive a reward according to what he has achieved for God while he lived on this Earth. So when you see yourself with a far less reward than others, you will always be reminded that there was a time that you lived and that you did not live up to the greatest expectations that God had for you.

    When the regrets pass away at some point, so will the sorrow. Eventually, there will be no more sorrow by anyone at all.

    • Laura Matula January 4, 2011 at 1:21 pm #

      And the biblical basis for these thoughts is…?

  9. Laura Matula January 4, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    I confess freely that I had not seriously considered this matter until Sunday, when in his New Year’s sermon, one of our elders introduced the idea of regret in heaven. If I am to remember my sins in heaven, my memory will have to be perfected, because I currently do not remember them all. I daily lay them at the cross, confess, repent, and forget them.
    I’m curious why some of you – Piper included, I suppose – assume that we have to remember sin in heaven at all. Do the angels praise God any less joyfully because they have never experienced sin and redemption? Were Adam and Eve any less intimate with God as he walked with them in the Garden because they had not yet known sin and forgiveness? I am not yet fully convinced, but my thinking leans towards a complete forgetting – after the Day of Judgment, of course. God forgets our sins and we do, too. Completely and for eternity. I’m open to feedback.

  10. yo November 6, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Do the departed think about the loved ones they left behind with anticipation of seeing them again?
    I ask this because I just had a loved one depart to be with the Lord and I wonder if she is thinking about once again being with me.

  11. Sarahm December 1, 2011 at 7:15 am #

    I’ve been wondering this same thing myself, and in my circles I’ve found that the reason for “regret in heaven” is somewhat of a motivator for works on Earth. Lets do all we can here so we won’t have regret in Heaven. Those realms of thinking have been bothering me lately as it seems more works out of obligation than works out of love.

  12. Jmf59 May 17, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    I can completely grasp the concept of regret in heaven.

    I have had on occasion experiences during times of worship, often in a season of prayer and fasting, where I seem to have in that particular moment a heightened sense of awareness of the magnitude of Gods grace, love and compassion, to the point where it is nearly overwhelming. During such times it is not at all uncommon for me to experience two very strong emotions simultaneously – a deep sense of awe and gratitude for Gods grace, and a deep sense of regret over spending so much of my life bumbling around stressing over insignificant and petty things. These two emotions go hand in hand. They MUST go hand in hand. The one gives rise to the other.

    Jesus said “he who is forgiven of much loves much.” You are grateful for forgiveness only to the degree there is a genuine awareness of the magnitude of your offense, which is not possible without some sense of regret, sorrow, grief, woe, anguish over what you have done, wishing you hadn’t done it.

    The theological implications of this are profound. Makes you realize perhaps our theology is missing a few pieces of the puzzle, and wind up more joyful because of that.

    Ezekiel 16:63: “you will remember your sins and cover your mouth in silent shame when I forgive you of all you have done…”

    • Phil Gons May 17, 2013 at 11:10 pm #

      I agree that regret is an appropriate response to sin—in our non-glorified state. But there’s also a sense in which regret seems inappropriate. When we view an act of sin in particular, it is right to regret it—at least now. But when we view it in the context of God’s all-encompassing, sovereign plan to bring himself glory through the gospel of Jesus, there seems to be a sense in which we shouldn’t regret it. And I tend to think this latter sense will be predominant in our glorified state, where our perspective will be like God’s perspective and we’ll see the wisdom of God’s plan. God doesn’t regret what he ordained, and it seems that at some level we should not regret that he sovereignly willed our sin as part of his plan to bring himself glory—and to bring us into a deeper experience of the grace of the gospel.

      You said, “You are grateful for forgiveness only to the degree there is a genuine awareness of the magnitude of your offense, which is not possible without some sense of regret, sorrow, grief, woe, anguish over what you have done, wishing you hadn’t done it.”

      I’m with you, in part. If regretting is wishing you hadn’t done it, then isn’t it also by extension (indirectly) wishing you hadn’t experienced the overwhelming grace of God’s forgiveness for it? And shouldn’t we wish that we had never sinned at all? And shouldn’t we also wish that no one had ever sinned? Aren’t we then wishing that God had not ordained to create a world in which sin exists, a world into which he planned from eternity to rescue us from that sin through the cross of Jesus? It seems that you can’t go very far down that path without calling into question the very wisdom of God and wishing that the most important act in human history—the one that bring Gods his highest glory—had never happened. Certainly we can agree that that’s a bad idea.

      As you rightly point out, awareness of our sinfulness and forgiveness go together. But it seems to me that rather than wishing it had never happened (and we, therefore, never got to experience God’s gracious forgiveness), we must instead acknowledge that our sin is a part of God’s plan in order to fully embrace and experience God’s forgiveness. And I think we’ll more fully understand this perspective when we are glorified.

  13. IVAN H.GRAHAM JR. November 3, 2015 at 11:48 am #