The Israelites loved a good walk. For years they wandered the desert – a pillar of cloud by day, a pillar of fire by night. I’ve always imagined that a map of their forty year journey would be akin to the frenetic illustration by a three-year-old artist: low on straight lines, high on manic scribbling.
It seems that when a desert meander is God-directed, it’s no meander at all. There’s purpose in it.
At some point, the Israelites decided they were over the walking business and, much like Forrest Gump, didn’t want to walk no more. At least for a while. Instead, they decided to camp at Mount Regret and ponder what might have been.
Perhaps nothing distorts reality more than a really long walk for suddenly, camped at Mount Regret, they were reminiscing about the good times they had back in the foreign country as slaves to the Egyptians. Such good times were had being whipped into productivity with limited resources. Such fun being held captive. Tough times, sure, but good times, right? Ahh…they were the best of times, they were the worst of times. A few hundred years in slavery – nothing beats it.
No one could mount a case for slavery, but it turns out that at Mount Regret, you can mount a case for pretty much whatever you like. And you’re bound (not free) to nourish it until it bursts into full-blown paralysis.
That’s what happened to the meanderers at Mount Regret. They feasted on regret until they couldn’t move anymore.
It’s about then that God stepped in with a defibrillator to bring them back to life. You’ll find it in Deuteronomy 1:6-7.
“The Lord, our God, said to us in Horeb, ‘You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey, and go to the hill-country of the Amorites…”
‘You have stayed at Mount Regret for long enough,’ God says, ‘it’s time to move on’. This place isn’t even an overnight stay, ‘break camp and move on’ it says in one translation.
It turns out there are two kinds of regret. The strain that causes us to make our home around it so that it can paralyse us for years, or Godly regret – the sort of regret that brings us back to Godly responses.
The outcome of Godly regret will always be repentance. It’s not driven by resignation and defeat but by the new life and hope that lives in a life of repentance.
‘Turn and take your journey,’ God says, ‘Don’t make yourself comfortable in misery but break camp and follow me’.
Jesus promises abundant life (John 10:10), but the thief comes to de-life us at Mount Regret or send us on journeys into entirely unhelpful deserts as a response to our regret.
Abundant life and fun aren’t necessarily synonyms when it comes to Jesus’ words, but the pain that leads to repentance is a productive pain because it gets us back on the spacious salvation journey paved by Jesus. We’re stronger, holier, and more in love with God in the wake of the pain that leads us to repentance.
Godly regret drives us to God; cheap regret just wounds us as often as we make it our plaything. Except that, it was never meant to be our plaything. It’s a gift to cause us to ‘turn and break camp’; an act of kindness that gets us in the way of repentance. We’re still faced with a decision, though: live in slavery, or break free into the abundant life that Jesus draws us into through repentance.
I’ve wandered the streets of Palmyra this week delivering magazines in letterboxes that weren’t prohibited. As I wandered, I listened to an audiobook that sent me to Mount Regret. While it didn’t need to, it was where I was beginning to make camp.
You cannot change the journey that took you to Mount Regret, but you sure as hell don’t need to stay there (and you’ll likely get a taste of hell if you do!)
The path away from Mount Regret (as it was for me on the streets of Palmyra) is not denial, nor is it self-justification, self-loathing, or sin-minimisation, it’s repentance. It’s breaking camp, turning our face back to God and realising that in our complete inadequacy, Jesus has moved the mountain through his work so that new life can be ours.
Break Camp. Turn around. Face Jesus. Leave Mount Regret.