Last week I read a very interesting article on the web. The Top Five Regrets of the Dying lists things that people grieve over as they face impending death. Among those things was one item that reinforced something we often hear: nobody ever said on this deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” Many, many people look back on their lives and say they wish they had prioritized things differently. This issue pointed to another common issue: regret that they had not put more effort into relationships. Family and friends are often casualties of a real dedication to work, so it is easy to see that too much emphasis on work can lead to some deep regrets at the end of life.
The other three items related to personal fulfillment. Watching time slip away, people looked back and wished they had been themselves instead of whoever someone else thought they should be. They wish they had been honest about their feelings, and they wish they had thought they had a right to happiness. A lot of people seem to feel that they never became the person they should have been.
It seems to me that all these people’s regrets could be summed up in the fact that they missed the meaning of one of Jesus greatest teachings.
A man once accosted Jesus and asked him what was the greatest commandment. The man clearly wanted to be sure that when he reached the end of life he would not be saying, “I regret that I never even knew what was important, so I didn’t do it.” Jesus’ answer is succinct and yet very clear.
A lawyer asked him a question to test him.“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:35-39
The short version of these commands is this: Love God above all else, and love your neighbor as yourself. A lifetime of issues and concerns is contained in these statements. If someone had no Bible but this, it would be enough to guide life’s decisions.
It would also address the regrets people commonly have at the end of life. I have never heard of a person who put God ahead of self saying that he or she regretted that choice. I have never heard a person who chose to follow God’s vocation into a sacred or secular calling express regret or a lack of fulfillment. I have never heard anyone wish he had not been so faithful to family or so kind to friends.
This week I was involved in a discussion of an issue of morality with a number of people online. I stated my position, and I stated the biblical basis for my position. I thought of Luther as I wrote my comments, because when he was asked to recant words he had written, he replied that if the prosecutor would show him by scripture and plain reason where he was wrong, he would recant. I like to model my behavior on people of great character, and while I don’t in any degree compare myself to Luther’s intellect or courage, I felt I had used the same standard he would have used in the discussion of a moral question.
It shocked me when the response to my statement was, “Today we don’t base our moral decisions on ancient texts, even if they are our basis of faith. We reshape those statements on the basis of new learning and contemporary social values.”
If you believe that the Bible is so outdated and out of touch that it cannot be the basis of your faith and life, then you will disagree with me that it is not only safe, but also wise to take Jesus’ statement of the most important values for a guide for life. I believe that the Bible has timeless value as the guide for faith and life. I believe that Jesus’ teaching points people to know God and to seek his purposes for their lives. I believe that putting God above all else will lead a person to discover the purpose for which all his gifts and skills were given by God at creation. I believe that Jesus’ teaching points us to build relationships with people and to value all other people as much as self. If we do that, I believe we will come to the end of life with no regrets.