Living With Regret (Charlie Peace)

Living With Regret
Robert Wurtz II

For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. (Hebrews 12:17)

Our passage calls to remembrance the story of Jacob and Esau, twin brothers from the book of Genesis (beginnings). Though Esau was the oldest, he unconscionably sold the precious birthright to his brother Jacob for a bowl of soup. At the time he didn’t think much about what he had done. In fact, he figured on getting the birthright anyway as if he had never despised it by selling it. Not so. Jacob and his mother tricked Isaac into pronouncing the blessing on Jacob — while Esau was out in the field hunting. When he returned home he was horrified to discover that his father had irrevocably pronounced the precious birthright on his brother Jacob. Hebrews 12:17 reminds us of this event, telling us that for one morsel of food (one act of eating) Esau sold his birthright. As we still say today, “it was all over but the crying.” For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears. 

There are some things that forgiveness cannot undo — that tears cannot reverse. Esau probably never thought about the long-term consequences of his actions. However, his attitude towards his birthright was merely a symptom of a systemic problem. He was a profane man according to Hebrews 12:16, the previous verse. This speaks to his character. He had a tendency to treat holy things as common. This is the meaning of profane — to trod under foot as commonplace. Not everything in life is commonplace. Some things should be regarded as holy and sacred. Esau traded a unique relationship with God for a single meal. Is there any wonder we read these solemn words, Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” (Romans 9:13b NKJV) Theologians will argue until eternity whether or not the full force of hate is implied in this verse. Nevertheless, one thing is certain; there was a time when Esau hated Jacob for what had happened and determined to kill him. He failed to understand that it was his own attitude towards his relationship with God that was the problem, not Jacob. 


A few years ago a video clip made the usual rounds on social media entitled, “Regret.” It was comprised of a couple scenes from the war movie Saving Private Ryan. In it the medic is seen sitting in a cold abandoned house with his comrades, sharing a heart-rending story about his youth. It happens that as a teen, his mother would come to his room to check on him and say “good night” or “just talk for a minute.” Rather than responding to her at the door he pretended to be asleep. She would quietly close the door and go on to bed. Now he was overseas fighting in a war wondering how he could have done that. The video changes scenes to a firefight in which this same young man has just been shot by a high-powered rifle in the abdomen. He, being the medic, tried to instruct the men on stopping the bleeding. All they could do is give him morphine. The video ends with this young man going out into eternity crying for his mother. 

It has been said that only a fool learns from his own mistakes when he/she could have learned from someone else’s. Although it is secular, the video titled “Regret” is a sobering reminder not to do foolish things that cannot be undone. Like Esau who trod under foot his relationship with God — at the time it didn’t seem like a “big deal.” Yet all she wanted was a little conversation with her beloved son. He was passing up a precious opportunity. In the end he found no place of repentance though he too sought it diligently with tears. There was simply no way to go back and say, “mom, I’m sorry.” The time for making mends is while there is hope — not after all hope is gone. If we play the fool, we will live with the consequences. 

Charlie Peace

Charlie Peace (1832-1879) was a notorious criminal in England many decades ago. He was a vile man who murdered a police officer and even his neighbor to take his wife. He burglarized homes and eventually fled as a fugitive with 100 pounds on his head. Finally, the police caught up with him. Sentencing him to be hanged he took his last meal and headed to the gallows. He was escorted on the death-walk by the prison chaplain, who was reading aloud from The Consolations of Religion about the fires of hell. Peace burst out “Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worth while living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!” This was Peace’s last chance to make peace with God and yet he voided the opportunity. 

The broken glass motif, in some ways, has come to symbolize how desperate one can be trying to accomplish an important task. Walk on broken glass to save souls? Undoubtedly he would probably walk a million miles on broken glass if he could go back and reconsider the opportunity he had to be saved from his sin. It was all talk in the moment, but now he is living with eternal regret. There is no way he can go back and change his decision. While professing a willingness to trod England bare foot on broken glass he was trodding under foot his own soul’s salvation. This is what it is to be a profane person. 

What about now? What about us? Is there something we need to do right now while we have opportunity? Before we ever trade our “birthright” for a single meal; before we ever ignore our mother as she passes by our room; before we fill a sinner’s grave we can learn from these and a million other like stories and spare ourselves a lifetime or an eternity of regret.   

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