Have you ever reflected back on choices you have made and wondered “What if” I had chosen ‘B’ instead of ‘A’? How would life be different now? I have—which has led me to research the “what if’s” in Scripture—if there are any.
Looking at this question from a theological point of view: Is there such a thing as God’s “permissive” will that a believer might choose instead of His “perfect” will for their life? Is it possible to take the wrong path at that cross roads and end up living with God’s “second best”?
Oh, by the way: There is a “perfect will” of God mentioned in Romans 12:2 and according to Paul, 1 Corinthians 12:9, God works best in our “weakness.” Might this mean, God never planned to leave us to our own devises? [Hebrews 13:5]. There is no “permissive will” mentioned to my knowledge.
The phrase: “what if” has the word “if” in it. Scripturally, the word “if” is always forward looking. It speaks of some future possibility or probability. If it references the past in the New Testament it speaks of what is not factual or never happened: “…if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ” [Galatians 1:10].
“What if” is more like “if only.” I found a couple “only if’s” but the only “if only” expressing regret was: “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt.” [Exodus 16:3] which is not a “what if” in our sense. It is only an “if only.” The first [what if”] regards choices; the latter [only if], circumstances. Beside, biblical examples all look forward, not backward in time—as our “what if” does.
The problem with “What if” is that it points to a condition with an unknown result where as in the New Testament “if” points to a condition with a known outcome. “If a man walks during the day, he won’t stumble.” [John 11:9]. If the result is unknown, it is future [Acts 8:31]. So, if any believer wants to torment themselves about theoretical possibilities that could never happen because—well, they never did happen and because choices have a shelf life [Our resources of time and energy abundant in youth seem to diminish with age] all this reminiscence just amounts to so much regret. God bless your sweet heart.
We read a “what if” Paul used arguing for grace. Romans 3:3 is worth looking at first in the NIV: “What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?” compared to the NET: “What then? If some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?” The NET is better since it separates out the “what” from the “if” in good Hebrew fashion: “what would be the case, then, “God’s faithfulness is unchanging.”
In Genesis 18, 6 times Abraham, interceding for Lot, sought to stay God’s judgment on Sodom, arguing “what if.” “What if there are fifty godly people in the city?. 45? 40? 30? 20? 10? Will you really wipe it out and not spare the place…” [Genesis 18:24ff]. But as we will shortly point out in the grammar: this is using the phrase in a future possible setting not looking back on choices made asking whether or not Lot’s decisions may have impacted God’s will for his life.
Regret might be expressed in terms of what should have been but wasn’t, often in the form of a wish: Here’s our desert complaint again: “Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt,” [Exodus 16:3]. See also Revelation 3:15.
Yet none of these answer to the expression “What if my choices were different back then..?”
What do we make of Romans 8:29-32 which depicts the foreknowledge of God as foundational to everything God’s grace thereafter perfects in us. Where is the fork in this path?
And if God—like in Israel’s choice of a monarchy over them to replace the theocracy they were living under [1 Samuel 12]—”permits” us to make poor life choices that impact later what level or kind of calling He might give us, does this imply a “second best” life? Remember that David’s kingdom came out of Israel’s request and Christ from David’s lineage. Did God simply salvage Israel’s mistake or somehow leverage their carnality [wanting to be like every other nation: “equity?”] with a plan ‘B’? Yet I do not read anywhere of the wisdom of God ever chucking plan ‘A’ for any reason, else He would never have made it! Even Adam’s sin led to the Cross. I, for one, cannot believe God didn’t know that ahead of time—”before the foundation of the world was laid.” [Matthew 25:34; Ephesians 1:4; Hebrews 4:3].
Maybe we sought more out of our Christian life than we appear to have obtained. Sounds a bit like pride? Perhaps, we regret some very bad decisions along the way or that last fight with our spouse left us wondering about something. Hang in there! There is nothing here that God didn’t know about already. And if we think He abandoned us to our own wiles at that precise moment that He—and He alone—needed to make that choice, whatever it was …sounds like our faith in Him needs strengthening or at the least, have another conversation with Him about all this. Maybe another trial will do it? [1 Peter 1:7].
My advice? Don’t say “What if” because it is unresolvable [you cannot go back!] and only the “enemy’s” opportunity to discourage. We often see as failure what doesn’t appear world impacting or we surmise life would be a little less painful had we made better choices back then, but only God knows
… and He chose us anyway!