THE starting-point of this admirable book is the observation that, although Christianity has had a huge amount to say about the condition that we find ourselves in when we have sinned against God, it has been almost silent on the subject of the nature and meaning of our thoughts and feelings in the aftermath of having caused others harm, whether by act or omission.
In this insightful work, Anthony Bash has broken that silence, and thereby removed any excuse that pastors and theologians might have for being naïve about the intricacies of remorse. It is certainly an important book and has many constructive points to make, ending with a chapter that presents a distinctively Christian perspective on remorse. It also serves as a groundwork for any practical ethics or theology, or actual ministry, that takes place, as much of it does, after something deeply regrettable has happened.
The book evidences extraordinarily wide and deep scholarship, and yet the author never seeks to overpower the reader, but, rather, to offer a guided tour of this important and difficult territory. It is intriguing to speculate about what was gnawing away at Bash to cause him to stay in the zone with remorse long enough to research and write the book. My own hunch is that he realised that no discussion of forgiveness (the subject of three earlier books of his) could ever be adequate without a grown-up reckoning with remorse.
An acute observation is that, while remorse has no “verb form”, repentance has. It is when remorse provokes repentance that the apparently negative feeling of remorse might begin to be positive in the interpersonal realm.
But would and should interpersonal forgiveness eradicate remorse? Bash takes us to that question, but doesn’t pose it in quite that way. Having read him, I would speculate that it doesn’t, but that there is a difference between raw remorse and forgiven remorse. So, the forgiven person won’t be remorse-free, but their remorse would be of a different kind.
Bash has done a great job with this book. Those who read it will be much equipped to work with the questions and reflections that remorse, our own or others’, prompts. For writing it he should have no regrets at all.
The Revd Dr Stephen Cherry is the Dean of King’s College, Cambridge.
Remorse: A Christian perspective
Cascade Books £25
Church Times Bookshop £22.50