Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and received his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller. He is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, and Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith.

Lessons From Judas: Learning Good Remorse from Bad Remorse

I think every character in the Bible has worthwhile things we can learn from, and Judas is no different.

I think every character in the Bible has worthwhile things we can learn from, and Judas is no different.

The other day I wrote that I believe Judas may be profoundly misunderstood. Whether my thoughts on Judas end up being accurate or not, there are some things about Judas we do know with confidence, and that we can learn from.

One of the main lessons we can learn from Judas is that there are two kinds of remorse– one is good, and one is destructive. I imagine that perhaps a lot of us grow up not ever knowing the difference between the two– because not all remorse is equal.

From the Gospel story we do know that Judas was repentant for his betrayal of Jesus. Instead of hiding in the bushes and watching with glee as Jesus was executed, Judas was full of remorse and even returned the 30 pieces of silver. While there was nothing he could do to un-do the damage he had done, he did do what was in his control and returned the money in an act of repentance and regret.

And then he committed suicide.

It’s a sad ending to the story. In fact, it’s the worst possible ending, as his initial act of repentance was on the right track– returning the money was a great initial way to demonstrate remorse, repentance, and a change of heart.

But then things went south, and the bad remorse seemed to override the good remorse.

I think I have empathy for Judas on a few levels. First and foremost, as someone who lost a close family member to suicide, I think I connect deeply to those who experience a pain and anguish so deep that they travel down the path towards suicide.

Second, I think I connect with Judas as one who has made mistakes that cannot be undone. I mean, we all make mistakes in life– sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately — and some of those mistakes can be corrected. Sometimes you can change course and undo all the damage done. Sometimes things can be fixed.

But other times, no matter what you do, no matter how repentant you are, there’s no way to un-break what was broken.

And to be repentant, regretful, and remorseful over a situation you helped create, but have no power to ever fix? That’s perhaps the worst feeling I have ever felt in my whole life– and that makes me empathize with Judas.

In those moments, however, there are two types of remorse– one that’s good, and one that’s horribly destructive and does not come from God.

While I think this topic could be deep enough for an entire book, let me give a bite-sized look at this:

Good remorse is behavior-focused and inspires change, but bad remorse is self-focused and invites shame.

Good remorse, while painful in the moment, leads to a change of course, a deeper empathy for how your behavior impacts others, and results in an internal commitment to try to live differently.

Bad remorse is equally painful in the moment, but leads to a different result. Instead of focusing on how our behavior impacted someone and wanting to live differently as a result, we internalize the behavior and subconsciously allow ourselves to take on the identity of our behavior. This results in deep shame, self-loathing, and ultimately despair– the kind of despair I imagine Judas felt.

Instead of realizing his actions were wrong and harmful, and grieving those actions in a way that would have led to his redemption (much like Peter who denied Jesus and was remorseful), I imagine Judas internalized what he did to the point of hopeless self-hatred.

To me, remorse is a voice inside your head that will tell you one of two things.

Good remorse says, “I did this, I regret the pain I caused, and won’t do it again” while bad remorse says, “I am this, and I hate myself for it.”

I believe we can learn valuable lessons from anyone in the Bible, and I think there’s a critical lesson to learn from Judas:

Good remorse is a temporary grieving process that gives birth to a better version of ourself; it takes responsibility and commits to living different, while bad remorse will lead us down a path of shame, where at times, death feels like what we deserve.

Good remorse comes from God, and leads us to new life.

Bad remorse comes from the Evil One, and only leads us towards death.

Judas, of course, experienced the bad kind of remorse.

May you and I learn from him.

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Benjamin L. Corey

Benjamin L. Corey

BLC is an author, speaker, scholar, and global traveler, who holds graduate degrees in Theology & Intercultural Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and earned his doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller.

He is the author of Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, and Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus.

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  • Benjamin,

    Thank you so much for your keen insight! I never really thought about Judas this way but there is more than meets the eye. I can imagine that he felt such anguish and pain and couldn’t change what he did so he inflicted the only punishment he felt was fair at the moment. I wonder what would have happened had he had constructive remorse and really believed that Jesus could even forgive him. No sin is too great, for the love of God. It

    Thank you,
    Aaron V. Lopez

    • I think if Judas had been remorseful in a constructive manner and had desired to repent then Jesus would have publicly forgiven him and that he would have been one of the major disciples and its likely he would have been inspired by God to write a letter that the Church recognizes as Holy Scripture.

  • “Good Remorse” is epitomized in Saul transformed, without forgetting anything of his past, from one who hunted to physically, socially and spiritually destroy all Christians to become Paul who brought Christ to the gentile and Jew alike. I agree with you Ben, “Bad Remorse” is epitomized in Judas who parlayed one big “I can’t take it back” into the ultimate “I can’t take it back“.

    I personally hurt for both who were filled with remorse for realizing that their errors in judgment had terminated the life of others. I am able to apply all the good Paul went on to do after realizing his error to feel good for him and his life that benefits me and mine to no end. Judas chose to leave us all painfully empty feeling only empathy (some feeling loathing) for his pain with nothing to feel good for his life.

    Please, anyone filled with remorse for your errors, grief for your loss and/or any sense of hopelessness give those you love the chance to feel good for your life later no matter what preceded this your deep pain today, please.

    Paul has said that he would if he could take back all the destruction he was responsible for as Saul. Paul was responsible for the deaths of more beloved children of God, daughters and sons of the Father born of God, than was Judas for the death of the Son of Man.

  • Thanks this post, it is very insightful, and relevant to people of all faiths and none, because everybody feels remorse, and struggles with what to do about it, and how they can make genuine amends. I have shared it.

  • Good article. We all make mistakes and do things we regret. Sometimes, they are things we can’t fully fix. Learning how to deal with these emotions in a healthy way, rather than falling into depression or self-hate is one of the most valuable things we can do.

  • Judas betrayed Jesus straight up. Yes, and likely because he had a “little” money problem. He used to steal money that was supposed to go to the poor. I don’t agree with this post.

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