I Could Have Done More

DB Ryen

An exploration of the greatest regret believers will have at the end of their lives. 

[Keywords: Schindler's List, faith, service, Christianity, God, Bible, sacrifice, love]

Length: Medium, 1802 words

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. 

Galatians 6:9

Schindler's List is an emotionally heavy movie. Released in 1993, it follows the true story of the Nazi businessman Oskar Schindler through World War II. In the midst of the Holocaust, Schindler employed over a thousand Jews in his factories, thereby sparing them from death in concentration camps. In the movie, he and his accountant, Itzhak Stern (a Jew), compile a list of Jews to be saved from imprisonment. 


This list… is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.


Although Schindler himself considered himself a Nazi, he disagreed with their treatment of the Jews, and even of the war itself. 


I hated the brutality, the sadism, and the insanity of Nazism. I just couldn’t stand by and see people destroyed. I did what I could, what I had to do, what my conscience told me I must do. That’s all there is to it.


He even subtly sabotaged the Nazi war effort.


Stern, if this factory ever produces a shell that can actually be fired, I’ll be very unhappy.


Throughout the war, Schindler had to repeatedly bribe Nazi officers with vast amounts of money and gifts to keep his employees safe. This cost him nearly his entire fortune. He also built living quarters at the factory so his Jewish workers wouldn't have to march to and from concentration camps every day.


Schindler not only saved men and women from the gas chambers but children too. In one poignant scene, Schindler rebukes a Nazi soldier who tries to take away the Jewish children in his care. Holding up a child's hand, he exclaims:


Their fingers polish the inside of shell metal casings. How else am I to polish the inside of a 45-millimeter shell casing? You tell me. You tell me!


One real-life survivor, Rena Finder, was a child at the time of the Holocaust. She later recalled:

[Oskar Schindler] would smile and ask how you are, pat you on the head... I remember I had pneumonia, and I stayed in the clinic for three days. If I got sick in Plaszów [a concentration camp] they would have killed me. If you stayed in the clinic there for more than a day, they’d shoot the patient. That didn’t happen in Oskar Schindler’s factory.


Many Germans illegally sheltered Jews during the war, but Oskar Schindler used his position, influence, and wealth to save more than any other private German citizen.


And yet, despite his great sacrifice and dedication, at the end of the movie Schindler was dejected. After the Nazi regime had fallen and he was standing among the Jews he'd saved, he was filled with remorse that he could have done more.


Schindler: I could have got more. I could have got more, I don't know. If I just...I could have got more.

Stern: Oskar, there are 1,100 people who are alive because of you. Look at them.

Schindler: If I had made more money. I threw away so much money. [laughs, then gets teary-eyed] You have no idea. If I just...

Stern: There will be generations because of you.

Schindler: I didn't do enough.

Stern: You did so much.

Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. This pin...two people. This is gold. Two people. He would have given me two more, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern, for this. [starts crying] I could have got one more person, and I didn't! I -- I -- I -- I didn't!


Despite all he did, Oskar Schindler forever regretted not doing more. 

In the same way, Spirit-filled believers have a sense of urgency to serve God to our full potential, that the time is short to live do all we can to relieve suffering, love neighbors, and save the lost. Even after enormous effort and accomplishment for God's kingdom, there will still be remorse at the end of our lives that we could have done more. It's inevitable that this will happen to all of us who call heaven our home. And, ironically, those who do the most for the Lord tend to feel they've done the least!


We see this principle in the life of William Wilberforce, a member of British parliament from 1784 till 1812 who he spearheaded the abolishment of the slave trade. He finally saw this monumental task completed in 1807, after two decades of tireless campaigning. Thereafter, millions of people of African descent owed him (at least in part) their freedom. Additionally, Wilberforce helped establish numerous volunteer organizations to feed the poor, preach the gospel, heal the sick, prevent the mistreatment of animals, and support the church. He generously gave of his own wealth to support countless beneficiaries through their education, poverty, or ministerial work, so much that he vastly depleted his personal wealth. What started as a sizable family estate eventually diminished to a modest holding. He simply gave it all away, all the while spurning opportunities for an easy life and fat paycheck from the government.


Wilberforce's influence on society is immeasurable: he helped usher in an age of altruism and humanitarianism that has rippled through generations even until today. And it all stemmed from his strong faith and conviction that we should strive to better the lives of our fellow man.

It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power. 

Yet even he, one of the greatest humanitarians in history, was overcome with remorse near the end of his life over not doing more for the Lord.

When I consider that my public life is nearly expired... I am filled with the deepest compunction from the consciousness of my having made so poor a use of the talents committed to my stewardship. The heart knows its own bitterness. We alone know the opportunities we have enjoyed, and comparative use we have made of them. 

I am but too conscious of numerous and great sins of omission, many opportunities of doing good either not at all or very inadequately improved.

Those who strive to live like Jesus - naturally have a deep regard for the things of God, specifically to bless the lives of others. We all have limited resources (time, money, and energy) here on earth, but godly believers feel a sense of urgency to maximize them in the service of the Lord. Wilberforce said as much:


Life as we know it, with all its ups and downs, will soon be over. We will all give an accounting to God of how we have lived. 


Doesn't the Bible say the same?

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:10)

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Mt 5:16)

Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more. (Lk 12:48)


Time is short. Jesus said the end will come "like a thief in the night" (Mt 24:43). Solomon said nobody knows the day of their death (Ecc 9:12). In fact, for some of us, tomorrow will never come ("Fool! This night your soul is required of you," Lk 12:20). Thus the time is short to do all we can to bless others every way we can while we're still here. Menno Simons, the founder of the Mennonite denomination of churches, said it this way:


True evangelical faith cannot lie dormant. It clothes the naked, it feeds the hungry, it comforts the sorrowful, it serves those that harm it, it binds up that which is wounded, it has become all things to all people. 


Likewise, the legendary Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said: 

The truest lengthening of life is to live while we live, wasting no time but using every hour for the highest ends. So be it this day. 


We can barely hope to measure up to the great men and women of faith who came before us. Their enormous accomplishments will dwarf virtually anything we're able to do. However, we must be careful not to compare ourselves to others, no matter how godly or evil. Jesus is the standard to measure against - he was the perfect man, the only one to stand before his Father and feel no remorse at good left undone. We all fall infinitely short of his eternal accomplishments and will subsequently regret the missed opportunities to live as Jesus' hands and feet. 

But that's okay. God made it this way. We can rest easy in the peace that no matter what we do or don't do, we can't do anything to earn God's grace any more or less than we already have it. However, that doesn't mean we should stop trying to please him.

It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil 2:13)

Therefore, let’s anticipate our pending remorse and act accordingly. Our time here on earth is short and the world desperately needs God's love. It's our job to show it to them. However, we don't have to strive to be great men and women of faith, nor even do great things. After all, nobody knows the eternal impact of their actions until our life is over. Instead, let’s just do as much as we can, as often as we can for the Lord.


That, in itself, is great.

© D. B. Ryen Incorporated, July 2022.