Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:6).
Repentance is not a popular topic.
It suggests religious guilt which may do too much damage. We wonder how a God who persistently demands apologies can really love us for who we are. Repentance seems like appeasing a petty deity.
Better to face our problems with our own wits to fix things. We can still believe in God, but we can avoid bothering God with our confessions. We keep it positive, like the stressed college student who glosses over the failing chemistry grade when Mom and Dad call.
Repentance as Opportunity
We think of those who still promote repentance as authoritarian killjoys with skeletons in their closets. But I see repentance as an opportunity to abide in our best hope. When we take God’s love seriously, repentance is an intimate and affirmative practice.
Granted, I see us all as sinners in need of grace. But to see the gracious heart of repentance and to clarify how repentance helps, let’s remove a condition that we incorrectly assume that repentance requires: guilt. Sometimes when things go terribly wrong due to no fault of our own, repentance helps.
Let me share with you some poetry about an invasion of grasshoppers (called “locusts” when they swarm):
What the cutting locust left,
the swarming locust has eaten.
What the swarming locust left,
the hopping locust has eaten,
and what the hopping locust left,
the destroying locust has eaten.
Wake up, you drunkards, and weep;
and wail, all you wine-drinkers,
over the sweet wine,
for it is cut off from your mouth (Joel 1:4-5).
Do not read this as a diatribe against drinking. Rather, a herd of grasshoppers consumes their crops and gets into their cupboards and beds. It is a catastrophe. It is nobody’s fault.
Translate the call for drunkards to wake up as a call to drop the usual half-dreaming consciousness of daily existence and pay attention. Catastrophes, even no-fault ones, occasion returning to reality and focusing on what’s important.
When reality overwhelms you, return to the deeper reality of God’s love.
They could not fix this. So how to face it? By letting go of the things that once seemed so important, letting go of the accoutrements of pride, and returning to the most fundamental reality of their lives — the welcoming arms of God:
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
and relents from punishing (Joel 2:12-13).
I do not know why God allows such things to happen. But I know that God suffers with us. I do not think that God likes for us to suffer. But I do think God’s love ultimately gets the last word.
“Repentance” means, “turn around” or “return” whether you are guilty or not. When you return to God, forsaking all obstacles between yourself and God’s love, you get in touch with that love, with reality which, by grace, will come together for the good.
Hold Your Head Up and Practice Confession
The Prodigal Next Door
Mercy Lies at the Heart of Things
Post-Election Resolution: Clean Out the Inner Attic
How I Will Celebrate the Presidential Inauguration of Donald Trump