It’s still Lent. And I’m starting to get tired of it.
I’ve mourned the loss of God.
I’ve accused God.
I’ve felt solidarity with the suffering of others.
I’ve wanted to stop believing.
I’ve served others.
I’ve created art and worshipped.
I’ve been buoyed by Lauds and Compline.
But that’s not why I’m getting tired of Lent. I’m getting tired of it because I’m hungry.
And I like bacon.
And I want to watch The West Wing.
And now I’ve broken all of my fasts at least once.
But there is another aspect of Lent that I’ve pretty much avoided, and that is repentance.
* * *
I pretty much don’t like talking about repentance because such discussions are framed in my mind in terms of penal substitutionary atonement—a model for the atonement I reject because in it God is a monster.
Growing up, it’s the only model I ever heard:
God made everything good.
Our first parents disobeyed God’s command.
All subsequent humans have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”
God is a perfect and holy God and cannot abide sin.
Justice requires that sinners burn in Hell forever.
Fortunately, God loves us so much that he developed a plan to save us from himself.
Jesus, God’s son, stepped between us and God’s wrath at sin. He took the punishment.
—–special Church of Christ twist—–
In order to accept this salvation you must go through the five steps to salvation.
1. Hear the Gospel sincerely preached. (Rom. 10:14)
2. Believe on the the Lord Jesus Christ. (Act. 16:31)
3. Repent of your sins. (Act. 2:38)
4. Confess with your mouth that Jesus was raised from the dead. (Rom. 10:9)
5. Be baptized for the remission of sins by full bodily immersion in water. (Mark 16:15-16)
There was a sixth step that was debated, but when it was included, it wasn’t included as part of salvation but as a step after salvation (generally).
6. Be faithful unto death. (1 Tim. 4:16)
For the record, I don’t think I ever sat through explicit teaching on the five steps at the church I grew up in, though I certainly did at various youth events and other churches. In any case, what I did hear taught was essentially the same. Namely, that I must recognize that my sin merits me eternal torment in Hell, I must repent of my sin to God and others, and I must trust Jesus for post-mortem salvation—the essential step here being baptism.
* * *
In this model, God saves us from himself by beating up his son. I must repent so that Jesus gets beat up instead of me. Repentance was, for me, about feeling remorseful for a certain action, vowing to never do that action again, and then never doing it again.
Moreover, I spent a good part of my life after coming to faith at the age of sixteen (and I don’t blame anyone for this really; it just happened I guess) repenting over and over to God begging him to help me resist temptation. I repeatedly asked God to forgive me for demeaning the sacrifice of his son with my sinful transgressions. I apologized on more than one occasion for being the crap on the bottom of God’s shoe. Because, you know, if you keep on sinning even after knowing the truth, then you’ve used up all the sacrifice that there can be and are going to Hell. (Heb. 10:26). I finally concluded that I wasn’t really repenting. And repentance is number 3 on the steps, so it looked like I was out.
Right? I was pretty messed up.
Having come out of this in the last half of college (really since studying abroad), I’ve been really adamant about avoiding discussions of repentance.
I would talk about “taking responsibility” for my actions.
I would apologize to others if I harmed them.
But I would avoid repentance as I understood it.
* * *
But in Lent we repent of our sins. That word cannot be avoided. At the Ash Wednesday service I went to at Highland, the worship minister lead us in a series of confessions taken from the Book of Common Prayer. The repentance was from sin, but sin was not a legal infraction meriting eternal Hell as I had grown up understanding it:
Sin was intemperance. Or negligence.
Sin was folly and sin was failure.
Sin was mean spirited and malicious.
Sin was uncharitable and hypocritical.
Sin was a disruption of web of relationships. It was the breaking of shalom.
The confession that sticks most in my mind is this one:
For all false judgments, for uncharitable thoughts toward our
neighbors, and for our prejudice and contempt toward those
who differ from us, Accept our repentance, Lord.
And repentance is a plea to God for restoration. A request for him to heal the rip.
Repentance is trusting that the darkness, negligence, ignorance, folly, failure, intemperance, malice, judgement, and hypocrisy will be overwhelmed by love.
The opposite of sin is not obedience to commands. The opposite of sin is love.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7)
And it is willingly participating in that process of restoration.
* * *
Restore us, good Lord, and let your anger depart from us;
Favorably hear us, for your mercy is great.
Accomplish in us the work of your salvation,
That we may show forth your glory in the world.
By the cross and passion of your Son our Lord,
Bring us with all your saints to the joy of his resurrection.