Archive for May 25th, 2012
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 3:2 NASB
Repent – Repentance is the first step to becoming human again (see yesterday’s Today’s Word). Since it is now a vital issue for every homo sapien, we need to explore the concept and process of repentance a bit more. It’s no longer just a religious idea about getting right with God. Now it’s a concern about who I really am. Without repentance, I cut myself off from the purpose of God and that purpose is to be uniquely human in the world. In other words, one of the dynamics of being human is to be purposeful. To be in God’s image is to be purposeful about God’s intentions for me. When I either do not know what those intentions are or I do not pursue those intentions even if I know what they are, then I make of myself something other than “in His image.” Repentance is the way back.
The Bible sees repentance as more than simply confession and request for forgiveness. Repentance must be followed by atonement and atonement by transformation. Unless atonement and transformation are consequences of repentance, then repentance has not occurred. That’s why regret is not the same as repentance. Regret is remorse for what I have done (usually because my actions have caused me pain and suffering). Regret proclaims that I wish I had not done what I did. But regret is not the determination to never do these acts again. Regret is feeling sorry, contrite or even lament over past behavior but it does not necessarily redirect future actions. It might make us much more careful, but it doesn’t have to change our direction. Repentance is a change in the moral compass – or it is nothing at all.
How can we tell the difference? “If the sinner repents the sin, atones, and attains reconciliation with God, the sin is wiped off the record, the sinner forgiven, and the sinners’ successors rendered blameless. The mark of repentance comes to the surface when the one-time sinner gains the chance to repeat the sinful deed but does not do so; then the repentance is complete.”
The Jewish concept of repentance is much like the Jewish concept of education. I have not learned anything if I can repeat the facts, do the calculations, recite the text. I have only learned when what I have absorbed changes the way I live. Until that moment, no true education has occurred no matter how many courses I have taken. So it is with repentance. Until I no longer do what I used to do, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbl_cZ4OhMo&feature=related) repentance is only a word in the lexicon. It is not a reality in my life nor are its consequences a reality with the community and with God. Teshuvah requires altered behavior. There is no way around it. To believe is not to gather mental or spiritual stowage. To believe is to change direction.
Topical Index: repent, teshuvah, transformation, Matthew 3:2
 Jacob Neusner, Judaism When Christianity Began, p. 154.