It’s no secret that I like to write and speak about current issues – be they ethical, moral, political or whatever. It’s important to me to connect my Christian faith with the things people are talking about and experiencing in life, and not to be automatically AGAINST everything, which sadly is the message some Christians send.
If you read my blogs and social media posts you’ll realise that not everyone appreciates or agrees with my opinions and statements on these issues – and that’s fine! But one comment I see time and again from well-meaning Christian people is that “they” (“they” being whoever I’m writing about) need to REPENT.
I spent the first few years of my Christian journey in a small Pentecostal church. What they lacked in size they made up for in legalism and, every Sunday morning and evening, we’d get a healthy dose of it in the sermon as well as in “prophetic” words shouted from the platform. God seemed to be permanently angry with us, and we simply weren’t good enough – ever! We all knew what “REPENT” meant – God was ticked and we needed to change. I get a similar impression from the comments I receive on blogs and Facebook posts that, “They need to repent.”
Now I’m not downplaying the importance of repentance to the Christian Gospel. The word is found almost 80 times in the Bible, so it’s obviously a significant thing to God. But exactly what does it mean to repent? Is God angry and shouting like my first pastor or does repentance indicate something kinder and gentler?
In the Hebrew tradition, in which the Bible has captured, the word translated as repentance is Teshuvah and means, “to return home.” In Judaism and Christianity, this returning home is, “coming back into intimacy with the Father.” Jesus beautifully illustrated the concept of Teshuvah in the parable of the lost (prodigal) son (Luke 15:11-32). Notice that in the story the prodigal is motivated to return home because he’d run out of money and was starving. He rehearsed a speech that he never got to finish because all he needed to do was return home to his Father who was looking out for his son. The Father ran to him, embraced him, gave him a ring and a robe and threw a party. The Father wasn’t angry with him; didn’t ask for an account of where he spent his inheritance or how many women he had sex with, and he didn’t ask his son to grovel and beg for forgiveness. I repeat, all the son had to do was return home (Teshuvah) and relax in the intimacy, grace and unconditional love of his Father.
Great joy and celebration should accompany Teshuvah – just as it was in Jesus’ parable. The Father told his grumpy oldest son, (who reminds me of some of those who comment on my blogs and posts), “we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” When we’ve sinned and gone astray, it’s so easy for us to fall into regret, depression, helplessness, hopelessness and extreme sadness. I saw people do that in the church I mentioned earlier and I’ve seen children do that when it seems they can never please a parent: “If I can never be good enough then why bother trying?” Some people bring that attitude to their relationship with God and certain “Christian” teaching only reinforces this. I’ve seen people walk away from God because they see Him as unappeasable, angry and relentlessly demanding.
Remorse for our sin is important, as is an awareness of how we’ve hurt God, others and ourselves, but all of this should only drive us to return home and, when we do, our gracious Father is waiting with open arms.