One of the biggest schisms in the church today boils down to repentance. Determining which sins require repentance, what repentance really looks like, and whether we’ve “repented enough” or not suck up the majority of some people’s spiritual lives. Do we have a time of repentance in worship every week? Do we need to lead people in a prayer of sincere repentance before Communion? How do we determine whether someone’s repentance is sincere or just lip service? We have a deep need to control other’s repentance, don’t we?
While David writes Ps. 51 as a psalm of repentance, in it we can learn much about repentance that we may be confused about.
First, repentance is not the act of saying the right words, uttering the magic mantra, “Lord, forgive me, a sinner.” I have been told, in a conversation about suicide, that since the person does not have time to repent of killing themselves, they are going to hell. Inevitably, they then go on to describe a situation where they can repent – taking pills with a delayed effect, jumping off a tall enough building – and decide that this is the way to go for those who wish to do so. It displays a deeply flawed view of repentance, one that is common but unspoken, that of the “magic mantra”. As long as I say the right words, God forgives and I’m heaven-bound.
Second, repentance is not the act of self-hate, realizing how low and scummy and sinful we are and hating ourselves for it. A video by an artist called SomeGreyBloke speaks to this well from an atheist’s confused perspective. Repentance is not about how horrible, sinful, or low we are. In fact, it isn’t about us at all. It’s about…
Repentance is the act of proclaiming the truth that God is perfect, I am not, and I need Him to be the person He created me to be. Repentance is not a focus on me at all; it is focused on God and His greatness. When I take my eyes off myself and my decrepit state and instead focus them on God, I have hope that things can be better, and vision to work toward making them so through God’s will.