Reflecting on Repentance

In June of 2016 I preached a sermon entitled, “Fear, Faith, and Confusion.” The sermon was rooted in Judges 6:33 – 7:23. In the context of that sermon, I suggested the following:

The confusion of God that has been described in Romans 1 is settling upon us. Christian professors with terminal degrees no longer can discern the difference between the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who became flesh in the Person of Jesus and the gods of other religions. We are now seeking God’s will for us in our natures, in the desires of our flesh, and in the passions of our own hearts.  Trust in words to communicate meaning has been so eroded, that many literary critics believe that texts and stories are simply mirrors which reflect ourselves.

Many, even believers, no longer can comprehend a difference between the teachings of the Prophets of Israel and the Apostles of Jesus and our own–essentially universalizing the idea of inspiration and God-breathedness, emptying the Christian Scriptures of their authority and their uniqueness.  These confusions are not just in the world.  They have permeated Christian communities, as well.  God’s judgment has come, and it is manifesting itself in our confusion.

I have been convinced for some time that the judgment of God has been falling upon North America. For me, the spirit of confusion that seems to have descended on both secular and Christian culture alike is fairly compelling evidence for this suspicion. However, the ‘coincidental’ nature of the complete solar eclipse crossing the continental United States, terminating in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of northern Africa followed by the fires in the northwest and in California combined with the magnitude 8 earthquake in Mexico combined with hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Katia, and Jose have led a number of pastors and religious leaders to associate these events with God’s judgment, as well.

So, is it reasonable to believe that God’s judgment has been falling upon North America? I think the answer is yes. Does that mean that God is sending each specific tragedy upon us? In my view, not necessarily. Some years ago I wrote a book entitled, When God Doesn’t Look Like God, and in chapter 3 of that book, I explored quite extensively the question of why God created such a dangerous world and why God has allowed us to be so vulnerable to its perils. In brief, what I have observed in that chapter is that the Christian Scriptures teach that the natural state of the universe is formlessness, chaoticness, darkness—in a word, lifeless. Life, according to the Prophets of Israel who wrote the First (or Old) Testament, is a consequence of the unnatural creative activity of God.

For the writers of Scripture, the more intimate creation’s relationship with God, the more orderly and safe creation is for God’s creatures. And, the inverse is also true: the more disconnected creation becomes from God, the more of the original chaos and lifelessness that returns. To put it more simply, when God withdraws, the forces of destruction pour into the void He leaves behind. Judgment, understood in this way, is a natural consequence of humanity’s pursuit of autonomy. My suspicion is that in response to our culture’s increasing rejection of the Christian God the One God of all creation has been quite graciously doing what our culture has been asking—God is withdrawing. And when God withdraws, life goes with Him.

When God withdraws, life goes with Him. Click To Tweet

For those of us who have remained faithful both to Jesus and to those God has chosen to speak to us on His behalf—the Prophets of Ancient Israel and the Apostles of Jesus whose teachings have been preserved for us in the Christian Bible—what is left for us to do? All that is left to us is to repent and to live submitted to God as He has been revealed to us through the Prophets of Israel, in the Person of Jesus, and through the Apostles Jesus elected to proclaim His Gospel to us.

Of what must we repent? The list is long, and it is long past time for true and sincere followers of Jesus to leave behind all that hinders along with the sin that has so easily entangled us. We must repent of our history of failing to treat all humans as beings made in the image of God and worthy of special honor, whether we’re speaking of our history of slavery, or of our justifications for racism, or of our culture’s treatment of the unborn, or of our treatment of those with mental illness, or of our treatment of those who live and behave in ways that we know to be inconsistent with God’s intention for humanity, or even of the conditions in which we place criminals or lawbreakers. Have we loved our neighbors as ourselves? Have we loved our enemies? Have we prayed for those who have persecuted us? Is it clear that we understand all human life to be life made in the image of God and worthy of special honor?

Forgive us, our Father, Who is in the heavens!

We must repent of our failure to submit ourselves to the ethics and instructions of God as they have been delivered to us by the prophets, and apostles, and by God-in-the-flesh—Jesus Himself. Though Jesus helps us to understand the spirit of the moral and ethical instructions which undergirded the first covenant God made with the people of Israel at Mount Sinai, we must repent of our attempts to use Jesus to deny the revelation of God to Israel and the persistence of the moral and ethical revelations of God to all nations through the prophets and apostles of Israel.

Forgive us, our Father, Who is in the heavens!

In the words of Jeremiah to all Gentile nations who receive any of the blessings God poured out on His people Israel:

14 Thus says the Lord concerning all my evil neighbors who touch the heritage that I have given my people Israel to inherit: I am about to pluck them up from their land, and I will pluck up the house of Judah from among them. 15 And after I have plucked them up, I will again have compassion on them, and I will bring them again to their heritage and to their land, every one of them. 16 And then, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, “As the Lord lives,” as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. 17 But if any nation will not listen, then I will completely uproot it and destroy it, says the Lord.[1]

We must repent of our failure to submit to God’s sexual instructions,  to God’s social instructions to defend the poor and the alien and the orphan, to God’s judicial instructions to seek and to do justice without respect to wealth or social status or citizenship or ethnicity, and to God’s relational instructions with respect to forgiveness and rage and envy and character assault.

Forgive us, our Father, Who is in the heavens!

There is so much more to mention, but it is because God’s own people called by God’s own name are turning from the fullness of what it means to follow Jesus that God’s discipline of distance is just and right to fall upon us. Might our repentance save or forestall the end of our culture? In Genesis 19 it would have taken only ten righteous people to move God to spare the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Might we pray for ten fully devoted followers of Jesus to arise in every village and town and city in our country?

Another Gentile city, the city of Nineveh, found the humility to repent in the wake of the specter of God’s judgment. We find the story in Jonah, chapter three:

When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.”

 10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.[2]

Our God is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. If these events truly are God’s discipline, then perhaps if we return to Him, God will return to us.

Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; ... so that we do not perish. Click To Tweet

Those who have ears to hear…

~ J. Thomas

[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Je 12:14–17.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jon 3:6–10.