Repenting Doesn’t Mean Feeling Like Crap About Yourself

1434320341_ca433561cc_zWe’ve all heard the sidewalk preachers and TV Evangelists quoting the Gospels, telling us to “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” It’s a claim that is generally intended to strike fear and trembling in the hearts of many. We’re supposed to straighten up, do right, and atone for all of our heinous, sinful ways.

If you went to my kind of church growing up, there wasn’t a sermon that went by that you didn’t hear the pastor say something like, “the end could be today, tomorrow or next week. So you’d better beg for forgiveness, get right with the Lord, or risk getting ‘left behind.'”

It’s not unlike a mother’s warning to make sure, if you ever get into some horrendous car accident, to make sure you have on clean underwear.

The season of Lent is a time of reflection and repentance, yes. But we’ve come to misunderstand both what it means to repent, and what Jesus is talking about when he foretells of God’s coming Kingdom.

As for the latter, Jesus preached to some degree about the afterlife, yes. But his Kingdom-talk primarily was focused on us, on receiving and co-creating God’s Kingdom vision for ALL of us, here and now, in our very midst. So rather than talking about some hellfire apocalyptic end-times, he’s urging us to open our eyes, to see what’s right in front of us:

We can have what he, what God, long for us. To live in a world inspired and living into the Kingdom possibilities just there, nearly within our reach if we’ll only claim it and risk everything to fulfill it.

Second, repentance is another one of those great words we’ve made ugly by co-opting as a tool for fear-mongering and intimidation. To repent actually means to “turn around.” It’s about reorienting one’s perspective, one’s way of looking at all of creation and one another. It’s about living into a reality moved by compassion and unconditional love, rather than one fueled by relentless desire.

It making the shift, in turning around toward this orientation of love – this practice of “orthopathy,” I wrote about in my last post, we find the Kingdom of God right there, in the palm of our hands.

It takes practice, mindfulness, a radical shift in worldly thinking and practice. But in this forty or so days leading up to the culmination of Lent, it’s a practice worth taking on, however you engage it.

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

That’s good news. For all. That’s Gospel.

Follow Christian’s current year-long effort to more deeply and authentically follow Jesus at MyJesusProject.com. Join the conversation and share how you’re trying to follow Jesus in your daily walk.

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  • You say, “To repent actually means to ‘turn around.’ It’s about reorienting one’s perspective, one’s way of looking at all of creation and one another. It’s about living into a reality moved by compassion and unconditional love, rather than one fueled by relentless desire.” This is so freeing because changing my eyes, how I see the world, can be as important as changing my behavior.

    I just read in The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, where the Dalai Lama says, “The difference in one’s vision of human nature can mean the difference between living in world filled with fellow human beings who are perceived as hostile, violent and dangerous or as essentially kid, helpful and gentle. A deep awareness of the essential goodness of human beings can give us courage and hope” (125). I think the fundamentalist teaching of human’s wretchedness can set us up for difficult relationships because we are set up to look for people not behaving well, instead of looking for people’s behaving in tune with their being made in the image of God.

    (I do believe that we are sinners, that that is one way Judeo/Christianity is brilliant as far as describing human nature, because we do fall short, but I’m not sure that we are as wretched as the preachers in my childhood drove me to think and feel.)

    Kathleen Norris wrote in Acedia and Me that the Seven Deadly Sins were the seven deadly bad thoughts. So maybe it’s our bad thoughts, our fear, our misperceptions we need to turn around.

    • Christian Piatt

      sounds like an enlightening path to me!

  • Steve

    Actually the Greek word for “repent” means “change your mind.”

  • Really great insight! I feel like for a lot of years I had a skewed perspective of what it means to repent. I’m just now getting around to processing what it actually means.