For its Bible study, my church is going through The Easter Experience: What If What Happened Then Changes Everything Now? The topic of last night’s lesson was regret vs. repentance. Judas regretted betraying Jesus, and he tried to make up for what he did by returning the pieces of silver that he got for the betrayal. But he could not undo what he had done, and he felt a great deal of guilt. Consequently, he killed himself. (Or so says Matthew’s Gospel. The Book of Acts appears to tell a different story!)
Peter also betrayed Jesus in that he denied him three times, but he did not try to make up for his sin all by himself. Rather, he came to Jesus, and Jesus forgave and restored him, as well as gave him a mission: to feed Jesus’ sheep. The pastor on the DVD that we watched told a story about a college student who majored in partying, and his grades and Christian walk were really suffering. He called his parents, and they told him to come home. The pastor was saying that this is what repentance is: it’s coming home. We’re going home to the God who welcomes us, loves us, and made us.
This was a slightly different understanding of repentance from what I have gotten in the past. Repentance has often been presented to me as changing the course in which one lives his or her life: a person stops sinning and starts doing good. In the Hebrew, the word for repentance is teshuvah, which means to turn. But the lesson last night made me think that perhaps I should not see repentance as me pulling myself up by my bootstraps and getting my life in order. Rather, it is me turning to God. It is me coming home. A righteous life accompanies that, granted, but I like seeing repentance in more of a relational sense.
The lesson asked why many people try to fix their own problems after making a mistake rather than turning to Jesus. I did not speak up in group, but I think that one reason is that we believe that receiving God’s forgiveness somehow trivializes the evil of what we did. We feel that we have to take care of the problem, and that this is better than us just going around blithely thinking that God has forgiven us. There are plenty of people who have caused damage to others, yet they walk around feeling good because they believe that God has forgiven them. Does that trivialize their evil? Forgiveness does not have to be seen as something cheap, however. Christianity states that it came at the cost of Jesus’ life. In the area of interpersonal relationships, there are things that people can do to make restitution: they can pay back what they owe, they can apologize, or they can take steps not to repeat the offending behavior.
Another consideration: There are times when I do something wrong—-say, I lose my temper and tell someone off—-and I feel guilty when I come into God’s presence. That may be a reason that people try to fix their own problems after making a mistake rather than going to Jesus: they feel guilty and inadequate to enter God’s presence. I knew a couple, and they ordinarily prayed before meals. When they got into a fight and were about to eat a meal, however, they skipped the prayer part. They may have felt that they could not contaminate the purity of a religious act with their own flaws, that to do so would be hypocrisy on their part. I do not think that such guilt is entirely bad: there are Scriptures about how sins can hinder our prayers. At the same time, I believe it is important that I see God as my ally, not my enemy. God is rooting for me in the sense that God wants me to get back up and try again. God is there to support and to restore me. So, if I tell someone off, I can come to God afterwards, and he will love me and forgive me. But that should not be an excuse for me to avoid offering the person I told off an apology!