This is the fifth post in a series on Lenten reflections. You can find part one, the prelude, here. Part two, an overview about the six weeks of Lent and what it offers, can be found here. The third, a post about the communal nature of fasting, can be found here. And the fourth, the value of alms giving can be found here.
A recent Catholic mystic had a vision of walking with Jesus. She said that He took her to Purgatory. Unlike what she was expecting, Purgatory was a beautiful place, filled with valleys and flowers, a crystal-clear river, and brilliant, bright sunshine. But she found people along a walking path who were crying out in pain. As they walked, she asked Jesus, “Why don’t you help these people? Why don’t you forgive them?”
“I have forgiven them,” He said. “They haven’t forgiven themselves.”
And with that, Jesus bent down, looked at one of them, and with the compassion found in His eyes, they got up, and walked further down the path.
The obsession with sin — defining it; being freed from it; explaining it — has caused ridiculous confusion about who God is, and what humans relationship to God should look like, especially in the past 200-300 years. We’ve so messed this idea up that I don’t know if there is any other way to keep someone from running into God’s arms more than to accuse them of sin. It invites a fight.
But it wasn’t supposed to be that way.
In spite of our misunderstanding, the idea of sin, and subsequently repentance, was supposed to be a beautiful understanding of the human condition. Because sin, according to the old teachers of the law, is “a break in the shalom”* – a disruption in how it’s supposed to be.
Sin is our human condition then. It’s life interrupted. And therefore, repentance is supposed to be an invitation; a returning to something that was already offered. A return to paradise.
In other words, sin is the stuff that stops us from freedom — freedom of exploration, freedom of expression, and freedom in relationship. And repentance is accepting more — more exploration, more expression, more relationship.
Sin is something that we’ll torture ourselves over later. We’ll see how things could have been for us and for others and we’ll be just devastated. Sin is not something that we’ll be shamed FOR, then, but something that we’ll be ashamed OF, and it’ll keep us from walking into the paths of paradise.With our best friend. For all of time.
The logical choice to turn away from that future is repentance then. It’s understanding that we’re not held to these shameful acts, and then choosing to accept forgiveness, the only way out.
Repentance is about reconnecting with Jesus’ great compassion and believing Him that He’ll restore shalom in another way, and then continuing to walk together towards something better.
When we talk about repenting during Lent, THIS is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about walking whatever path we need to to make sure we stay together. We’re talking about wanting shalom, for ourselves and for others. And being mindful to keep the shalom we have, no matter the cost.
During that process, may God be with you, inviting … beckoning …harkening in your heart for you to desire more of this shalom.
*This idea come from Cornelius Plantinga in his book Engaging God’s World, although I admit that I was introduced to it years ago in a talk by Robb Bell. In addition, many other writers have spoken on it, particularly in the past year, including Scott McKnight, NT Wright, and Kurt Willems.