Friday, March 23, 2007

Repentance

Over in the comments at Father Jake's, John F. and I got into a very interesting discussion where I explained why I had come to believe that homosexual activity (at least between faithful, committed partners) is not a sin. Here's what I said:

But what really changed my mind was this:

While he was hanging on the cross, Jesus asked God to forgive us for the unforgiveable.

There were no conditions there about "But only if they get down on their knees and beg you and amend their wicked, wicked ways!" Jesus asked for unrequested forgiveness for the worst sin ever committed. He returned love for hate.

If that is the case, then what do you think Jesus would do about love? If he was willing to offer unmerited forgiveness for the murder of God Incarnate, do you REALLY think he is going to send people to eternal damnation for daring to love one another and trying to demonstrate that love and commitment with the blessing of the community of faith?

If you do believe that, there is an unbridgable divide between us. A God who will send people to Hell for loving one another is not worthy of worship in my book---that God is a monster.

My God is the one who looked down from the piece of wood to which he was nailed---broken, bleeding, wracked with pain---and granted un-asked-for absolution and unmerited forgiveness. My God is the one who loves--wastefully, recklessly, completely. My God is not a black leather book---my God is Jesus Christ,who, with the Father and the Holy Spirit *IS* worthy of worship, now and forever.
And then John came back and asked me a very good question:
What of the necessity of repentence? I have heard you proclaim your orthodoxy. The idea that we can obtain salvation without repentence troubles me and seems very unorthodox....How does repentence fit into your self proclaimed orthodoxy?
I started writing and writing---and decided I wouldn't inflict my cogitations on the denizens at Jake's place, but move them here. So this is my response to John...

John--I guess I would have to say that it isn't my idea. Unless you think God refused Jesus' plea from the cross?

What do you think was going on at Calvary? What do you make of Jesus' call for absolution without repentance?

As for as the role of repentance in our own lives---*I* certainly feel the need to repent and ask forgiveness.

I confess that I've never sat down and worked out a theological position on that issue, so take this for the off-the-cuff reaction to your wonderful question that it is.

I suspect the desire for/need for repentance has to do with humanity's innate need (one I believe is God-given) for relationship. When harm has been done, and a breach in relationship has occurred, many of us feel the need to repair that breach. Ruptured relationships often cause agonizing pain, and we learn that the best way to alleviate that pain is by acknowledging our own fault in the situation and apologizing.

I think we are called to repentance because WE need it---not because God does. It reminds us that we are not God, and---in our limited human way---it allows us to "get out of our own way" and reestablish the relationship with God that is broken by our self-centered turning away from God (which is what most sins are, I think).

Repentance turns our focus back to God--enabling us to fulfill the commandment to love God with all our hearts, souls, and minds.

I believe that God desperately wants a relationship with us. That is probably the most heterodox aspect of my “personal” theology, quite frankly—but I can't understand the Incarnation without reference to that idea.

Our sin--our focus on ourselves, rather than on God-- is what gets in the way of that relationship. Repentance is a way of acknowledging that our relationship is impeded somehow---and of reopening on our end the floodgates of grace.

You see, I believe that God is always trying to shower grace on us. Repentance just allows us to experience that eternal “baptism,” if you will, of God’s love for us. Enables us to put away our umbrellas and experience the joy, like little kids splashing in the puddles of a summer downpour. (Did you ever do that? Do you remember how wonderful it felt?)

I believe that God hates sin because it interferes in His longing to be in relationship with us. It is forever a distraction, and it kills what COULD be the unalloyed joy of union between God and humanity---and replaces it with cheap, unfulfilling substitutes that can never make us truly happy.

So…there’s my theology of repentance…written on a paper napkin. Repentance is for our benefit. God has already forgiven before we even ask, because He loves us and wants to be in relationship with us. If this were not the case, what was the Incarnation for?