“Repent” is a religious word I’ve heard most of my life, and to this day, it still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand with fright. As a child, I heard the call to repent burst from the lips of many a revival preacher.
With the evangelist’s bulging carotids, burning eyes, and angry finger pointing, I could feel the fires of hell licking at my heels. With “turn or burn, get right or get left,” as a vital piece of my spirituality, I repented every chance I got (whether I needed it or not).
But for most, this kind of intensity is reserved for the sandwich-board-prophets of our time; those walking the streets with the declaration that “The End Is Near.” Or sometimes you find a wild-eyed television evangelist furiously condemning immorality.
Many proponents of organized religion are very angry, and sometimes ruthlessly so, taking real pleasure in pounding the pulpit, and they can hardly wait for God’s consuming wrath to fall on the ungodly. Repentance is thrown out there as a lifeline, but secretly, I don’t know if they really want anyone to actually escape. How could some religionists be happy for all eternity if they knew that all the sinners, heretics, and reprobates weren’t actually burning in hell somewhere?
Still, we should not let the fuming fundamentalists of the world rob us of a good word: Repent. Yes, we must repent. But what does that mean? It means we must change our minds or turn around. It means the direction we are heading is a dead end, so we start over.
It means the thoughts we are constructing are destructive. It means we recognize that the way we are living is not life at all. Sure, we preachers like to use the word in the context of lying, cheating, stealing, and such, but I don’t think it is that simplistic.
True repentance is to completely forsake one way of life and take up another. Repentance means our hardness of heart is replaced by compassion; vengeance is replaced by forgiveness; those we despised because of their race or color or gender are now accepted; and where there was greed, now is found generosity.
A couple of years ago a friend of mine decided he wanted to do more camping, to get out and experience the great outdoors. He went out and bought this huge, grotesque recreational vehicle that was a rolling luxury home. Satellite television; queen-sized bed; stainless steel appliances; Berber carpet; surround sound. This vehicle was a technological masterpiece, and I was scandalized.
If you’re going to go camping, go camping. Strap on a backpack. Hike a few hills and feel the burn in your thighs and in your lungs. Eat out of a can. Sit around a camp fire. Sleep in a tent with a stream lulling you to sleep. Swat bugs. Count the blisters on your feet every night. That’s camping.
RVs are great, but don’t roll around the countryside in such a limousine and call it “camping.” So I said to my friend, “Russ, you can go to the woods and never leave home!” He answered, “That’s the idea.”
We live our lives the same way. Yes, we need to change some things – our attitudes, our priorities, our biases – we need to repent. Instead, we often just rearrange the furniture, change our surroundings a bit, or adjust the landscape. But our way of life remains the same.
Do you have relationship troubles? Well, just change partners. Is your career in the toilet? Change jobs. Have you grown tired of the troubles at home? Change houses. You can do all of these things and succeed in only taking your dysfunction down the road with you, never experiencing anything that resembles transformation.
Repentance is not about saying a prayer or complying with the wishes of some wild-eyed preacher. It is about conversion. It is about a fundamental change in who you are, not just a change of scenery. Ultimately, it is about becoming who you were always made to be.