Tag Archives | repentance

Sin is an Adverb | Abraham J. Heschel

Abraham J. HeschelTo the prophets, sin is not an ultimate, irreducible or independent condition, but rather a disturbance in the relationship between God and man; it is an adverb not a noun, a condition that can be surmounted by man’s return and God’s forgiveness.

—Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 295.

Psalm 51 and Lent

Ash Wednesday is here again. As a pentecostal minister with an abnormal affection for liturgy, I was determined not to miss the season of Lent this time around. The problem is, what could I do that would be meaningful?

Rachel Held Evans posted 40 great ideas that started my mind whirling. I almost jumped into the 40 days of water idea. Something about it didn’t sit right with me, though (nothing wrong with the charity—it just wasn’t for me this time around).

This morning during prayer I realized the importance of confession during Lent, and what better scripture to go to than Psalm 51? I decided that this Lenten season I’m going to study and memorize Psalm 51. To help me with that task I’ve whipped up a series of 9 desktop backgrounds with the scripture on it (from the ESV).

If you feel like joining me in this, here are the files: Psalm 51 Desktop Background. I made them for my own desktop, so the resolution’s 1440×900.

Ezekiel 43:10-11: First Things

Confession is a divine sadness
which leads to divine joy.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Repentance.

It sounds very religious. Somewhat medieval. Definitely uninspiring.

We’re told daily to look to the future, to move on, to leave the past behind. But God challenged Israel to take the past seriously. It wasn’t as simple as moving on for her—it’s not that simple for us, either.

A few decades earlier in Israel’s history, King Josiah tried to move on. He instituted reforms and endeavored to set Israel free from the idols she insisted on worshiping. It didn’t work. Josiah died, and Israel slid back into her old habits like a drunk to a bottle, like a junkie to a needle, like a glutton to a buffet.

It’s impossible to move on until the past is acknowledged and dealt with. First things first.

. . .

God’s words sound harsh, but medicine doesn’t always taste good. God was interested in healing and restoration, not in some temporal metaphysical hedonism.

Describe the temple to the house of Israel, and let them measure the pattern; and let them be ashamed of their iniquities. (v. 10, NRSV, emphasis mine)

Ouch. At first glance, it almost seems like God’s indulging in a little bit of “I told you so”. Dig deeper and you realize God is reminding Israel of this necessary step: repentance. Israel sinned and was judged. God returned to his temple, and called Israel to return too.  The final impediment was Israel’s attitude.

When they are ashamed of all that they had done, make known to them the plan of the temple. (v. 11, NRSV, emphasis mine)

Repentance was not something that God required for his sake—it was for Israel’s sake. She couldn’t move on until she felt ashamed and repented. Then a new and restored life with God could begin.

. . .

Repentance is not something God requires of us for his own sake, either. Repentance is a tough medicine that helps us.

Being ashamed isn’t a lot of fun, but it’s necessary. I think it was C. S. Lewis that said the proud could not see God, because they were too busy looking down on others to look up. It’s impossible for us to move ahead in our relationships with God, until we’re ready to acknowledge our inadequacies and look up for help.

I like the way Mike Roe said it: “Look up, for crying out loud”.

. . .

Lord God, thank you for your tough love. Grant me the humility to accept it.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 43:7b-9 | Corpses of Kings

Ezekiel 43:12-27 | Starting Over >

Ezekiel 33:10-20: God’s Logic

The word of cheap grace
has been the ruin of more Christians
than any commandment of works.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (The Cost of Discipleship)

Have you ever been so inundated with bad news that it became impossible to even visualize a way out of the problem? I feel this way when I look at the situation in the Middle East today. If you watch any of the news networks, all you seem to hear is horrible news. The odd gesture for peace seems to have the permanency of a sand castle built beside the ocean at low tide.

Ezekiel’s exiles must have felt something like this. After years of bad news—war, famine, siege, slaughter, and the list goes on—they started to believe that God was a little capricious. To put it in the exile’s words:

Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us,
and we waste away because of them;
how then can we live?
(v. 10, NRSV)

Those words are an expression of hopelessness.  Their question is not genuine, but rhetorical. The term “waste away” is so devastating, it was also used of gangrenous flesh!

Any restorative element of God’s judgment would be completely lost if the exiles just decided to walk away in their depression. Ezekiel borrowed some of the words he spoke earlier (18:21-30) and modified them significantly to help his people see God’s logic.

. . .

The overarching thrust of this passage is plain:

As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel? (v. 11, NRSV)

That is a remarkable statement. We could understand if God said “I have no pleasure in the death of the righteous.” But, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” is revolutionary. God’s justice as executed in judgment is not something God enjoys. He is not some bloodthirsty deity shuffling human pawns around. Even God as revealed in the Old Testament is a God of mercy who hates to see even wicked people die.

. . .

God’s logic is listed more clearly in the verses that follow. Let me paraphrase: “If a wicked person turns and lives righteously, his wickedness will not be remembered. If a righteous person turns and starts living wickedly, his righteousness will not be remembered.” Pretty simple, right?

All people had to do was leave their defeatist mindset and start living righteously.

This raises the question of faith and good works. These two ideas are so closely interlocked in this passage, to speak of them separately is difficult. The turning that is spoken of is to righteousness—to trust in God. That trust in God will naturally lead to and be shown by good works. Some of those works include:

  • Restore the pledge
  • Give back what they robbed
  • Live the way God showed them in the Torah
  • Stop sinning

God has a way out for everyone—if they would just turn to him.

. . .

Merciful God, thank you for your patience in restoring people to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 33:1-9 | Going Public

Ezekiel 33:21-22 | Ezekiel’s Freedom >

Ezekiel 8:16-18: Solar Cult

Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
O praise Him! O praise Him!
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
— St. Francis of Assisi (All Creatures of Our God and King)

Repentance is a key concept throughout scripture.  Biblical repentance can be understood as a two-part movement.  You need to turn away from sin, and turn to God.  By their actions, the Jewish people of Ezekiel’s day had repented of their fidelity to Yahweh.

When God showed Ezekiel the first three parts of the vision in chapter 8 (the statue, the 70 false gods, the women weeping for Tammuz), God warned Ezekiel that he would see even greater atrocities. This is the greatest atrocity.

Ezekiel notes the physical location of the people precisely.  They at the entrance of Yahweh’s temple, with their backs to Yahweh so they can worship the sun in the east.  If you want to visualize what was happening, they were bowing down to the east, while at the same time saluting Yahweh with their backsides.  Does that image make you shudder?

. . .

It’s interesting to note, however, that this was not the final insult that drove God to destroy them.  Religious apostasy was a very serious crime, but even more serious was the civil violence Israel was inciting outside of Jerusalem.
God said, “Is it not bad enough that the house of Judah commits the abominations done here?  Must they fill the land with violence, and provoke my anger still further?” (v. 17, NRSV).  This is an incredibly selfless statement on God’s behalf. God is more concerned with injustice toward the surrounding nations than he is for crimes against himself.

. . .

I think we see things backwards.  We (somewhat subconsciously) believe that we need to be careful to worship God properly, and to attend church faithfully.  Life outside the church is important, but not as important as the worship of God.  God would have us reverse our thinking.  God views our daily interactions outside the church as more important than the way we behave in the sanctuary.

How do we behave outside church?  Are we honest, fair, kind, and all those other qualities that are supposed to mark a Christian—even in our dealings with unbelievers?  Or do we ‘take our liberty’ knowing that Sunday is coming when we will make everything right with God again?

. . .

Lord, make us transparent.  Help us to be the same people outside the church building that we are inside—for your glory.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

< Ezekiel 8:14-15 | Fisher-King

Ezekiel 9:1-7 | Judgment Begins >

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