Repent? Sure, but its not what you think.

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the church will enter  Lent, a season based on repentance and atonement as Christians prepare for Holy Week

But what’s this thing called “repentance“? 

 “Repent” and “repentance” are words that have largely kept me away from church.  Repent for my sins or burn in hell? No thank you.   Most American Christians have seemingly come to define “repentance” as “Ask God for the forgiveness of your sins or you will probably burn in hell.”    Just check out the

I’m just trying my best to support my family, be part of an active Christian community, develop some meaningful friendships, and do some good in the world.   That’s not enough? 

Fortunately though,  most of us and most Christians  have no idea what we are talking about.   Theologian Marcus Borg writes about repentance:

The biblical meaning of “repentance” is quite different from an apology. In the Jewish Bible, the Christian Old Testament, “repentance” means “to return” – that is, to return from exile, to return to life in the presence of God, to a life centered in God.

In the Christian New Testament, the word “repentance” carries this meaning, and one more. The roots of the Greek word for “repentance” mean “to go beyond the mind that you have.”

So apology and repentance, forgiveness and repentance, are quite different. Apology and forgiveness do not in themselves imply change. Repentance does.

So what does this mean for us?   What does it mean to return from exile? What does it mean to “go beyond the mind that you have”?

I think that it starts with understanding that mass culture and consumerism  have shaped for most of us  a particular worldview. In a 21st century, middle class American context, to “go beyond the mind that you have” and to “return to life in the presence of God” means not offering weak apologies for screwing up.  It means to change the way you  look at the world, to change the way you look at your neighbor, the poor, the rich, the middle class.  

Its conversation that I want to keep having during this season of Lent.


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