Repentance- for many, it’s a pretty odd word. It may conjur images of archaic practices or a “beat yourself up in Jesus’ name” mentality. We don’t talk about repentance much these days, do we?
In Jesus Mean and Wild, author Mark Galli discusses the challenge of repentance in American culture:
I look at myself some days and it’s hard to imagine that I am a miserable offender and that there is no health in me [as the Book of Common Prayer suggests]. I go to church. I read my Bible. I help at the homeless shelter once a month. At home, I do the dishes, take out the trash, and don’t beat my children. I don’t even ground them. Most nights, when I close my day with prayer (see there, regular prayer—another jewel in my crown), I usually have nothing but peccadilloes to confess—a little sloth here, some impatience there.
For others the problem with repentance runs deeper. They have been raised in legalistic environments and carry around a guilt-laden backpack that would bend the knees of a Himalayan Sherpa. And most of the guilt, they realize, is neurotic—not based on any real transgression, but the product of defective discipleship. Years of “Christian nurture” has contorted their souls. So after drinking a glass of wine or failing to say the rosary or breaking one of a thousand other man-made religious taboos, they cannot shake the pangs of miserable guilt. If this is what repentance conjures up, they are right to want nothing of it.
Others still fight not false guilt but spiritual despair. They believe, rightly so, that true religion is about love and grace. But they’ve heard a rumor that the Lord is a holy God, and they suspect that they just may be miserable sinners. So they spend their days making sure these two combustible ideas never mix—something repentance tries to do—because if they ever did, such people fear that the resulting explosion would blow their faith to smithereens.
Add to this the twentieth-century fascination with self-esteem and a society hooked on affirmation steroids, and it is no wonder that we have created a faith that can hardly pronounce the word.