Every year in Lent I’m reminded of how healthy repentance is.
The default setting for the human being is to blame someone else. “He did it first!” or “She did it too!” or “Everybody does it” or when we’re unhappy to blame somebody else for our problems. “It’s my wife, my husband, my kids, my parents, the president, the republicans, the democrats, the whites, the blacks” whoever, but it’s never me. It’s not my fault. I’m not to blame.
This is the basic kink in human nature. It’s the twist of pride and it was there from the beginning. Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent.
It’s worse than that. Adam actually blames God. “It was the woman you gave me who made me do it!”
Repentance turns that on it’s head. We’re required to stop and put up our hand and own up. It’s my fault. I’m to blame. Even if it’s not all me it’s at least partly me and I’m sorry.
What is so brilliantly healthy about repentance is that it must automatically lead to taking responsibility. As soon as we say, “It’s me. It’s my fault. I’m to blame.” If we really mean it, then we must then take responsibility for what went wrong and then try to put it right.
What would the world be like if we all lived in that state of mind? Instead we fall back into blaming others and shifting the responsibility.
The danger of blaming others for whatever is wrong is that eventually we will take action against them. Blaming others always leads to some kind of violence. If they are to blame, our sick logic tells us that to get rid of the problem we must get rid of the person creating the problem so we do. We get rid of them.
This link between repentance and responsibility has some pretty huge implications. This is because the opposite of owning up and taking responsibility is not only blaming others, but a kind of unspoken and unconscious fatalism. Instead of taking action against the other person or tribe who we blame, we lapse into indifference and believe we can do nothing about it. There are powers that be who rule our lives and we’re just leaves in the wind.
The fatalist believes that he does not have free will. We are all caught up in circumstances and causations that are greater than we are.
There are many forms of fatalism. Political fatalism proposes that certain powers that be rule the world and rule us and there is nothing we can do about it. Genetic fatalism decrees that we were born a certain way and our genetic code predetermines everything. Social or economic fatalism suggests that those who are rich get richer and those who are poor get poorer and there is nothing you can do about it.
Fatalism eats away at our society like a cancer. What produces the entitlement culture we see all around us? Fatalism. It is all someone else’s responsibility. I can’t do anything for myself. Someone else has to do it for me. What produces the infantilism all around us–the immature passivity in the face of difficulties? Fatalism. It is someone else’s duty to solve the problems and work things out. I’m helpless.
Repentance, on the other hand, immediately engages us in the process of recovery, reconciliation and renewal. As soon as we own up that things are our problem we can begin to do something about the problem.
I believe the principle of repentance literally changed the world. The pre-Christian world was largely fatalistic. Christians came along and said. Repent! Take responsibility! You have free will! You can do something to change the world and by God’s grace that change will begin with you!
That’s the practice and principles of a holy Lent–to first repent and take responsibility and then, by God’s grace begin to do something about it.
And that’s the other half of the Ash Wednesday formula: “Repent and Believe the gospel” The gospel is the good news that something can be done about it. Jesus Christ is alive and as soon as we own up and own our problems and take responsibility he steps up and says, “Here, let me help you with that.”
And with Him all things are possible. And that’s the good news I can believe in.