Wednesday 26 August 2020

This age of repentance (not faith)

Clearly this is Not an age of faith. It is common to hear someone complain that he lacks faith; and where there is faith is seems too weak to resist the assaults of life. Christians are unable to live in accordance their beliefs, in an age when these are opposed on every side.

Others say they would like to be a Christian, but cannot make themselves believe.

In sum; a gulf has opened between what might be termed conviction and achievement.

I have even heard it said that 'I cannot repent' of sin, of wrongdoing. Or 'I cannot make myself repent', 'I find that don't even want to repent'.  

Does this stuff matter? Yes, of course it matters; it is a diminution of life. But for a Christian none of this matters ultimately.

My point is that repentance is of infinite power and scope. If someone lacks faith, he can repent his lack of faith. If someone cannot live in accordance with his beliefs; this too can be repented.

And if somebody cannot repent, does not want to repent - then this too can be repented. Yes! We really can (and should, of course) repent our lack of repentance - and thus the work is done.

A Man that wants to be a Christian, but cannot make the 'leap of faith' is already a Christian.

A Christian is defined by his ultimate conviction, by what he ultimately wants; not be what he achieves. We are all sinners -what is decisive is whether this is acknowledged; and what this means is that it is our conviction that counts, and not our behaviour.

For example - that primary domain of sin in modernity: sexuality. Sexual morality is defined (for a Christian) by ultimate affirmation - not by what a person actually does. What we actually do may be a product of our specific personality - which substantially innate, inborn, inherited - and our specific social environment.

Nearly everybody can be 'broken'; can be compelled, tricked or seduced into sexual immorality given certain combinations of circumstances, sufficient severity and duration of pressure. Most people can potentially (whether with little or much pressure) be induced into denying morality, supporting immorality - by attitude, word or deed.

And the same applies to other forms of moral behaviour.

Conversely, a person may behave in accordance with approved Christian sexual morality; but only passively, perhaps because he is a plaint personality living in a moral environment. Or because he is too afraid to break some taboo, or afraid of some consequence of prescribed morality. Or because he simply has no opportunity to act immorally.

Yet that same well-behaved person may believe (in his heart, as ultimate conviction) that some or other sexual immorality is actually good - or that the whole business of sexual morality is actually nothing-but convention or social control.

We can see that what matters is ultimate not proximate; will not ability; freedom not influence; conviction not behaviour; spirit not psychology. 

The necessity is that immorality be repented - which entails inwardly affirming the truth of Christian morality.

The power of repentance for a Christian is that it renders us independent of environmental circumstance, it even renders us independent of our inborn and acquired personality.

By repentance; we rise above the proximate uncertainties of psychology, above impulse and instinct, to the ultimate clarity of the heart's desire and conviction.

By repentance; we escape the limitations of our mental and physical weakness and become rooted in the indomitable strength of our hearts.

By repentance; we live from our free agency: which is divine. 

If you desire in your heart to love God, be Christian, and follow Jesus; then all you need do is repent your failures, then you are home and safe.

Note added - clarification: Repentance is a rigorous discipline! Repentance is Now - or not at all. As previously noted: inwardly to say 'I may/ intend-to repent In Future' - is not merely an actual failure of repentance: it is the 'Sin against the Holy Ghost'. In other words, an assertion of intent to repent but not doing it is the worst kind of sin; because it means that we know sin but deny it; we know God but deny Him. This is, to say the least, an important fact; and it depends upon the distinction (above) that repentance is always free and possible now; whereas reform of action/ attitude/ behaviour (etc.) is contingent.


Anonymous said...

I find myself in this position, despair drove me to prayer early last year. The whole business was very immediate and lacked any intellectual component. As such it was comfort though there were spiritual shocks. The nebulous God who might solve my problem because he was simply good dissolved one terrible day in the realisation that I was asking a loan from a creditor to whom I already owed an incalculable amount.

My problem now is two fold; first I desire a church because I struggle to discern the nature of God on my own, yet I am often repulsed by the church when I contact it. An institution or man may tell me that mass migration is not an evil or worse that is some sort of good but I would then regard it/him as utterly corrupt.

Second if I were asked if I 'believe' I would struggle to answer. I often act like I believe but why do I do this, I don't know. Certainly I have no convincing argument or proof of God. Metaphysics is a subject that is utterly closed to me. I am led by my convictions of good and evil but these are so at variance with the current society and the church and sometimes even the bible that I am utterly alienated.

All that said I find repentance always strikes the true note. I sometimes wonder how truthful I am being within myself but I have no doubt that words and the commitment like an oath contain a real power that binds even with a half hearted will.


Bruce B. said...

Bruce, I suppose the way I see it (today) is that repentance is the very basic level of faith, the first and, I suppose, minimal step.

I think (maybe) this is consistent with Catholic/Orthodox understanding with the condition that repentance is generally a sacramental function of the Church (with the additional possibility of an act of perfect contrition).

Bruce Charlton said...

@BB - "repentance is generally a sacramental function of the Church "

That would require an absolute faith in the church which more Christians lack (for good and obvious reasons, in my opinion).

When I ask myself if a loving God, who is the creator, would make this world such that a church was necessary to repentance - it seems obvious that He would not.

A Christian church, when not corrupt, can certainly be helpful in repentance. But the truth versus corruption of any particular church (or congregation) is for me an empirical question to be discerned, not a matter of faith.

Sean G. said...

I have personally found repentance and metanoia more powerful outside if the Orthodox Church that I attended (before they kicked us all out). I felt at first like my repentance didn't count outside of the Church. But to Bruce C's point I imagined arriving at the gates of heaven and an angel looking over my paperwork...

"Ah yes, you've confessed of your sins. Very good, very goo— oh wait. I don't see an absolution prayer in here. Sorry but rules are rules!"

It seemed so absurd to me so I started repenting often and feeling the Holy Ghost more than ever. Interestingly, when I started doing this many of my favorite sins lost there power over me.