Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Repentance Blesses Righteousness.

January 12th, 2018 by G.

I had a moment of illumination yesterday. Suppose you had a society where everyone took honesty and integrity extremely seriously. Suppose also that reputation mattered a lot in that society. Let us call this society the Victorians for convenience. (Whether the actual Victorians were that way, I can’t say). Once I got inside that society in my head, I instantly saw why the society might be pretty stiff and rigid. Because loose talk is dangerous, and therefore being too easily relaxed is dangerous, and being with bad or unknown companions in any but the most formal and correct setting is dangerous, because with a frivolous choice of words you could upend your whole life in a moment. In fact, I believe that is the plot to more than one Victorian novel I’ve read.

With such a society, it would be extremely desirable to have some kind of authority that could authorize second chances. But this authority would have to have a real commitment to integrity and propriety to be taken seriously. In fact, the second chances should not be given willy-nilly but only to people who ask for it in a way that affirms the superiority of integrity and propriety, because anything else undercuts the value of the integrity and propriety that the rest of the folks in the society have shown. It is a contradiction in terms for someone to desire to be restored to community status while rejecting what constitutes status in the community.

Which brings me to repentance. God does not owe us anything from a strict standpoint–this is the point of the parable of the day laborers–but while it is true that we are all sinners, it is also true that we are all righteous too. None of us sin all the time, all of us have made some sacrifices at some time or another for the good, and so in addition to all needing a chance for forgiveness, we all need affirmation that the sacrifices we have made matter. God meets this need of the righteous in two ways. First, He sacrificed more than anyone–we call this the atonement–and second He will not forgive without contrition and repentance.

Comments (1)
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January 12th, 2018 12:27:05
1 comment

Bruce Charlton
January 13, 2018

All good sense.

For me, it emphasises how different are (what might be called) private and public repentance.

Analogous are the ‘church order’ issues, and sin. There are things that are necessary (so far as we can tell) for running a sustainable and effective church – that priests be men, for one.

On this level (I think) – but not the same issue – is that those in responsibility within churches ought to be ‘held to a higher standard’ in their personal lives.

This despite the fact that in an ultimate sense all persons are sinners, and probably some of those in authority are at least moderately-bad sinners.

The true repentance is (I think) between man and God and a private matter. Inner repentance. Upon this depends salvation.

The public repentance of a priest who has sinned, qua priest – or a person of pastoral responsibility – cannot be of that nature – they must convince those in authority over them that the repentance is genuine, and probably also that the offence is not likely to be repeated.

It strikes me that such convincing of others in a social context doesn’t have much – or anything – to do with repentance in its ‘theological’ role; which (potentially) applies to all persons in all situations – even to impulsive psychopaths who repeat and repeat their sins; whatever their resolution to cease.

It strikes me as probably helpful to recognise these situations as distinct. But ‘church order’ (and by extension societal order) are extremely important.

So on the one hand, personal repentance does not require convincing others.

On the other hand, personal repentance is insufficient for social order, because it is ‘undetectable’. A person may claim to have repented, but if relevant authories are not convinced, then that is not really relevant.

It is analogous to forgiveness. Christians must forgive everything in an ultimate sense – but in Christian societies at every level – between two persons, in families or in any kind of organisation – the issue to more ‘what to do’.

Forgiveness in the social sense is Not about forgetting sins (or crimes), pretending they did not happen, never punishing people… There are matters of social order; and vital – as individuals, and socially, we *must* remember that this person did this sin; and (ni some cases) we must permanently take action on that basis (excluding them, limited them, imprisoning, exiling or even executing them) – quite aside from our always personally forgiving them.

I wonder whether this kind of thing could be made clearer in Christian teaching? That there is an inner aspect that is absolute, universal, simple; and also an outer aspect which is different, absolutely necessary – but always, in practice, somewhat pragmatic and uncertain… probablistic…

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