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I preached this past Sunday on the Gospel lesson from Mark in which
Jesus begins his public ministry, saying, "The time is fulfilled,
the Kingdom of God is near; repent, and believe in the
good news." (Mark 1: 14)
Repentance is a good news word that has gotten a bad news
I looked up "repentance" in the Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible
and found three definitions:
Again, all strike me as positive and hopeful. Change is possible.
Turning is possible. New life is possible. Not easy, not quick, but
with the God for whom all things are possible, possible. But
somehow, "repentance" has gotten hooked up red-faced, sweaty
preachers threatening people with hell and damnation. I want the
I was particularly interested in the second definition, "a feeling
of regret or remorse." I have sometimes heard people say, "No
regrets. I have no regrets." That strikes me as sad. Who has lived
so good a life as not to have some regrets? True, we can let regret
get the better of us. But to have no sense of regret or remorse
about mistakes made, opportunities lost, kindnesses foregone is not
to have lived or perhaps not to be honest with oneself.
And "remorse," which I take to mean a sense of grief or sorrow at
one’s failures. Again, yes, this can be overdone. The idea is not to
wallow in it or make it your constant frame of mind. But there is
something purifying in an honest sense of grief for our sins and
As the Psalmist put it, "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you
will not despise." (51: 17) There is a cleansing beauty in true
So repentance is a grieving our failures but a turning toward God,
who has in Jesus, already turned toward us.
"Repentance" is not a bad word, but a good one!