Thinking About Repentance
I'm just back from a long trip up and down the West Coast. On the flight home earlier today I got to thinking about repentance. And as per usual, my thinking was very nearly as influenced by the pithy quips and epigrams I've gathered in my journal as by the Scriptures:
"Some men please themselves with a constant regularity of life, and decency of behavior. Some are punctual in attendance on public worship, and perhaps in the performance of private devotion. Such men are not hypocrites; the virtues which they practice arise from their principles. Their religion is sincere; what is reprehensible is, that it is partial. Repentance is their only recourse." Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
"We should learn to see things in a higher light. To do so, we must turn around to an altogether different direction." Booker T. Washington (1856-1915)
"The whole tendency of modern thought, one might say its whole moral impulse, is to keep the individual busy with endless induction—leaving little room for genuine change." Richard Weaver (1910-1963)
"With visions of redemption I walk against the crowd." Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944)
"Understanding is knowing what to do; wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is actually doing it. The three together are what we call repentance." Tristan Gylberd (1954-)
"Religion hath brought forth prosperity, and the daughter destroyed the mother—there is a danger, lest the enchantments of this world make them forget their errand into the wilderness: to build a city on a hill, an illumination for all the world." Cotton Mather (1663-1728)
"The streets of hell are paved with good intentions." Mark Twain (1835-1910)
"This is a practice as full of labor as a wise man’s art, for folly that he wisely shows is fit, but wise men, folly-fall’n, quite taint their wit." William Shakespeare (c. 1564-1616)
The Ultimate Tipping Point
How do fads suddenly sweep through an entire culture, becoming practically ubiquitous overnight? What makes one craze abruptly passé and gauche while another instantaneously becomes chic and trendy? How do epidemics spread from small, contained, and isolated segments of a population to infect an entire region or nation or continent? What accounts for sudden changes in cultural behaviors--an unexplained drop in the crime rate, an unexpected demand for a particular commodity, or an unprovoked shift in public opinion? How do fashions take hold of an entire segment of the global marketplace? What is it that makes a heretofore obscure writer or musician or artist or film-maker into a bestselling international celebrity? Can any of these phenomena be understood in merely mechanical processes? Is it possible to foresee and predict such trends? Or perhaps even more importantly, is it possible to create and control them?
These are the questions advertisers, demographers, and social anthropologists wrestle with constantly. They are the obsessions of entrepreneurs, politicians, and pollsters. They are the stock and trade of marketing consultants, strategic planners, and futurists. William Gibson builds the entire plot of his amazing novel, Pattern Recognition, just out in paperback, around this arcane discipline and the trend-spotters who exercise it.
According to journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his brilliant book, The Tipping Point, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.” The mechanism that actually makes them spread is what he calls “the tipping point.” It is this illusory explanation, this unnoticed cause, this elusive mechanism that all those experts are searching for so desperately. It is that little trick, that small nudge, that opportune break, or that glorious epiphany that brings about momentous change.
The tipping point is what actually brings about breakthroughs, aha moments, and eureka developments. It is the catalyst. It is the fulcrum of innovation. It is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is the beacon light of dawn. It is the transforming advancement that changes everything.
In that sense, repentance is the ultimate tipping point. It is the mechanism that puts genuine change into action in our lives and in our culture. It is what enables us to move beyond the past--and all of the mistakes of the past--and into the future with bright hopes and new dreams. Repentance is the fulcrum upon which true transformation turns.
Of course, none of us likes to admit it when we are wrong. We all have an automatic defense mechanism. Our guard immediately goes up whenever someone even hints at our mistakes, our foibles, our slights, our wrongdoing, or our sin. The process of admission, confession, correction, and repentance wounds our pride. It is among the most difficult things we ever have to do.
The problem is that we all have to do it. We all have to endure failure. We all face the prospect of humiliation at one time or another. It is simply not possible to hide our shortcomings from everyone, everywhere, every time. We make mistakes. We stumble. We sin. Every single one of us. Without exception. Without fail. We are, after all, only human.
As if to complicate things even further, in order for us to learn from our mistakes, we must first admit them. In order for us to move beyond failures, we must first face them. In order for us to set things right, we must first confess that things have actually gone wrong.
Thus, our reticence to openly confess our shortcomings becomes our primary obstacle to getting over our shortcomings. If we insist on protecting our pride from injury and embarrassment insures that we will only continue to injure and embarrass our pride.
Counselors and psychologists report that one of the greatest obstacles that must be overcome by people suffering from broken relationships, plaguing grief, dysfunctional homes, chronic fears, or paralyzing stress is simply the ability to admit their own faults, to confess their wrongs, and to repent of their mistakes. As James Ulrich, a renowned British psychologist, has said, “Since sin is the source of virtually all human ills, it is only when we directly deal with sin that we can hope to solve those ills in our hearts, in our homes, and in our communities.” Indeed, he claims that the greatest advances in mental, social, and national health come “when we can finally just come to the threshold of genuine repentance.” Thus, he says, “It is only then we can actually begin to hope for authentic change. It is only then that we can lay the groundwork for a new beginning. It is only then that the pieces are in place for us to have a fresh start. It is only then that our circumstances and situations are primed for a new day of happiness, prosperity, freedom, and delight.”
Repentance is indeed the ultimate tipping point.