Summary: No more explanations, no more excuses - like the Ninevites, stop, turn around, go the other way.
Repentance: Does our generation understand what it means?
We have been following the prophet Jonah for the past few weeks and we have seen that for many of us, when we read through the book of Jonah we place assumptions on the text, that aren’t really there. For example, a quick reading of chapter two might lead us to the conclusion that Jonah repents and therefore God has the fish spit him out so he can go to Nineveh. But a closer reading will reveal that Jonah, who should know better, never in fact repents. Now Jonah recognizes that something has gone wrong, and he says he will offer a sacrifice when he gets to dry land – but Jonah never repents. He never repents.
Fascinating. The very person God is sending to a city where God seeks the change of heart of the inhabitants, is unable to have a change of heart. Jonah’s heart has not changed, yet, he is sent to change the hearts of others.
Then here in chapter three, when Jonah – the Godly, righteous, respectable and quite popular prophet, gets to Nineveh with his message – the spiritually ignorant pagans immediately start to repent. The one who has a heart that appears close to God cannot put repentance into action – but the most unlikely people of the time, who quite honestly, shouldn’t have a clue about what repentance is – repent with perfection.
So Jonah, a Godly man who should be our example of repentance is our example of how not to repent, and the Ninevites who shouldn’t know a thing about repentance, become our example of how to repent. How is that?
A few weeks ago I mentioned the seeming inability to say I’m sorry in American culture, which really, for all intents and purposes, is the inability to repent. People feel free to a large extent to explain what happened that MAY have offended people…and then, that is about it. There is a recognition that something went a rye and nothing more. What we do see many times is a denial of sin. There is a denial that they did anything wrong; in fact deep down, for many people, there is an annoyance at the apparent “misunderstanding” which has taken place, but there is no recognition for a need to repent, there is simply a recognition for spin control. We act to place others at ease so we can move on with our lives. We say what needs to be said, smooth things over, settle people down – get back to what we were doing, before the annoyance began.
I call this, almost repentance, and it is a curse in our lives and we pay the cost in a big way. It causes relationships to fall apart; it causes repeated sinful behavior that we are blind to; it causes us to continue to hurt others with our sin; it causes others to fall into sinful behavior by the sinful example of our lives.
Now I have to say that many times we are smart enough to see that an explanation is not sufficient, and so we offer the next level of almost repentance: The excuse. The excuse is like the explanation but more destructive; the explanation explores why things went the way they did, “there was a malfunction in my brakes so I hit the cow in the middle of the road”. But the excuse, the excuse distances the person from any responsibility with what happened. “Officer, I hit the cow with my car because he walked into the road, I couldn’t stop in time, there was nothing I could do about it”. The excuse builds upon the explanation and says I was a victim of circumstances, events spun out of my control, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time; Whatever harm has come your way, it is not connected to me – my body just happened to be in the same vicinity as the event that occurred.
So we talk about it. We explore the situation. We vent our frustrations. We even seek consultation from others in an attempt to procure varied opinions – and after all of this absolutely exhausting work we never darken the doorstep of repentance. In fact we spend so much time working through things by way of explanation and excuse, we fool ourselves into thinking that we have repented, when in fact we have done nothing of the sort. We move on, acting as if we have repented, maybe even having the emotions and feelings of repentance, a sense of completion, a notion that we have done all we could, but not a lick of repentance.
Years ago I was at a Promise Keepers Pastor’s Conference – It was a great conference. I went with pastor friend of mine and to save some cash we went in together on renting a car and a hotel room. So we booked all of this months in advance believing everything would be ready for us when w arrived. Now being guys, we were willing to stay in the same room, but you know, we each wanted our own bed – guys, you know what I mean. Well, we get to our hotel, a well known national chain, and they do in fact have a room for us, but not with two beds, but one king size bed. This was very disturbing. After a lengthy conversation, it turns out that they did have the room we requested, but they had given it away. They promised to fix the situation. Well, it was a week long conference and it became kind of a running joke that each time we would come and go from our room, we would ask if they had a room with two beds as promised – the answer was always the same, “we’re working on it”.