Thoughts for the Soul

Lent is the Time

Posted on: Mar 1, 2021

Lent is the time during the church year when we more often hear the words ‘sin’ and ‘repent.’ The words seem to go together, as in ‘repent of our sin.’ The idea is that we turn away from sinful ways and turn towards the rightness (or righteousness) of God’s way.

Repentance is fundamental to our biblical faith. John baptized people in the River Jordan as a sign of their repentance. Time after Time, the Old Testament relates how the ancient Jews turned away from Yahweh’s will and purpose for them, who then punishes them—often by having their enemies conquer them. The ancients then repent, and God forgives them. This occurs repeatedly in Jewish lore.

There are certain large ‘rules’ we all need to obey, many of which are expressed in or derived from the Ten Commandments. During the last 100+ years, however, we have learned how to look at sin in new ways.

Church of England theologian Sam Wells has described social isolation as the chief human problem in our age. The pandemic has highlighted this problem, but countless people have lived isolated lives for a long time—people we either forget about or perhaps would rather not know: the homeless, the addicts, the elderly, the hungry, the wounded, the broken-hearted.

Isolation keeps us from connecting meaningfully with God and our neighbors—even ourselves. Isolation diminishes our humanity. The quickest way to drive someone insane is to put them in solitary confinement.

Isolating ourselves from God and from others—staying away from God and others—is the opposite of how Christ would have us live. This is why reconciliation is so important in God’s work—and therefore our work—because isolation is sin.

Another term that helps us understand sin is damage. We inflict damage on others (and others inflict damage on us) by always insisting our point of view, carrying grudges, applying stereotypes, arguing continuously, and a host of other behaviors that foster disrespect and hatefulness.

When we speak of damage, though, we presuppose a wholeness and health that existed prior to the damage. We are created good, but something happens, something damages us. But we can be restored to health.

Through study and discussion, prayer and reflection, we explore what is God’s will for us—how we can pursue God’s purposes for us. This includes how we can avoid being isolated—how we can prevent ourselves from damaging others—how we can overcome damage inflicted on us.

The significance of isolation and damage as sin becomes clear by looking at a couple of verses from Paul’s second letter to the early church in Corinth: We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! Christ was without sin but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God (5:20b-21).

Then, damage: We plead on Christ’s behalf: let God change you from enemies into his friends! Christ was without [damage], but for our sake God made him s hare our [damage] in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God.

So when we repent, we turn toward God. We don’t just ask for forgiveness, however, and then feel better for a bit. Turning toward God means we also turn toward our neighbor to share God’s love with them, alleviating their isolation (and maybe ours, too), healing their damaged souls (and maybe ours, too).

—Pastor Fogal

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