I have often viewed repentance through a skewed lens. The image conjured up is one of a rotund, fiery preacher, beads of sweat drown his face, as he throws shards and knives of condemnation and judgment towards his congregation for their “sinful” ways. Such an image invites a shudder and avoidance of venturing anywhere towards this word.
Even the story of John the Baptist emphatically exclaiming to others to “repent, turn away from their sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom is near,” can leave one a little cold. But that is only when it is seen from a lens that distorts its meaning and intention. We misunderstand its significance and genuine meaning, because it is filtered through our own culture and upbringing, which shapes our view of love, connection and intimacy. Repentance is about turning back and reconnecting. It is rich and beautiful and a vulnerable act of love and humility.
God is saying to “come back.” He is inviting us into an intimate bond with him. The Prodigal Son is a poignant and beautiful parable of repentance. The son turns away and inevitably encounters his own powerlessness and weakness, compelling him to turn back to his Father, who greets him with celebration and an abundance of riches. It is quite the welcoming for the son who dishonored and “turned away” from his Father.
It is wired into our soul, the reflexive need to attach or connect. Our minds generate neurochemicals that create the bonding experience, which records moments of pleasure, satisfaction and wholeness with the associated object. It is impossible to live a life of detachment for we instinctively end up bonding to something, searching for belonging. God is a God of attachment and bonding and thus, he is calling and inviting us to reconnect with Him. And instead of shaming or punishing, he blesses us lavishly and celebrates our return with unbridled joy. God does not shame us into his presence, but invites and rejoices over our return.
And subsequently, instead of running away from ourselves and our emotional pain, we express every deep, shamed and avoided part of ourselves before Him, allowing His love to be the balm and healing oil to our hurt, instead of the imitation attachments to which we originally connected.
The painful part is experiencing our own powerlessness and helplessness, as well as the futility of our own efforts to achieve satisfaction and wholeness. But it is a necessary step for our hearts to be richly filled with an unmatched and lavishly gratifying love. Repentance is a calling to turn away from counterfeit attachments that offer transient fulfillment, and into the overwhelmingly loving presence of a God who delights in bonding with his children, providing lasting satisfaction.