Penitence

In my deep sadness over the killings in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas I sought wisdom and hope from an old friend, a 35-year old systematic theology book. It is an old fashioned text and some of its conclusions are dated (frankly, hard to hear with modern ears). But Dale Moody offers his perspective with a love for scripture and a love for Baptists that feels like a visit home for me. So sometimes I read it and sometimes it helps. Today I flipped it open to a section I flagged with a post-it note years ago, section "VI. Sin." Here Moody quotes psychiatrist Karl Menninger: “If one wanted to find a germinal word to link all sins, perhaps hate would do it. In terms of action, however, the long term consequences of hate are self-destruction. Thus the wages of sin really are death.” Moody comments: “On the basis of clinical evidence he [Menninger] has reached one side of the conclusion with which the Scriptures begin. Sin is the disruption of [humanity’s] relation with both God and others.” *

Today I feel the weight of sin. I see it has demanded its wage. I see how high the price.

I did not pull a trigger this week but I still share the debt of sin. Cries of injustice I've glossed over with a channel click. Dedicated service I've taken for granted. A heart for diversity but hands easily distracted from the work. A tyrannical calendar an easy excuse for neglected relationship. A mind too easily tricked into false dichotomies and convenient binaries. Sin disrupts my relationship with people on both sides of the gun, and all sides of the issues and the neighborhood. Sin disrupts my relationship with God because like the couple in the primordial garden I’d rather hide from God than be seen in my shame.

But also like the story in Genesis 3, God seeks and calls. God comes searching in love. In Jesus God declares there is forgiveness and new life. So in response to killings and hatred, broken lives and an easy life, I adopt the posture of penitent, one convicted of sin and determined to turn from it. A penitent, confessing the disruption of relationship and inviting Jesus to change me that I might love God and neighbor more thoroughly, consistently, and boldly. A penitent, enshrouded in systems of brokenness but believing big change is possible. A penitent who doesn’t know all the right words to say or actions to take but knows he needs grace to absorb the disruptions between me, God, and others.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1)

* Emphasis of "hate" is original. Dale Moody, The Word of Truth: A Summary of Christian Doctrine Based on Biblical Revelation, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 271.