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On Repentance


Repentance is a classic theme in Judaism and Christianity. It has gained something of a negative image because many Christians have misrepresented it as something harsh and demanded of others by those in power, whereas the Bible's message is that we should apply it to ourselves.

Repentance does not constrain, it frees.



Repentance is a letting-go of something rather than clinging to it or holding onto it. Usually what we repent of is something that binds, distorts and constrains us - though often we don't realise it because we 'love' it. That is why repentance frees us.

Indeed, repentance might be the only way to be free of something. Merely trying to add other things to balance the thing that binds, distorts and constrains us does not work. Merely trying to lessen the thing that binds, distorts and constrains us does not work. Trying to dilute or lessen the thing that binds, distorts and constrains us does not work. Only repentance - letting go of it - frees us.

This is because the heart of the human is not merely economic to balance things, nor chemical to dilute things nor mathematical to lessen things, but is religious to worship things. What we worship determines all other aspects of our lives (c.f. Dooyeweerd's pistic aspect). The thing we worship will ensure that all the other things serve it, often unseen.

Repentance is not of a wrong but of an attitude of heart, an attitude of idolising something that is not worthy of ultimate worhsip, an absolitizing of something that is not absolute.

Examples of Non-repentance

1. On the personal level: When we think (or even say), "I'm sorry, BUT ...", when we justify ourselves because of what the other has done, or because of circumstances, or because "I'm made that way". When we say these things we are still clinging. The idol in this case is probably ourselves.

2. On the organisational level: The evil of elevating Profit above all else has been diluted by the common aphorism "People, Planet, Profit" (the so-called Triple Bottom Line) - but usually Profit rules the other two, and the other two remain damaged. Only repentance of the idolising Profit will work. (Note "Profit" as an idol (capital p) is not "profit" (small p).)

3. On the global level: Michael Gove, Conservative Secretary of State for the Environment, remarked that the government has taken action on climate chance "at the same time, growing the economy." [BBC Radio 4, Today Programme, 17 April 2019.] That is not repentance Growing the economy is the idol that constrains, distorts and binds all else. It is the case that economic growth has always increased climate change emissions and other environmental damage.

All these are hoping to escape or lessen the consequences of idolatry while keeping the idol in place.

Consequences of Non-Repentance

The idol is still there and will exert a malign influence on the other things, and make them always subservient to itself. It will convince us - at each level - that it is essential to fulfilling the others. For example:

In all cases, we are protecting the idol, using a flaws, narrowed-down logic to do so. The consequences are still (a) the idolatry continues to do damage, (b) we get into distorted, narrowed thinking, in which we 'dare not' consider other aspects. In other words, we "loved darkness rather than light, because [our] deeds were evil" [John 3:19, NIV].

Only repentance frees us from both and allows genuine healing to begin.

Repentance and the New View

Now, let us go through the elements of the 'New View' in turn, which are enumerated in the Overview.

Repentance and Reality Rejoicing

What do we repent of? Answer: Any attitude that results (especially indirectly) in reducing the joy of reality. Repentance restores joy, the joy that we lost while we clung onto an idol. The rejoicing of all reality is the glory of God.

Repentance and The Role of Humankind

Who should repent? "Those to whom much is given, from them much more will be expected." Humankind was given the special role to rule over the rest of creation in a way that represents God to it.

It is human beings who need to repent. All of us.

Repentance and Relatedness

Why do we need to repent? Not only because God is the Law-giver, but because of the interconnectedness, the relatedness, of all creation. God designed the laws to express the fact that all we do and every attitude we take has consequences, for good or ill, throughout the rest of creation. That is, they are indirect as well as direct, and long-term as well as short-term.

We need to repent of anything that harms others (including the rest of creation) directly or indirectly, and especially our attitudes or idolatries that do so.

If we repent solely on the grounds that we have "offended" against God's law, we do well, because by doing so, we begin to return to the laws that God designed that express this relatedness. But full repentance recognises this relatedness. It has been said that nothing leads us to repentance like coming to understand how our attitudes or actions have made the innocent suffer. That is part of how the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin.

Repentance and Rich Redemption

What is result of repentance? There are three kinds of result, each aligned to one of the dimensions of salvation:

Repentance and Representing God

Again, who should repent, and of what? Answer: Those who represent God, each of something related to their kind of representation.

Those who represent God should bear fruit that nourishes the rest, and so all then rejoices. That rejoicing is the glory of God.


So we see that repentance is not something that a harsh, stern law-giver demands of those subject to their laws, but is integral in the nature of the creation, with God's intention of joy, the interconnectedness of creation, the special role of human beings, our tendency to idolatry, to the nature of redemption, and the various ways in which God is represented.

Repentance is the only effective route to freedom and joy, especially a joy that pervades the whole creation.

True repentance might even be a gift from God; see Acts 5:31. If so, let us who know God fervently petition God to send repentance upon us and upon all people.

This page, URL= '', is "offered to God" (click to see what that means) as on-going work in developing a 'New View' in theology and practice that is appropriate to the days that are coming upon us. Comments, queries welcome.

Copyright (c) Andrew Basden to latest date below, but you may use this material subject to certain conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext in the style of classic HTML.

Created: 27 April 2019 as publishable draft. Last updated: 24 April 2022 repentance as gift of God.