Sunday, April 02, 2006

Thoughts on Repentance

Our Creator made Adam and Eve, our first parents, in His own image and likeness. While clothed with physical bodies, they bore the image of the Spirit who fills all things and cannot be contained. God created them to reflect the radiance of His own divine light, ever-flourishing life, pure goodness, and selfless love. Our first parents used their freedom, not to embrace the loving One who nurtured them, but to turn away from Him. Instead of obeying the One who knew the best for them, Adam and Eve thought they could do better following their own desires. Their actions brought spiritual darkness, evil, and self-centeredness into the creation. Another way of saying this is that Adam and Eve brought death into the world. Death is a reality in the world because our first parents’ sinned. Sin causes death.

Death is a sickness, a disease that afflicts us all. It seems natural to us because we see it all around us, but it’s not really natural. It’s an aberration, the desecration of life. God didn’t intend for death to be a part of His creation. Death is the result of our sin because when we reject God, we separate ourselves from the Source of Life. We have the freedom to remain in Life, but also the freedom to leave it behind.

Physical sickness and bodily death are aspects of death, but the influence of death is far more pervasive. We were not only born afflicted by physical death, which will cause our mortal bodies to die, but we are also afflicted with spiritual death, spiritual sickness. Our warped thoughts and feelings, and skewed vision of the world, draws our hearts away from God, our Creator and Healer. While we still bear the image of God, sin has distorted this image. Although we remain mirrors that reflect the brilliant glory of God, we are scratched, cracked, and blackened by the pollution of sin.

Many of us have been taught that we were born into this world as sinners guilty of Adam and Eve’s original sin. This idea is not in harmony with the Orthodox Christian Faith. The doctrine that Adam and Eve’s guilt is passed on from generation to generation may have originated with St. Augustine, whose writings have influenced many churches in the Western world. (St. Augustine is regarded as a Saint by the Orthodox Church, but he was not infallible when he expressed his theological opinions.) According to the Faith of the Holy Apostles, we inherit death, not guilt, from our first parents. We are born into this world as innocent infants. It is true that we are all sinners, every one of us, but not because we are born guilty. We are guilty sinners because we commit sin. We misuse our freedom to disobey our loving Father, who created us and who knows the best way for us. We choose to act according to our self-centered desires instead of expressing selfless love. We live in a way that keeps us in darkness rather than leading us to the One who is Light and enlightens our hearts and minds. We submit ourselves to the destructive passions within us that draw us away from God instead of drawing near to the One who purifies the desires of our hearts.

The truth that we’ve inherited death from our first parents is the bad news. The good news is that we can be freed from the curse of death. Our souls can be healed from the illness that keeps us from experiencing fullness of life. We can overcome spiritual death, restore the image of God within us, regain the likeness of our Creator, and find true life, immortal life. We can end our isolation from the Spirit, restore communion, and experience union with God. Through the process of salvation, spiritual healing, we become “divinized,” reflecting the divine radiance of God like polished mirrors in the sun. We can even surpass the spiritual maturity of our first parents. Even more, by overcoming spiritual death in this life, we also overcome physical death. If we are spiritually alive when our mortal bodies die, then we will rise from the dead with spiritually transformed bodies that will never die, and we will live forever in Paradise in the presence of God.

The process of liberation and healing involves repentance. Repentance is a spiritual U-turn. If you’re in your car driving somewhere and you realize that you’re going the wrong way, in the opposite direction of your destination, you need to find a place to turn around so you can start heading the right way. If you need to go south, continuing northward won’t help your cause. On the road of life, if we go in the direction of sin we will find ourselves at the gates of hell, eternal death. If we go in the direction of repentance we will reach Paradise, eternal life. Repentance is the recognition that we’re going the wrong way, and the change of direction that puts us on the right course for the right place.

Repentance is much more than a feeling of guilt. (We should never be lazy and just wallow in our guilt.) It’s also more than confession, although confession and repentance are like sisters. (Someone can confess a sin without being sorry for committing it and without any intention to repent. What kind of confession is that?) Repentance is a radical change of the mind (and heart) about the way we are, how we see things, and what we do. It’s a change from black to white, a conversion of the soul. When we really repent of a sin we never intend to commit that sin again. If we do commit the same sin again, we repent again with the same intention, hoping through divine power to overcome it. Repentance is a lifestyle, a continual process of looking honestly inside our hearts to discover and expose the soul-polluting sins within us, confessing them to God, and boldly throwing them off like old, dirty clothes.

When we turn away from our sins, we don’t just turn toward goodness, ethics, or morality as abstract ideas. We turn to God Himself, the Source of every good and perfect thing. Since sin is the rejection of God and a turning away from Him, repentance means turning back to God to fully embrace Him. He is always ready to run toward us with arms outstretched to forgive us and welcome us home. The more we reject self-centeredness and return to the One who is Love Himself, the more He fills our hearts with self-giving love. The more we turn from darkness, the absence of light, and return to the Light Himself, the more He enlightens our minds and hearts with divine illumination. The more we leave our isolation, the more He communes with us. The more we repent of the sins that sicken our souls and turn back to our loving Creator, the more He heals us from spiritual illness, the more alive we become, and the more we take on His divine image and likeness. By His death and triumphant resurrection, Christ has defeated death and has swung open the gates of Paradise. If we live a life of repentance, purifying ourselves through His divine grace, we can return to Paradise and live in union with our loving Creator forever.

We hear a lot these days about self-esteem, achieving success, and reaching our full potential. Self-improvement experts, books, and seminars may improve some aspects of our lives, but they ultimately fail because they only deal with the surface-level symptoms of our real problem, death. Since our main problem involves spiritual sickness, we need a spiritual path to recovery. When we realize our true identity as descendents of Adam and Eve and live an ongoing lifestyle of sincere repentance to liberate ourselves from our sins, we can finally experience the divine healing and personal transformation we desire. This is the only way we can ever reach our full potential and return to Paradise.

Copyright © 2006 by Dana S. Kees. Photo copyright © 2004 by Dana S. Kees.