“If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you” (Psalm 139:8-12, NIV).
“Repentance” is such a good word to describe Lent, the season leading up to Easter. For some it might sound a little too churchy or conjure up images of a robed, bearded guy on a street corner holding up a sign and yelling, “The end is near!” The meaning of “repentance” is simply this: a turning away from sin and a turning toward God. That’s a pretty easy explanation and a reasonable expectation on the part of God. Right?
Well, for years I feared the concept of repentance, mostly because I didn’t really understand it. In my mind, repentance was one of the many things that I had to do to somehow earn favor with God. And no matter how much I tried, the idea of repentance proved to be a constant sticking point. Turning from my sin was one thing. But turning toward God and just imagining what he thought of me was downright frightening.
Here’s what I didn’t understand back then. God never leaves us. Let me say that again. God never leaves us. Instead, he pursues us, not in a creepy sort of way, but out of love and the heartfelt concern of a Father. Before, I thought that, even if I turned from my sin, I would have to find my way back to God and that this would be quite difficult, because sometimes I had strayed pretty far.
Now, I understand that God is always with me. He is not afraid of the dark places my disobedience and sheer stupidity can take me. God is right there, even in these places. And here’s the really cool thing. When I turn from my sin toward God, I don’t have to somehow find my way back to him. Rather, I practically bump into him. I come face to face with the God of all creation, and he is not ashamed of me. He is not disappointed in me. God doesn’t say, “I told you so,” or “You should have done it this way.” He is simply happy to see me. He greets me with open arms and nail-scarred hands.
I now think of repentance as more of a gift than a command. God loves me, and he loves you, too. He just wants us to come home.