I once told a friend of a recurring temptation of mine. Over the next month, he shared my secret with a dozen other friends, spicing up the tale with the fib that I had yielded to the temptation—even though I hadn’t. His betrayal shocked me. I skipped several lunch and dinner appointments, unsure who had heard and what they thought.
His disclosure also angered me. I obsessed over his treachery: How could he have divulged my secret temptation? And why worsen my shame with the sneering proclamation I had done it! I would never have betrayed a friend like that.
One day, as I fumed over his relational-adultery, I sensed God’s voice speak into my seething self-pity: Sam, why are you so angry? I thought the answer obvious: My friend had stabbed me in the back! Then I remembered a verse:
“I tell you, when one sinner repents, there is joy among the angels of God.” (Luke 15:10)
I thought, Sure, I suppose there would be joy in heaven if this jerk (I mean, friend) repented. His public confession might even bring me a bit of joy here on earth.
And I sensed God say, “I’m not talking about his sin; I’m talking about yours.”
But we hate to admit our own wrongs
What’s so bad about what I did? My friend actively told people of my faults, I onlythought about his.
But my thinking was equally active. I wholeheartedly imagined friends discovering his duplicity, and I visualized his humiliation. I poked pins in my mental image of him, and I caricaturized him: he hadn’t just broken faith, he was faithless; he hadn’t just lied, he was a liar.
Imagining his crimes was like enjoying a feast. I savored every mental morsel. I relished each thought. The very idea of his eventual discovery tasted like desert.
A recent Facebook post claimed that Christians no longer need to repent. The writer said, “We have already died to sin [Rom. 6:2]. So how can a dead man repent?”
But when we reject personal repentance, we reject a chance to hear God’s voice.
What does God’s voice sound like when we sin?
We tend to think God speaks only to the Mother Teresa’s of this world. But that notion is just false. Think of Adam and Eve’s first sin of all time. Every evil you’ve ever seen or experienced—every rape, betrayal, ethnic-cleansing, and marginalization—resulted from their action.
But God didn’t send an avenging angel to wipe them out. He didn’t stew over their betrayal nor simmer in his wrath. Instead, God came to the Garden for conversation.
Before that first sin, we see God speaking to himself (“Let us make man in our image”) and giving direction (“You can eat of any tree but one”). After their world-changing sin, we see God initiating conversation with a question: “Adam and Eve, where are you?” It’s the pattern of God, pursuing the lost us with kind questions:
- He asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” after Cain murdered Abel;
- He asks Job, “Where were you when I formed the earth?” after Job doubts God’s justice;
- And he asks Jonah, “Are you right to be so angry?” as he smoldered in self-pity.
What does God’s voice sound like when we sin? Invitational. He seeks a divine dialogue with us even when we stumble.
We hear his voice then join the party
Jesus tells of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to look for the one stupid sheep that ran away. He concludes: “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).
Our repentance ignites a feast of celebration in heaven.
We don’t need to wait for personal perfection before we hear God’s voice. We need only be willing to listen as God ask us, “Where are you?” and “Why are you so angry?”
When we admit, “I’m stewing on the wrongs of others,” and “I care more for the world’s praise than yours,” we begin to participate in this divine dialogue, and we sit down to a divine dinner.
Maybe we’ll see that friend who wronged us; together we can toast to our own stupidity.
© 2015, Beliefs of the Heart