It's a six hour drive from Chicago, IL to St. Paul, MN. On the way there's wonderful scenery- the Laura Ingalls Wilder historical park, Wisconsin Dells, ski resorts, many campsites and wilderness parks. On this route twice a week I travel for work. My constant companion during twelve hours is the collection of weekly podcasts that musician Michael Card publishes. As I listen to these, the picture of Jesus in my chaotic workaday world becomes clearer. Truths we have always known and treasured become dearer and more convicting.
This week was no exception. What caught my attention was Card's 'Song of Gomer'. Gomer was the unfaithful and adulterous wife of the prophet Hosea. Each time Gomer would leave Hosea, looking for sweetness in stolen waters, Hosea would go back after her and bring her back. God uses Hosea's testimony as a picture of his relationship with the unfaithful Israel. Card's song says (on Gomer's behalf),
"Don’t know what He sees in me, he is spirit, he is free
And I, the wife of adultery, Gomer is my name.
Simply more than I can see, how he keeps on forgiving me
How he keeps his sanity; Hosea, you’re a fool.
A fool to love someone like me, a fool to suffer silently
But sometimes through your eyes I see I’d rather be a fool."
On another such podcast, Card talks about Peter's denial of Jesus after he was arrested. When the rooster crowed a third time, Jesus glanced at him; he went outside of the hall and wept bitterly. Why did Peter weep? Was it because Jesus glanced at him? Or was it because Jesus still loved him despite his unfaithfulness?
God's word tells us that it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. I had in the past understood this to solely mean that his holy spirit enables our spirits to respond to him; and that without his aid we are unable to reach out and touch his hand of salvation. I wonder if it means that his act of forgiveness alone produces repentance in us- at least the kind of repentance the Bible talks about when a person becomes a born-again Christian.
What breaks our heart? Is it our sin or the knowledge of forgiveness? Sin cretainly breaks God's heart. We hate our sin, but repentance means more than that hatred of sin. Repentance means to turn away from our sin, but turn away to what (or whom)?
What brings us to the Lord when we turn to Him for the first time? Is it conviction of sin or knowledge of His forgiveness? Can anyone truly repent without having a hint of the forgiveness?
The prodigal son in the parable could have "repented" and told himself that he simply deserved to eat the pig-food and admitted his sin, even resolving to lead a better life from then. Perhaps his resolve may even have succeeded in exemplary self-control and a total break from his past life. Instead chose to go back to his father against whom he had rebelled. Why? Could it be that he knew that at his father's house he would at least what his father's servants were getting? Isn't it telling that the Father ran to him when he saw him from far away?
If we did not know grace will we ever repent? Is repentance only the conviction that we deserve penalty for our sins? If repenteance involves turning away from sin, if we do not have forgiveness can we truly turn away? Another way to ask this question is: if Jesus had not taken the hard route to demonstrate His mercy towards us on the cross, would we have repented at all? John the Baptist had followers who were repenting of their sins in expectation of the Messiah. Similarly Old Testament repentances in the life of the nation of Israel were expectant of salvation in some way.
I would be happy to know your thoughts. At this point I only have questions. Just last week my friend and I had a phone conversation in which we agreed that it is good to speculate, stir the pot and conjecture about Biblical questions as long as we do not conclude on these matters against or without the Bible's own affirmation.
I'm even happy only to be raising these questions. As I wrote in a previous blog article, we can admire God for what we do not or cannot know of Him. He is a sweet mystery that intrigues us and captures our imaginations as well as our worship.