Today is Day 10 of Lent. I read lots of FB updates about abstaining from chocolate, or coffee, or (fill-in-the-blank:___________). All of which, insofar as I can tell, are mostly done faithfully, and largely informed by a desire to do without “that” which keeps them from knowing and following Jesus in a robust and free manner.
OK: I am being generous in the above description.
But, the cynical and realist side of me also knows that the reported motives aren’t always the complete story. Nevertheless, I also admit that the Lord is merciful to us in our always-partial expressions of faith. I’m not saying that to let myself off the hook! Rather, it’d be an unfortunate and lop-sided observation on my part if I failed to include the generosity of God toward our often-impoverished faithfulness. Back to Lent and a couple of related matters.
A few years back, I read this winsome article by Catholic priest that reformed my Reformed understanding of Lent. I had imbibed a perspective that repentance from sin was an ongoing, durative experience of the community of disciples (think the 2nd Gospel here), and that a seasonal expression of repentance merely underscored how insignificant we think repentance is once we come to faith in Jesus. The article countered that by proposing it is precisely because we have Lent as seasonal expression within the context of repentance that we heighten and reaffirm the radical call of Jesus, e.g., “Repent and believe the Good News.” (Mk. 1:15) If I recall the gist of the article, it landed finally upon the notion of intensification: a more intentional turning to Jesus in all of life. Maybe it’s my present social location and experience, but that rendering then makes even more sense to me now.
The other matter regarded what “metanoia” meant then, and for now. I’ll abbreviate for this post, but I had always felt troubled by a definition of repentance that was rendered as (and bounded by) “turning away from sin.” The trouble was that most of the NT was pushing beyond that, as was the OT. (I’ll save that rant on bible translators for another time.) Then, I stumbled upon Newbigin, and he gave words to what I sensed was at play in the Bible when it came to “metanoia”. (Once I figure out how to use Greek fonts, I will amend the word.) For Newbigin- and since then many others- “metanoia” was about a full-on, new way and new content regarding thinking about God. And, of course, any attentive reading of the Gospels yields a God present in Jesus that simply wrecks any intuition we might have regarding God.
So, not just turning from sin- always a good thing in my estimation- but also a fresh understanding of God. That impresses me as far more coherent when paralleled with “believe the Good News.” We practice leaving behind old frameworks, convictions, patterns of behavior for a unique, gracious, and creative God who, by his Spirit, leads us to himself through Christ.
You might have asked yourself earlier, “So, how is Mike observing Lent?” Glad you asked: and that you read this far!
I attended this conference at Wheaton, and during one of the Q&A’s, this plenary speaker explained that he once read Mark repeatedly for Lent: in the Greek. To my way of understanding “metanoia,” this made perfect sense.
I wondered right up to the morning of Lent what I should do that would intensify and heighten my experience of the Lord though “metanoia.” And that’s when the thought (thank you, Lord!) came to me: read Romans in the Greek. Now, it is also true that I’ve had some nagging matters related to soteriology over the last few years. And reading Romans will assist me in ways that I cannot anticipate but will likely attenuate the nagging.
Of course, my Greek has received “a vitamin” from this experience; I’m reading a chapter a day, and will post (or is it back-post?) on some relatively small discoveries along the way. And, supremely, reading Romans is already granting me a fresh understanding of God: that is my experience of “metanoia” in this season of Lent. More on that fresh understanding to come in later posts.