Sunday, May 31, 2009
I think we can all agree that the YW will have had this lesson before, no matter how old or young they are. There are a dozen Mormon mnemonics and "EZ-Steps" lists that they will have heard from Sunbeams on up. Everyone knows the steps of repentance. Yawn.
But does everyone truly know how to repent? Really truly?
It's like a fine car sitting in the driveway. It's going nowhere without the keys. You need to be able to put something in the ignition and turn it ON in your life.
One way that helps me in my own preparation is to play with the word itself - to explore the language, to see a fresh way of defining the concept. Sometimes a good way to do that is to look at how others might use the word. That might spark something new or relevant.
Take the fact, for instance, that there is a Star Trek Voyager episode by that title. Honestly, the episode description written by a fan was totally confusing to me, and I haven't seen the episode, but I vaguely get that the reason the episode was titled "Repentance" was that the medical crew were holding an alien Nygean in the sickbay, and they couldn't find anything wrong with him but he was feeling sick, and they finally realized that he was feeling something that his species didn't usually feel, which was guilt - evident in his neural pathways.
Okay, maybe that wasn't the best help. What about the fact that there is a World of Warcraft spell called "Repentance"? I don't play that game, so I haven't tried it, but apparently "Repentance" puts the enemy in a "state of meditation" for one minute, allowing you to escape or something like that. The WoW spellbook helpfully tells me that repentance is "usable against Demons, Dragonkin, Giants, Humanoids and the Undead." I think there's a gospel analogy in there somewhere, and sin can sure feel like demons, dragonkin, giants, humanoid, or the undead, so it's good that it's useful against all of those.
The term isn't unique to Christianity, of course, so perhaps we could approach the term through other religious uses.
In Judaism, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement, focused on teshuva (repentance) - the day in which the people are reconciled to God. I've got to admit, there is something very appealing about the idea of a single day of reconciliation. That must be tremendously cathartic for the entire congregation, who come fasting and contrite. About.com's page on Yom Kippur explains, "If the main reason for our sins is our quest for physical gratification, the way to atone for our sins is to elevate ourselves above the physical and into the spiritual realm. Praying, fasting, and abstaining from work and physical pleasures, enables us to envision the divine image that lives in each of us, denounce our bad deeds, and aim to do good deeds." (Aside - I had the somewhat jarring experience of having an LDS banner ad for the "Lamb of God" video when I looked at that page... maybe not the ideal target audience?).
Rabbi David Blumenthal elaborates, "Judaism does not recognize confession of personal sin to a religious figure as part of the process of sin and repentance. There is no designated authority to whom one can confess sins; sins are confessed privately, in prayer, before God. Nor does Judaism recognize penance as a necessary part of the process of sin and repentance." So are there some similarities and differences that are worth thinking about.
The concept is also present in Islam - the Arabic word Tawbah (Repentance) literally means 'to return'. "In an Islamic context, it refers to the act of leaving what Allaah has prohibited and returning to what He has commanded."
I then encountered a really interesting essay on the idea on a Christian evangelical website, which starts with the image of Moses's brass serpent - with Moses asking the people to LOOK and LIVE. The poisonous venom of sin was coursing through their veins. You know when you're walking a balance beam, where do you look? Not at the beam, you'll topple. I remember in a driving lesson being warned not to look at cars on the shoulder since you're likely to aim the car where you're looking. Look in the direction you want to go. Repenting = TURNING a new direction and LOOKING towards the Lord. And the Lord specifically warns against looking backwards at the old things we used to desire (think of Lot's wife... every time I read that story I want to shout, "Girl! Don't look back! It's not worth it!").
I think it would be time to bring back my old friend from a few lessons last year - the "snake on a stick" as a visual aid - the simple act of TURNING and LOOKING. Consider these scriptures (the wording is from various other Bible translations):
Ps 105:4 (NIV) Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always.
Ps 119:36-37 (NIV) Turn my heart toward your statutes and not towards selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.
Acts 2:38 (TEB) Peter said to them, "Turn away from your sins, each one of you, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God's gift, the Holy Spirit."
2 Tim 2:19 (NIV) "everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness."
Acts 3:19 (NIV) "Repent, then, and turn to God..."
Hebrews 12:2a (NIV) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith."
The essay concludes with this thought, which I think is central to this lesson: "when at first we hear 'repent or perish', it seems harsh. But as we turn, we see that it is an incredible gift to have something to turn to. If not for God's love, our only option would be to perish. But the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has appeared. To have the option to turn is sweet indeed."
Here's another short essay on repentance from a Christian evangelical site, Theopedia, which lists the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible that are translated as "repentance" - there are 5 of them, each with a slightly different slant of meaning:
Hebrew = shub
This term is found over 1,000 times in the Old Testament, and in the vast majority of its uses refers to a literal change of direction. However, in more than 200 occurrences it refers to Israel or God turning toward or away from one another. The modern idea of repentance is found in turning away from idolatry
Hebrew = nacham
This term is found over 100 times in the Old Testament and means to be sorry, or to pity or console oneself. In three of those occurences it is referring to repentance.
Greek = metanoeo
This term is the one most commonly translated in the New Testament as "repentance" and literally means "to change one’s mind or purpose, to repent." From this same root comes the noun metanoia: "after-thought, repentance." This is a reversal of thinking. You see yourself differently: as fallen and corrupt
Greek = metamelomi
This term carries a more emotional implication and literally means "to feel repentance, to rue, regret."
Greek = epistrepho
This word means "to turn about, turn round; to return; to run towards; to correct, make to repent; to turn oneself round, turn about; constantly turning."
Well, enough background. Here's how I plan to approach this lesson:
Begin with the question:
Have you ever been lost?
How did it feel?
How did you get out of the situation?
From there we'll talk about the so-called "steps" of repentance, which aren't really sequential nor so neat & tidy - might be actually rather messy in real life. I think I'll map them on the board or on the wall as more of an "idea web" than a path or list, as they appear here:
Feel true sorrow
Promise not to repeat sin
Recommit to the Lord’s path
Forgive self and others
Work with priesthood leaders if needed – confess & develop a plan to return
Receive & feel forgiveness from the Lord
We'll talk about how this works through the power of the Atonement, which is not necessarily linear. The lesson really emphasizes that repentance is a gift to help us progress, which we should use wisely – not to just get us back to where we were before, at the point we commited the sin in the first place. It's a learning tool for making progress in our lives. I was thinking of the analogy of a "power tool." Maybe I'll bring some kind of power tool from home?
Other questions to discuss:
Are there things you can’t repent of?
Can’t you just break the commandments and plan to repent later?
For the Strength of Youth has strong words about that: “Such deliberate sin mocks the Savior’s Atonement and invites Satan to influence your life. Repentance for such behavior is difficult and can take a long time. If you sin in this way, you may lose years of blessings and spiritual guidance.”
What’s the difference between a daily course correction, keeping the commandments, and repentance? Are the first two “repenting”? Is the third one fundamentally different?
Another good approach would be to look in depth at Alma retelling the story of his youth to son Helaman in Alma 36:6-27, but you could also try to do in class part of #4 of the Virtue Value requirement:
"Determine to partake worthily of the sacrament each week and fill your life with virtuous activities that will bring spiritual power. Study about repentance and the sacrament in Moroni 10:32, the book of Enos, the section on repentance in For the Strength of Youth and the sacrament prayers in D&C 20:77–79."