Thursday, October 02, 2008

Repentance: Facing the Apocalypse

How penitence renews us in covenant protection

The rush of natural disasters, hurricanes, wind and fire, the march of terror and war, the hint of economic crash… these things we can no longer ignore. People now ask me, “Is this the beginning of the end?”

It is a serious question.

I try to answer it in biblical terms. Scripture never emphasizes the when of apocalypse, but always emphasizes the what of apocalypse, as in, “What should be our response in such a time as this?” “How then should we live?”

The Hebraic prophets called for repentance when faced with national disaster. Such teaching is totally opposite our postmodern intuitions. What? A spiritual response to physical disaster? Surely not!

We then ask, “Why?” Why would the prophets call for a moral response to material calamity? Why would Jesus finish His sermon on apocalypse by saying, “Watch, therefore…”? In other words, ‘Live a certain way.’

Is there some link between moral and physical reality? Scripture answers this, a resounding “Yes!”

Scripture asserts that our spiritual thoughts, our mental and internal status, affect physical reality. Our universe is first a spiritual universe. All that is, is held together by the Spirit of God. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’ ‘And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.’ ‘By the word of the Lord were the heavens made…’‘You send forth your Spirit and they are created…”

So when faced with physical calamity, the prophets say, “Repent.”

When humans repent, we bring our lives into line with the Spirit that holds the whole together. An actual connection with the eternal occurs – whether we realize it or not.

This is why it is no mere child’s game to say that our prayers affect even physical disasters, such as hurricanes or economic crash. The prophets emphasized this, repeatedly. And they were only applying the specific covenant promise of God. 2 Chronicles 7:14:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

It is the same promise that God offered them in when He brought them out of Egypt:
There the LORD made for them a statute and a rule, and there He tested them, saying, ‘If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and do that which is right in His eyes, and give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the LORD, your healer’ [Exodus 15:35, et al].

In covenant repentance, God acts on behalf of His children. “I am your healer; I will heal your land.” Penitence and prayer thus become the most powerful things in the universe – things that re-connect us to the One who renews us, even if silent and unseen

Physical reality is connected with spiritual actions. Sara Yoheved Rigler, a Jewish writer, puts it this way:
A person stealing $100 in Tel Aviv lowers the moral fiber in Mexico City and could encourage massive embezzlement in Melbourne. Conversely, a person [praying] in Haifa may avert an auto accident in London or prevent complications during open-heart surgery in Los Angeles. The spiritual channels of effect run far below the surface, untraceable but powerful.

Spiritual forces, like ocean waves, do not lose their power over distance.[1]

Our repentance, covenant repentance, means that the power of God comes to bear, to forgive past offenses and grant healing. God promises himself as healer and deliverer.

Covenant repentance: exactly what is it? Since it is so compelling, how does it happen?

2 Chronicles 7:14 gives the pattern: humble the self, pray, seek the face of God, and turn from personal unrighteousness. It is simply taking relation with God seriously, accepting the fact that God is a Holy God. This is biblical penitence: Humility, committed prayer, wholehearted seeking of God, and turning away from known sin: Life in light of the gracious choice of God.

It is so powerful, it could save a nation. It could save a city. It could save a family. It could save a relationship. It could save you.

C. S. Lewis frames repentance as lived remorse, “where we lay down our [weapons] and surrender, say we're sorry, realize we're on the wrong track, and move full speed astern.” Repentance, he says, is “the only way out of a hole.”

In practical terms, penitence is humbly living in the grace of God – and this to such degree that we bring God into the details of daily life, into the small things. This is the test of grace.

Francois de Fenelon says:
To do small things that are right continually…is much more important [than doing 'great things']. These small acts attack our pride, our laziness, our self-centeredness, and our oversensitive nature. It is much more appealing to make great sacrifices to God, however hard they might be, so that we might do whatever we want with the small decisions of life. Faithfulness in the little things better proves our love for God. It is the slow, plodding path [of daily obedience] that matters...

Righteousness is letting God into the small things, and then realizing that He owns all things.

Our defense against the day of apocalypse is the action of this day. This day! ‘Today, if you will hear my voice,’ says the Lord. ‘Harden not your heart as in the day of provocation…’ ‘Now is the appointed time. Today is the day of salvation…’


Hear the voice that calls for repentance, and face the Apocalypse. It could be that your prayers will avert the day of disaster. Your prayers might save a relation or save the nation.



[1] S.Y. Rigler, “A spiritual response to disaster,” Society Today,

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