Repentance and Honda Civic Doors

Repentance: uncomfortable and avoided whenever possible (at least that is the way Christians often look at the practice). So much so, that Martin Luther’s first of 95 theses—that “the entire life of believers [is] to be one of repentance”—can sound, even to Protestant ears, like a pretty weak way to start a document that you’d like others to read in full. After all, repentance is being honest with God about your sin. It is a declaration of failure and moral lack. Yes, Christians know they should regularly repent, but the sheer weight of negative emotions surrounding the process leads so many to avoid it, at least mostly and only in the face of hideous discovered sin. And that is why the logic of Psalm 25:11 seems foreign when David says, “For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”

There are two oddities in David’s statement, the first about himself and the second about God. First, he’s talking about his great sin, as a public figure, in a hymn-poem that he expected his citizens to use in worship. Honestly, this is public relations at its worst, or so the modern mind thinks. But secondly, he is drawing a connection between his proclamation of his great sin and praise for the great name of God. In fact, David’s logic is that his great sin and God’s pardon of that sin is a reason for God to get the maximal glory. So, David sees his public repentance as fuel for the worship of God rather than a list of indiscretions to be swept under the rug until the next media cycle.

The difference between seeing repentance as loathsome rather than worship-inducing all depends on your perspective. Take my auto-mechanic for example. He’s a genius in his auto repair shop, a master at his craft. Sure, he’s a country boy at heart and indulges in the typical irenic debate between Ford and Chevy owners, but don’t underestimate him, he’s excellent at what he does. He looks at my Honda Civic completely differently than I do. When I crank my door on a concrete retaining wall (hypothetically speaking) I look at the scratch-dent as a testimony to my carelessness, also recognizing that others will look at my car door and think the same, this, my door-dent-shame. But my auto-mechanic sees the scratch-dent as an opportunity to ply his restorative trade. I don’t know how he does it, but he can make my door, paint, and finish look as if I’d never connected door frame to concrete. The repaired door is a testimony to his skill and craftsmanship.

When we consider our sin, consider how and whether we’ll repent, we have two options. We can see our repentance as a step backward in our attempts at personal glory production. Or we can see repentance as our declaration that God grace to forgive is exponentially stronger than our sin. The enormity of our sin is no match for the power of the cross of Jesus Christ. When we consider our glory, repentance is fiend and foe. When we consider God’s glory, repentance is an opportunity to extol the great name of our God.

Joe Holland