Lent is an interesting time in the life of the church. It is a part of our tradition that we have only recently been able to appreciate and immerse ourselves in.
Lent is a season of intensified self-examination and repentance. While these practices are part of regular Christian life year-round, we give them special attention during Lent to assure they do not devolve into mere rote activities.
Self examination and repentance aren’t things that we do well as individuals or corporate faith bodies. The work of looking deeply at ourselves is not comfortable and at times is unrewarding. More than once in my ministry I have had folks tell me that we should eliminate the confession from our worship services. The normal argument is that people know how bad they are and don’t want to be reminded each week.
I disagree with this perspective. I don’t think that we as human beings truly understand just how fallen we are. I believe that most folks would classify themselves as “pretty good.” This may be true if we compare ourselves with murderers. Christians are called to hold themselves to a higher standard. When we judge our “goodness” we aren’t supposed to compare ourselves to the criminals next to Jesus on the cross, but are called to compare our lives to the life of Christ
. Too often we make ourselves out to be far greater than we are. In our reformed tradition this is expressed most emphatically by Calvin’s affirmation of “Total Depravity.” Total Depravity is the theological understanding that everyone and everything is touched by sin. Yes, this is a harsh view of creation, but sometimes harsh is realistic.
Lent calls us to connect with the darkest parts of our reality. This is not to be done in a masochistic way. We don’t reflect on our sin in order to make ourselves feel bad, although it should. Instead we do so, as a way to heighten our need and desire for what Christ is doing at the Cross. Sometimes, we discount our complacency in the cross. We too are responsible for Christ’s suffering.
This is the other reason why I affirm the need for confession and why Lent can be such a powerful preparation for Easter. We need to stop hiding from the cold, heartless and cruel reality of Good Friday in order to appreciate the true joy of Easter. This holds true in our weekly discipline of confession. Every confession is met with assurance of pardon. The dark reality of our sin is met with the joyous light of resurrection power that is forgiveness.
This Lent I hope that you will find ways to connect with the truth of your life. In doing so, you will be more able to fully connect with the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. What have you hidden from yourself that may be keeping you apart from God? What is it that you are holding onto which is a wedge in your relationships with God and your “totally depraved” brother’s and sisters?
OK – you asked for comment. be careful what you ask for 🙂
Just last week I read a chapter on the doctrine of sin (Guthrie). In my notes on the chapter I had the following: “total depravity – ??? don’t get this…” LOL.
SO, I went back to re-read. The drawback of trying to understand the depth of our sin is that it can sound very discouraging. A few quotes Guthrie uses…
1) from Faulkner about sin: “You ain’t GOT to. You can’t help it.”
2) “total depravity means that we are NOT free wholeheartedly, without reservation or qualification, to love and let ourselves be loved by God and the people with whom we live…..we are slaves to sin – slaves trapped by the anxiety, division within ourselves, and self-contradictions that result from the twisted relationships in which we all live. This is a trap from which we can not free ourselves, no matter how hard we try.”
3) based on this “trap” one can see your point on how we really don’t understand how fallen we are. Guthrie again – “In short, sin is not loving and not being willing to let ourselves be loved. Only when we understand this, and get beyond thinking of sin as immorality or irreligiousness, can we know and mean what we are saying when we CONFESS IN CHURCH (emphasis mine) that there is no health in us. Only when we learn that however moral, law-abiding, and religious we are, we are still miserable sinners – only then will we understand the power of sin in our lives.”
I originally thought that was rather depressing – but Guthrie also reminds us that the good news is sin in not the main theme of Christianity, and that we are all still human beings created in God’s image. “We must talk about sin in order to understand the forgiveness of sin, Christ’s death for our sins, and the good news that in him God was and is at work in the world to overcome and free us from sin”
That’s all I got – unfortunately I have not gotten to the chapters on Resurrection, Holy Spirit, Justification and Sanctification – so you’ll have to fill in the blanks!