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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Susan Hanson

Friday, November 6

Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
—Romans 2:4

At least once a year, a traveling preacher will appear in the free speech area on the campus where I teach, shaking his fist and calling for everyone within shouting distance to turn to Jesus and repent. Unfortunately, this is the image that many people have when they hear that word, repent—fire and brimstone rhetoric, full of anger, built on fear.

Contemplative monk Thomas Keating offers an alternative view. He writes, “When Jesus said, 'Repent,' to his first disciples, he was calling them to change the direction in which they were looking for happiness. 'Repent' is an invitation to grow up and become a fully mature human being who integrates the biological needs with the rational level of consciousness.”

Repentance, viewed in this light, is anything but grim. Yes, it entails recognizing our broken relationships, with God as well as with the people in our lives, but it means much more than this. To say “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong” is just the initial step.

It is easy to forget this, but at the heart of repentance is love; as 1 John puts it, “We love because he first loved us.”

The desire to “make things right” is a natural response when we know we’ve disappointed or hurt someone we care for. We don’t change our actions out of fear, but out of a deep-seated urge to bring that person delight.

Similarly, when we realize that God’s greatest longing for us is that we “grow up and become a fully mature human being,” we can begin to think of repentance not as something we do to avoid punishment, but as something we do to find life.

O God, when I look for happiness where it can’t be found, give me the humility and wisdom to repent, that I may move ever closer to you.

These Signposts were originally published on in 2005.