By John Blase
“Sorry, not sorry.”
This phrase has gained a firm grip on our culture by way of music and memes. Regardless of how it’s spun or who is doing the spinning, it’s always the bones of an apology minus any meat. In other words, it’s a skeleton phrase, nothing but a shell. “Look, I’m going to tell you ‘I’m sorry,’ but the truth of the matter is I’m not sorry at all.” And yes, it’s always accompanied by a rather carefree, if not defiant, attitude.
While it may no doubt involve using the word “sorry,” there is something much deeper going on when the word “repentance” surfaces in Scripture. It is nothing if not a meaty word, impossible to spin.
“Turn to me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Tear your hearts, not just your clothes.” —Joel 2:12–13
When it comes to repentance, tearing your clothes, whether literally or figuratively, could be involved. But that could also be nothing more than a “sorry, not sorry” stance. An empty gesture, merely a shell. God is crystal clear on the matter—empty gestures won’t fly. As they used to say, “Close, but no cigar.”
The word “repent” unfortunately conjures up images of sweaty evangelists on street corners, pacing back and forth yelling hellfire and damnation messages to mostly disinterested crowds. But it is precisely the word that Jesus used when He came announcing the kingdom: “Repent.” But here’s the deal: Jesus didn’t stop with that one word, and what follows is what sets Him apart from any doomsday huckster. “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15).
Repentance is all in: a total turning of your mind, body, soul, and strength. You were headed in this direction, this way of thinking, this way of behaving, but now you’re turning the other way, the opposite of before. By all means if you need something tangible to symbolize your repentance, like tearing your clothes, do it. But more importantly, tear your heart and pray with the psalmist, “God, create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).
Tear your heart. Sounds sorta harsh, doesn’t it? That’s probably because it sorta is, or at least it will feel that way. But stop and consider just who it is you’re turning to—the Lord your God. The psalmist describes our God with phrases like “faithful love” and “abundant compassion.” Words like these make Him sound sorta merciful, don’t they? That’s because He is; He’s merciful beyond our wildest imagination.
The only reason you and I would turn from this to that is because “that” is infinitely better, grander, and more beautiful. And He is. Jesus is.