quit trying to appease the angry god

We're in the season of Lent now, traditionally a time of repentance. And repentance has been the focus for a series of community retreat days here for the last few months. I've also been thinking about it a bit, and agree that God is calling us to repentance (it was almost a year ago that the last worship service I led focused on repentance). It's not an easy thing to actually do, though. Especially in an organization or community.

One complication I've noticed is the temptation to focus on some kind of shared "communal" guilt, rather than on our own personal wrongs and contributions to the hurts in the group. Sin that is common is easier to admit and accept than sin that is our own personal fault. And sins of the group can be something in the past, or acts of leaders or others that have little to do with my own choices. So it's easier to repent of that; it costs me nothing.

But I think this is just a symptom of a deeper problem involving repentance. We get to the point of recognizing (or believing) that God may be resisting us. Perhaps it feels as if God's "hand is heavy upon us." So repentance comes to mind. But we can easily take this to mean that God is angry with us and must somehow be appeased. We search for the right way of praying or right act of penitence to satisfy God's wrath and so regain his favor. When I say it this way it sounds so pagan, so unlike the way of relating to God that Jesus taught us. But I think it's easy to fall into this common response. Because it takes the focus off us, off our own fault, our own contribution to our current difficulties, and sees God's anger as the problem that must be solved. I know we sometimes respond this way when there are problems in our human relationships, so I'm not surprised we do it with God as well.

But of course God doesn't call us to repentance for his sake. If his hand is heavy upon us, it's not to satisfy his own wrath. It's because God is trying to get us to change direction, or see some truth we don't want to see, or grow past our fears. It's not for him but for us. So any efforts to appease God are worthless; they won't help us at all. If God's hand is heavy on me, it's not about something long ago, or the sins of others in the group, it's about me. It's about the direction I am currently going, the way I am choosing, and God is trying to turn me. For my own sake, my own good.

Repentance is about admitting that I cannot save myself or choose my own path. It is admitting the need for God to show me the way, though it may be too difficult for me, and letting God carry me along that way. "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit."

But first we have to quit trying to appease the angry god we have conjured in our head. And we have to stop blaming others, the leaders, the group. The group has no soul; it cannot repent and cannot be forgiven. Each one of us has to turn the way God is pressing us to turn. And then the new life that springs from each of us will contribute to the healing of relationships and reveal the presence of the kingdom of God among us.