Archive for the ‘Penance’ Tag

I Already Got 5 Dollars

In the Wendell Berry book, Jayber Crow, the main character (Jayber) tells a lie as a young man in order to disguise his aimlessness. He is hitchhiking and a man he knows from his childhood gives him a lift. Jayber is now about 19-20 and he knows the man does not recognize him. Jayber never intended to rob the man but he made up an elaborate lie about a sick mother and hungry brothers and sisters and that he had to go to the city to find work to support them. The truth was, he was lost emotionally and did not know what to do with his life.

When the man dropped him off at his destination he shoved a 5-dollar bill into Jayber’s jacket pocket. Jayber took the money, he needed it, but it was a liar’s wage and he knew it. The 5 dollars became a shameful burden for Jayber.

Well, by and by Jayber made his way back to his home town and became the town’s only barber. The memory of his lie and his “liar’s wage” would not leave him, nor would its shame. One day the man who’d given him the 5 dollars, so many years ago, came and sat in Jayber’s barber chair. Seeing that he was the only customer in the shop Jayber took the opportunity to confess his crime and offered to repay the 5 dollar5vers. The man refused the money by saying, “I already got 5 dollars.”

Do you see it?

Forgiveness, true forgiveness does not require repayment. Since the man had forgiven Jayber he was no longer in a place where he had to have the money back in order for their relationship to be whole. It was not easy for Jayber to accept such free and honest forgiveness but he did and he and the man never spoke of the 5 dollars again.

In the Atonement the Father, Son, and Spirit forgave humanity’s Sin and sins, we were no longer under any obligation to repay a debt. Most amazingly the Father, Son, and Spirit do not even want our attempted repayments. There is no need for penance, no need to try and balance the scales, no need to try and make up for our sins. It may be necessary and beneficial to try to make restitution to a person we have wronged. It may be helpful for us and for them but it will never improve the unconditional forgiveness we have all received in Jesus.

The statement from Jesus on the Cross: “Father forgive them…” is a done deal for us. Trust me there is nothing you can ever give back to triune God that you perceive you have taken. I can almost hear Jesus now, when I let guilt creep into my life over wrongs I’ve done, “Hey Bill, I already got 5 dollars!”

~Bill Winn

Penance: The Real Reason We Never Seem to Have Any Fun

 Penance might be defined as “voluntary self-punishment as a result of sin,” but we can all identify it as the real reason we never (or at least rarely) have any fun.  Let’s face it, when a person is feeling like God is looking down on him or her with displeasure, it’s hard to get any real enjoyment or contentment in life.

Putting it all out on the table, we all have sinned, and consequently, we all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  I would like to argue, however, that we are looking at this verse in the wrong light.  We are assuming that we could possibly attain (through our own herculean efforts) the glory of God, and by discounting what’s said in the following verse, we set ourselves up for a life of penance:

            and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (NIV, Romans 3:24)

I’ve been reading a humorous memoir by Suzanne Morrison called Yoga Bitch:  One Woman’s Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism, and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment.  In this book, Morrison travels to Bali to take part in a yoga school/retreat in an effort to do battle with her fear of death and to search for God.  Interestingly, Morrison details her struggles with the idea of penance, or having to make up for wrongs she has done, even though she considers herself an atheist:

            Penance is in my bones…I think it stems from seeds of superstition left over from a childhood belief in an omniscient creator.  I imagine this creator, this observer, as a sort of annoying sibling in the sky, forever calling me on my bullshit.  When I lie or cheat, I actually feel like that annoying sibling in the sky calls down, “Bullshit, Suzie, BULLSHIT!”  and that anyone nearby, if they’re at all sensitive to the catcalls of the gods, can hear him, so I behave accordingly, and try to make amends for what I have done. (34)

I find it interesting that even an atheist such as Morrison struggles with the idea that a Great Observer is keeping tabs on her wrongdoing, and that there is the expectation that it needs to be “made up.”  It’s been my observation that many Christians, disregarding what Romans 3:23-24 says,  fall into this same camp and spend their lives never really enjoying themselves because they are worried about making amends, as if God was an official scorekeeper rather than a loving Father.

Morrison discusses her struggle with guilt and penance, and describes it in terms that many of us Christians can identify with:

            …The best penance is the free-floating kind you vaguely engage with every day until you die, like a mild flu bug that doesn’t keep you from going in to work but ensures that you won’t enjoy yourself while you’re there.  The longer you can suffer, the more you please God.  Self-loathing, you see, is nothing more than agreeing with Him.  This type of penance takes no self-discipline, just a good memory stuck on repeat. (34)

Unfortunately, the idea of penance (recognized or not) is still a profound part of many Christians’ relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The idea that our loving Father expects us to suffer reveals how warped our perception of God really is.  The idea of penance demonstrates a view of God that refuses to accept the divine handout of grace, and says, “I’ll take care of this sin problem myself.”  By opening our eyes to the true character of the Triune God, we can stop holding on to the idea that we can and must make amends.  It’s time to agree with God that we are worthy of His grace and love, not because of any penance, but because we are His.  The grace of God will enable us to enjoy life, knowing we have the unconditional love and acceptance of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

~by Nan Kuhlman


%d bloggers like this: