On Being – Louis Newman – The Refreshing Practice of Repentance

On Being is a really insightful, thought-provoking conversational based show hosted by Krista Tippett. Krista often interviews deep thinkers and philosophers about topics that range from DNA sequencing and epigenetics to the power of vulnerability.

In this conversation, which unedited goes on for 2 hours, Krista and Louis explore the concept of repentance. In the Jewish religious tradition repentance is regarded differently than how I traditionally viewed it coming from a Christian household. In both the Christian and Jewish tradition, repentance is human initiated. However, in the Jewish tradition – repentance seems to be something that requires more ongoing contemplation from us. We should turn toward God, but also acknowledge the mistake or character trait that led to sin, and then actively work on rectifying the mistake to the best of our ability. In the Christian tradition there can be an implicit suggestion that just the act of repentance is enough, but in the Jewish tradition there is such a focus on ‘action’ and fixing the problem (as much as possible) with the people who were wronged.

Since this conversation is waaay too deep to blog and give each thought it’s due discussion. I’ll instead pick out a couple thoughts that stood out for me.

  1. “Sin is pretending something that is true when it’s not. Idolatry is pretending something is divine when it is not. T’shuva [repentance] is about turning toward what is true.” – Louis Newman

So I’ve mentioned this in a previous post but I think it definitely bears some reflection. This quote rings so true to me. Having been mired in different types of sins for varying lengths of time (and enjoyment), I can definitely relate to the fact that when I “woke up” that I realized that this thing or “idol” that I had devoted myself to was not worthy of the devotion and attention I’d given them. Whether they were money, sex, busy-ness, or other people’s opinions was of less important the fact that they each had consumed a bigger chunk of my time, energy, and attention ( = devotion) than they deserved.

  1. “If you change your path only by a couple degrees – over an extended period of time, your final destination is a very different place” – Louis Newman

I love this idea that repentance does not have to be a complete and instantaneous change. To me this idea is important because it allows a margin of grace that is often missing in the day-to-day practice of seeking God. This may be partly because of the way we see change depicted in movies and media. The media we all see depicts change as a process that is supposed to occur over the course of a 3-minute video montage accompanied by theme music and perhaps a voiceover. I think the real process of change for human beings is slow, up until the point where critical mass is reached and suddenly the change seems difficult to ignore.

  1. Paraphrasing: “God created the world as an imperfect place and that God is using us to perfect the world. So every time we turn toward God – we are working out the perfection of the world.”

This thought is intriguing and deserves much more attention than I’m going to give it here. How interesting to consider that God is welcoming us into the co-creation process of perfecting the world. That perhaps this imperfect world is a workshop for us to not only work through our sinfulness and move toward God, but also a place for us to – through each step towards God – to bring God into this world.

  1. The person who recognizes and struggles with his/her evil side/inclination and fights to move toward righteousness is more righteous than the person who has never known sin or been tempted.
  1. The 13 traits of God
    1. Compassion before a person sins
    2. Compassion after a person has sinned
    3. Mighty in compassion to give all creatures according to their need
    4. Merciful, that humankind may not be distressed
    5. Gracious is humankind is already in distress;
    6. Slow to anger
    7. Plenteous in kindness
    8. Truthful
    9. Keeping Kindness unto thousands
    10. Forgiving iniquity
    11. Forgiving transgression
    12. Forgiving of sin
    13. Pardoning

It’s mind blowing to me how many of His attributes are related to turning toward mankind, even in our sinfulness. I think that reading this list continually and meditating on the character of God can do a lot to help me to release some of the incorrect mental frameworks about who God is and how He feels about me.

All in all this podcast was a great listen.



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