Nobody Wants to Repent

Everyone likes to see an evil person get the punishment everyone believes he deserves. When John Wayne Gacy was executed in 1994, few tears were shed on his behalf, and many comments mourned the fact that he could only be killed once despite having murdered at least 33 young men. People tended to believe that he got what he deserved. On the other hand, when a grain elevator blows up and people die, the comments usually suggest that people innocent of any wrong-doing whatsoever have been unfairly punished. People often feel entitled to make judgments about the reasons, and even the justification, for someone’s death.

Jesus heard stories like that. He was teaching people about God’s kingdom, and most people who heard him had some perception that the world was governed according a code of justice that included punishment for evil and reward for good. He heard people talking about two events that resulted in human death:

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

In the first story, a human being caused human death, and in the second story, humans died in an accident over which nobody had control. Jesus heard people trying to make sense of these events by suggesting that sinners are punished in this life by suffering and dying. It reminds us of the disciples asking about a blind man, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) We condescendingly chuckle when Bible characters attribute illness to demon possession, but when they attribute death to a cosmic avenger we understand. Everybody likes to think that evil people will suffer and good people will cruise through life in peace.

It doesn’t work that way. Jesus, always looking toward his own increasingly imminent death, knowing the horror that would be part of that event, could say with certainty that suffering and cruel death are not necessarily the consequence of evil deeds, and looking ahead to that same event, he could say with equal certainty that doing the right thing does not always result in rewards in this life.

It is common for humans to declare that people who suffer destruction in this world are being punished for their wickedness, while we who escape those disasters are somehow better human beings in God’s eyes. According to Jesus, however, that whole concept is hogwash. He said it twice: unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) Every person in the sound of his voice, every person reading these words on the page, every human being is on the path to judgment, because every human being is born with sinful human nature. Everybody is a sinner, and everybody will be judged and punished—unless he repents.

But nobody wants to repent.

Repentance is a hard word. Nobody wants to admit that he needs to repent. Nobody wants to be wrong. Nobody wants anybody else to judge him or even suggest that he might be wrong about anything. It is a common human attitude. Today’s culture thinks that each person is his own god, his own final judge of his own decisions and actions. Today’s culture thinks it is presumptive, extreme, and dangerous for anyone to look at a human action and call it sin. A recent survey by Barna Group elicited statistics that demonstrate that 50%-79% of Americans believe it is an act of extremism to say that something other people do is a sin. Needless to say, the culture will not very interested in repenting of sin as long as the culture considers it a dangerously extreme act to denounce any behavior as sin. People who believe they are their own gods do not need to repent of anything.

The statistics also make it clear that many people who self-identify as Christians must not believe there is such a thing as sin, either, and an earlier Barna survey did, in fact, uncover the startling fact that only 46% of people who self-identify as Christian believe that there is such a thing as absolute moral truth. If my truth is for me and your truth is for you and there is no truth that is for everyone, why would anyone need to repent of anything?

Viewing the world with this information in mind, I almost feel confident to say that disasters that look like God’s judgment are more likely Satan’s penultimate revenge on people who have given themselves to him. (Obviously hell is the ultimate revenge; the one thing no secularist expects is to be sentient after death. They are all expecting to go out like lights. Eternal death is not for sissies.) Satan is the one who delights in taunting people who are suffering because of the choices they made under his guidance. Not God. Satan is the one who delights in the torment and anguish of human beings. Not God. The apostle Peter is at great pains to point out that “ The Lord is . . . patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (1 Peter 3:9) God does not delight in crushing people; he delights in saving them.

Yet God will not force his saving power on anyone. We are proud, we human beings. God made us free, and we love that freedom. We love it to our own peril when we use that freedom to defy God and ignore his gracious wisdom. We go our own way, and we struggle to accomplish great things. We insist on doing it “all by ourselves” without any help, which we interpret as hindrance, from God. But God loves us, and he loves for us to use our freedom. He yearns for us to freely recognize that no matter how hard we try, as long as we deny that we are his children and deny that we need him, we always hunger for him. A popular song of a few decades ago said it very clearly: “Is that all there is?” Hearing that song always made me wonder why it did not drive every hearer to God’s throne in repentance. That song laid it out for everyone to see the human condition:

Is That All There Is

By Peggy Lee

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire. 
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up 
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement. 
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames. 
And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire”

Is that all there is, is that all there is 
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to a circus, the greatest show on earth. 
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears. 
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads. 
And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle. 
I had the feeling that something was missing. 
I don’t know what, but when it was over, 
I said to myself, “is that all there is to a circus?

Is that all there is, is that all there is 
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is


Then I fell in love, head over heels in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world. 
We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes. 
We were so very much in love. 
Then one day he went away and I thought I’d die, but I didn’t, 
and when I didn’t I said to myself, “is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is 
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing

I know what you must be saying to yourselves, 
if that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all? 
Oh, no, not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment, 
for I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you, 
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst [sic] breath, I’ll be saying to myself

Is that all there is, is that all there is 
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.
For non-commercial use only.
Data from: LyricFind

When Jesus said to the people around him, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5) he did not mean that the people around him would be uniquely punished while others would escape. Jesus meant that the people around him, like the writer of the song, were oblivious to God. They thought they could figure everything out on their own, and if all else failed, then there was booze.

It is sad to contemplate how many people are busy being their own gods and planning their own lives without regard to their Creator and Savior. They don’t feel the need to be worried about piddly little sins such as homosexuality. They have walked right past God himself, ignored his call to them, “Here I am, here I am,” and they have plunged into life and love and personal fulfillment without any regard for God. Isaiah wrote about them long ago:

I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that was not called by my name.
—Isaiah 65:1

They need to repent, because they are breaking themselves against the commandment Jesus said was the most important one: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30) Everyone needs to repent, because everyone is trying to be his own god.

But nobody wants to repent.