Not every specific suffering should be traced and tied to a specific sin in a person’s life. If you contract the coronavirus, do not draw the conclusion that God is punishing you for a particular transgression. Both the Book of Job and the teachings of Jesus make this clear. While ministering to a blind man, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This came about so that God’s works might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Nevertheless, elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus does view the experience of suffering as an invitation for people to exercise repentance. Suffering can awaken us not only to our mortality but also to our accountability before God. In Luke 13, Jesus speaks of a tower that collapsed and killed 18 people. In response, Jesus asked, “Do you think they were more sinful than all the other people who live in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all perish as well.” The experience of suffering provides a sobering opportunity to exercise repentance.
Psalm 51 is a helpful psalm for this season because it models repentance for us. One response we should give to the current pandemic crisis is to accept suffering as God’s invitation to exercise repentance.
Repentance begins with appeals to God’s character. He is gracious, faithful, loving, and merciful. We ask Him to treat us in accordance with His character and not the merits of our own. For we are all sinners who rebel against Him in a myriad of ways—both conscious and unconscious.
Sin manifests in our attitudes, emotions, imaginations, and actions. All of our sin, regardless of its form, is against God. Historically, King David wrote this psalm confessing his sins of murder and adultery. Yet, he writes, “Against you—you alone—I have sinned and done this evil in your sight.” No sin escapes God’s vision or alludes His awareness. Thus, a repentant heart makes no attempt to self-justify. A repentant heart never defends itself.
God desires integrity in the inner self. Yet, that is where we are often lacking. So we put ourselves before God, and ask Him to do for us what we could never do for ourselves: i.e. wash away our guilt, cleanse us from our sin, create a clean heart for us, renew a steadfast spirit within us, restore the joy of our salvation, give us a willing spirit, etc. Rich phrases such as these serve our prayers of repentance well.
But repentance is often accompanied by the confession of specific sins. David asked God to save him from the guilt of bloodshed—that is, murder (v. 14). He feared the loss of personal connection with God. Thus, he repented and confessed sin in the hope that intimacy with God could be restored.
Repentance is not something we should fear. For “the sacrifice pleasing to God is a broken spirit” (v. 17). God will never turn repentant sinners away. He welcomes us all with arms wide open! David knew this because He was well acquainted with the character of God. Today, you and I are not only familiar with God’s character but with His redeeming activity. We have all the more reason to exercise repentance because we know what God in Christ did for us—that He lived a perfect life of obedience, died on the cross so that we can be forgiven and cleansed, and rose from the grave so that we may enjoy God’s presence forever.
Putting faith in Christ does not exempt us from exercising repentance. Putting faith in Christ encourages us to do so! We appeal to God’s character fully aware of God’s redeeming activity. We make no effort to defend ourselves. We confess our sins because Jesus defends us. “If we say, ‘We have no sin,’ we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness….If anyone does sin, we have an advocate [defender] with the Father—Jesus Christ the righteous one” (1 John 1:8-2:1).
In the midst of suffering, God invites us to exercise repentance not because He seeks to ruin us, but because He desires to deepen our intimacy with Him.