Barriers to Repentance 4/7
by Shery Abdelmalak
The modern world is marked by advancements in technology, in social media, in education, in health – in all that we know. We have subsequently become increasingly self-sufficient. We know that we need God, but really, how often do you feel that you will not make it through the day without His immediate intervention? When you wake up in the morning – do you pray that God gets you out of bed? Do you pray and honestly believe that you will not achieve even the smallest of tasks without His help?
When you open the door to your room, you know you will find a bed, a wardrobe, all your things in their rightful spots. All your needs before your eyes. There are some places where this is not always guaranteed. Where you do not know what you will find when you open the door – if there even is a door. The certainly that we have in this life can often prevent us from seeking His help at every step. If you thought the floor you walk on could collapse at your next step then the dependence factor would increase profoundly.
Self-dependence, when applied to our spiritual lives, is a major source of despair. Youhanna El Daragy says: ‘The devils, before the fall say to you that God is kind and merciful, but after the fall they say that He is the Just Judge and they will frighten you to lose hope in the forgiveness of God and not repent’. Our self-dependence is what allows the devil to target despair to trap us deeper into sin and separate us further from Christ.
Despair can be defined as the complete loss or absence of hope. How this can apply to Christians in the New Testament is the real bemusement. Christ died for our sins, rose and ascended to the heavens. He conquered death through His death so that we could spend eternity with Him. Yet we despair because of sin? Your sins have been wiped away. But we prefer to wipe them away ourselves, that is way of self dependence.
Our self-sufficiency shadows the promises of faith as we try to overcome sin by our own efforts. Christianity in earlier years was a process of falling and getting back up again. You will fall but when you do, you will stand again. While we are not perfect, and will never attain perfection, we stand; we strive to imitate the One who is perfect. There was no over inflation of ego to hold someone down in the despair of sin. In modern times, falling is still guaranteed, but getting up again is dependent upon the despair that follows the sin.
The greatest source of despair is in repeated, habitual sins. That one sin that we cannot overcome no matter how hard we fight – the one that makes us realise we maybe we do need Him, not before the cycle of despair that is. We can call this a “tunnel vision” sin. Tunnel vision can be defined as, the tendency to focus exclusively on a sole object. If we think of horses at the races, racehorse trainers equip their horses with blinders to keep them focused on the finishing line and to prevent them from being distracted by the crowds and other surroundings. Now imagine a horse with misplaced blinders – blinders that cause the horse to look down to the ground instead of up to the finishing line. This horse is not going to go very far. It can only see two insignificant steps ahead of it. It is missing the entire race.
In a tunnel vision sin, we lose sight of all else, weaknesses and strengths alike. We need to stop looking down and start looking up. Look up to how God sees you – “I am dark but lovely” (Song of Songs 1:5)
HH Pope Shenouda III comments on this verse saying, “Iam dark is a uniquely peculiar and extraordinary phrase. It is uttered by the humble, unassuming, and contrite soul that is readily prepared to confess its sins and shortcomings.” Although tainted by sin, we were still created in His image and in His likeness. We have the potential to be vessels for honour, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work (2 Timothy 2:21).
A humble, unassuming and contrite soul is what we should strive for. A soul as such easily finds repentance. They are harsh on their own sins yet filled with mercy in their dealings with others. The beauty of the soul is in its ability to declare its deficiencies without any feelings of humiliation or degradation. The soul is what it is. We accept this with full focus on God, who He is and His work in us.
When we look at the three qualities HH Pope Shenouda III lists for the soul, we clearly see these as the requirements necessary to overcome despair and repent honestly and joyfully. Humble. Unassuming. Contrite. A soul as such is empty of itself and accepts their flaws. In this admission of weakness, Christ is given the ability to cleanse the soul of its weakness and fill it with all perfect strength.
Repentance is best when it is performed quickly and with no hesitation. This eliminates the stage of despair altogether. To overcome despair is to overcome one’s ego. Boast with Saint Paul of your infirmities. Trust like David that when He washes you, you will be whiter than snow. For in this, His strength will be made perfect in you, the joy of His salvation will be restored and His Spirit will uphold you.
What causes us to despair most is what God looks upon most favourably – a broken and a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). God the Most High opposes the proud but exalts the humble (James 4:6). By grace we have been saved through faith, not by our own doing, but through the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). To look upon sin with despair is to deny the Holy Spirit of His work within us.
“The human soul cannot be victorious or successful in life unless it leans on her beloved, our Lord… Blessed and happy is the human soul that leans on her beloved, on the Lord and none but Him.”
– HH Pope Shenouda III
May we overcome despair through humility and dependence on the Saviour of our souls. Glory be to God forever, Amen.