For some reason I get a little obsessed with the idea of what is actually foundational to Christianity and to Jesus and to the Gospels and to the Bible, etc. As a result I look for things that show up in multiple Gospels with minimal change between writers. One of the words, or rather concepts, that always seems to catch my attention is Repentance, which is the english translation of the Greek word Metanoia.
In general I believe it to be a horribly misunderstood word. Repentance, or the directive to repent, has come to mean something akin to “be better!” or “do the right thing!” or “stop sinning!” or at its worse: “conform to a specific way of thinking!”. The greek word that is used here is metanoia, and that word does not really mean any of the things that I mention above. Metanoia means, quite literally, to change the way one thinks: meta meaning change, noeo(noia) meaning think. To put it another way metanoia/repentance means to change the way one thinks about the world, or to transform the way one sees or understands the world. To repent is to see things differently, to understand the world is a different way.
In August of this year a very highly respected rock climber and mountaineer passed away: Jeff Lowe. He was a very famous climber, and is well known for roughly 1000 first ascents and new climbing routes. I was recently reading one of his obituaries and I stumbled across what many consider to be his greatest achievement: a solo climb of the North Face of the Eiger. I am aware that the words “North Face of the Eiger” probably mean very little to those of you not fully indoctrinated into the world of climbing, but for a climber the North Face of the Eiger, a 6000 foot cliff face found in the heart of the Alps, evokes palpitations, anxiety and fear. It is easily the most difficult and dangerous climb in all of Europe and would rank among the most difficult and deadly climbs in the entire the world (not too far after K2).
In 1991 he sent out to forge a new route up the North Face of the Eiger, alone, in the winter, it was a very daring climb. After nine days on the climb he was trapped by a storm just below the summit, without food and all his necessary climbing gear now below him. He faced a number of options, all of them risky, but ultimately decided to risk climbing to the summit —without any safety gear—so that he could be quickly rescued by a helicopter.
Before the climb, his life was in disarray- he had declared bankruptcy and gone through a divorce shortly before the climb. As he tells it, his time on the Eiger changed his life, the whole way he saw and understood the world was transformed, his priorities were re-organized, it was a fresh start, a new life. Instead of his difficulties ruining him, the climb gave him new energy, new hope, new vision, and he went on to build his reputation even more established than it was before, at a time when he could have easily faded away into his own self-pity and sense of failure.
He decided to name the climb Metanoia.
I tell this story because I think it illuminates the true nature of repentance. Its not about being perfect or eliminating something perceived as sinful, rather it is about transformation, new ways of seeing, new life.
Before I close, I want to leave you with a question: When have you experienced a moment of metanoia/repentance? When have you been around someone who experienced a moment of metanoia/repentance? What brought it on? What was the result? I encourage you to discuss this with friends and family and fellow church members, and feel free to share with me what you discover!