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Lost in Translation: Isn’t It Time We Moved Beyond a Fear-Based Repentance?


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Lost in Translation: Isn’t It Time We Moved Beyond a Fear-Based Repentance?

Commentary by Jody Cramsie | FāVS News

Something has been lost in translation. And we need to reclaim it.

Mark writes that when Jesus returned from the 40 days in the wilderness, he said:

“. . . The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:15 KJV)

The word repent is the stumbling block in the translation of those crucial first words of Jesus in his public ministry.

Rethinking “Repentance”: A Call to Transformation

When I hear the kingdom is at hand, followed immediately by the command to repent, the good news is overshadowed by the fear that I’m not good enough to be part of the kingdom of God. To be good enough, I must repent — which for most people means feeling and expressing regret or remorse or shame or guilt for grievous wrongdoing and sins.

Moreover, this must be atoned for with adequate penance, often experienced as sacrifice and punishment, decreed and determined by some external authority, in the hopes that this is found favorable in the sight of God. It hardly sounds like good news at all.

But what if the Greek word metanoia, from which comes the Biblical language of repent, is more precisely translated as beyond (meta) your mind or thinking (noia)?

What if the command was to change your mind, reorient your life accordingly and experience a fundamental transformation of thought and action as a full participant in the kingdom of God?

Beyond Repentance: Metanoia as Positive Transformation

The distinction I’m trying to make may be subtle, but I think it is important. Of course, repent includes a change in thinking and behavior. Repent is the way of return (to God) from exile or estrangement (from God). (These themes can be found in Marcus Borg’s books “Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teaching and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary,” “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time” and “The Heart of Christianity.”)

But, the connotations of repent, particularly as the word has been interpreted and preached for centuries, give a sense of:

  • negativity;
  • return, as in looking back;
  • subtly threatening or fear-inducing.

Whereas, moving beyond your mind has a sense of:

  • positivity;
  • a forward-looking attitude;
  • a new beginning greater than what came before;
  • a command and invitation. (Elaine Pagels, “Beyond Belief.”)

The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand says to me that the kingdom is already dawning, it is already breaking into history, it is already here. It isn’t complete — that requires a response from all of us to the command and invitation of metanoia.

Metanoia for the Kingdom: Honest Appraisal and Loving Welcome

The new age will call for new thinking, not old age thinking. It will call for responses to our new lives, not a return to the old and/or default responses of the past. It demands a radical transformation — in both personal and social dimensions — as a new kingdom by definition is a social organization, made up of individuals who are committed and resolute.

This more forward-looking and welcoming iteration of repenting isn’t simply a feel good alternative. That would be of no value whatsoever. There is no chance of radical transformation and moving our minds beyond conventional thinking without a serious, honest and realistic appraisal of our present state — and how we got here.

But if the purpose of metanoia is to prepare us to enter the kingdom of God, then using fear or guilt or potentially debilitating remorse limits our ability to see beyond. Rather, encouragement, discernment and a loving welcome as full participants in the work of realizing the will of God, here and now, on earth, may further the transformation of the coming of the kingdom.

On earth as it is in heaven. In ways that may be far beyond what our minds can fathom.

The views expressed in this opinion column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FāVS News. FāVS News values diverse perspectives and thoughtful analysis on matters of faith and spirituality.

Jody Cramsie
Jody Cramsie
Jody Cramsie has a background in history, theology, ethics and law. In her free time she enjoys music, reading and hosting dinner parties for family and friends. She lives in Spokane but prefers to be on the Olympic Peninsula or in the south of France. She currently serves on the FāVS News Board of Trustees.

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Nicholas Michael Damascus
Nicholas Michael Damascus
1 month ago

Nicely done, where repentance is not a court of law, but a hospital where one is healed.

Jody Cramsie
Jody Cramsie
1 month ago

Thank you Nick. I like the comparison you make, especially since the word salvation is related to salve, to heal.

Walter A Hesford
Walter A Hesford
1 month ago

Thank you for this hopeful and accurate commentary on repentence. Of course changing one’s mind can be more of a challenge than simply saying “woe is me.”

Jody Cramsie
Jody Cramsie
1 month ago

Thank you for adding your thoughts. You are so right about changing our mind, especially when we’ve been holding onto those thoughts and beliefs for so long. It’s a brave and often difficult step to take.

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