“Suppose someone says to God,
‘I am guilty but will offend no more.
Teach me what I cannot see;
if I have done wrong, I will not do so again.’
Should God then reward you on your terms,
when you refuse to repent?
You must decide, not I;
so tell me what you know. Job 34:31-33
“I promise I won’t do it again.” That’s the right way to approach God in repentance, isn’t it?
“Just teach me and I’ll do better.” That should be enough…right?
In Job 34 we find Job’s youngest friend Elihu speaking and he is frustrated with Job and with the other friends. Elihu has listened respectfully while Job spoke and waited while the other friends who were older spoke and gave advice. The assumption of the friends seems to be that Job needs to simply repent. Job seems to be confronting God, challenging him to make things right and stating that he hasn’t done anything wrong.
Elihu’s issue is with the concept of repentance. Job’s friends just seem to think if Job would acknowledge that he was wrong then God would make it all better. Their attitude—at least by Elihu’s perception—is one of “I promise not to do it anymore” and then wait for God to fix it. Elihu sees this as repenting on our own terms.
I have been thinking over this and reading it this morning, trying to wrap my head around what I think of what he’s saying here. And I think I’m getting somewhere, although I don’t know that I like where it’s leading me.
How often do we approach God in repentance and we have a nice “plan” in place for how things can go? Because God is merciful I wonder how often we take his grace for granted and so approach with hearts that are a bit flippant? Have we become too casual in our perception of our own sin?
Elihu seems to be saying in verses 31 and 32 that our repentance to God should stop with the words, “I am guilty” or “I have done wrong” and nothing more; that when we add things like “teach me how to not do it anymore” we are making the terms of our reconciliation. “Why should we expect God to reward us for setting the terms?” Elihu queries.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We live under grace, and Christ died already for all our sins. Once for all. So it isn’t like we have the exact same concerns that Elihu would have had. We have forgiveness already. But sin hurts our relationship with God. And I wonder if Elihu isn’t on to something with regard to how we approach God when we have wronged him.
When was the last time that our repentance contained an appropriate level of mourning or lamenting? Sometimes I wonder if the ease of our free forgiveness has created some complacency in us with regard to our sin.
In the gospels we find John the Baptist being described as preaching a baptism of repentance. That’s a repentance that involves dying to self. That’s a very different repentance than simply approaching God with, “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.”
I’m not sure I’m drawing any conclusions yet, just considering these words and thinking. We don’t live under the Law so I won’t fear God will withhold his forgiveness. It’s already done. I’m already forgiven. But I’m just wondering if my repentance is given on my own terms. Do I adequately appreciate and so lament what my sin does to our relationship? Or do I simply say, “Sorry. I promise not to do it again.” That does seem woefully inadequate.