We don't use the word "rend" much. It means to tear. Back in the day, and still today in some cultures, people used to tear at their clothes as an outward expression of grief or remorse. This was a symbolic display, sometimes accompanied by sincere heartbreak, other times, just for show.
Maybe, like me, you've seen a movie where wailing, hurting people tore up their clothes. I've also seen the empty gesture, tearing without apparent feeling.
As an Italian girl, I know all about melodrama...and overwhelming sorrow.
Picture the chronically philandering husband who makes a big sad scene before his shattered wife or an alcoholic who swears off booze again and again. Or the chronically late friend or spendthrift spouse for that matter. Then goes on doing whatever.
The issue is that you can't fake genuine remorse. We can be indifferent to the harm we do. We can know a thing is wrong and keep doing it, justifying it, covering it up, and ignoring the first pangs of conscience prompting us to change. Like that uneasy guilt when we finished the last cookie in the pack, petty resentments that poison everything, shame at visiting that website again, nasty bias, that little nudge when we talked crap about our friend, or guilt when we sabotaged an imagined enemy.
On a larger, global scale, we may ignore the promptings that would stop us from exploiting the vulnerable, hoarding money while others suffer, wholesale corruption, tolerating or glamorizing outrageous immorality, abusing power, exacting revenge because we can, or destroying our natural resources. For instance.
We can keep at it, silencing the inner voice that says, "This is wrong." We can numb ourselves with "more," with Xanax, with busyness, with booze or baubles, and maybe worse, the kind of self-righteousness that makes us feel entitled to our wrong behavior. It comes in many disguises.
Hypocrisy is non-partisan, by the way.
We can all believe our own BS.
Sometimes, things get worse until we heed the warnings and start to feel bad. The weight piles on, the wife leaves us, the market fails, the friend walks away, the climate changes, the business tanks, the enemy prevails, etcetera.
Or maybe, as with addictions of all kinds, we want to stop doing whatever but find we can’t. Really can’t. We may be begging God for help to change that doesn’t seem to come. Until we genuinely come to the end of ourselves.
Still other times, we are genuinely clueless about the evil lurking in our hearts and actions—an epidemic of narcissism.
We seem powerless to change or even see ourselves clearly.
Twelve-step programs have a good handle on this truth and a simple, not easy, solution that aligns neatly with Christian principles. If you need help with some persistent struggle, chances are you qualify for one. Check here.
Regardless, God sees and knows everything. Everything. However we try to cover up, we're naked before him. God sees the lousy motive, the wanton cruelty, the false persona, the selfishness, the judging "that" sin while minimizing our own, the deceit...and loves us anyway. (Thankfully, God also sees the sincere remorse and inner struggle.) And being perfect, He cannot stand the mess we've made. And being loving, He cannot let us keep hurting ourselves and others without consequence.
This isn’t punishment as much as it is Daddy Love and the built-in results and wrath of living out of alignment and doing wrong.
The weight piles on, the wife leaves, the market fails, the friend walks away, the business tanks, the climate changes, the enemy prevails, etcetera.
There's a deeper meaning in Joel’s old-timey warning, and I love how the plain talk Message translation puts it:
"Change your life, not just your clothes. Come back to God, your God. And here’s why: God is kind and merciful. He takes a deep breath, puts up with a lot, This most patient God, extravagant in love, always ready to cancel catastrophe. Who knows? Maybe he’ll do it now; maybe he’ll turn around and show pity. Maybe, when all’s said and done, there’ll be blessings full and robust for your God!
Joel is saying, prove you’re sorry by changing the bad behavior, and maybe God won’t give you a cosmic spanking. Maybe. Yikes! Not only that, says Joel, but if we return to our loving Father, He’ll fix what we broke and possibly pour out some blessings. Thankfully, Joel penned this warning before the mega-Get-Out-of-Jail-card and change-agent, Jesus.
Here’s the outstanding news. Our eternal Father saw how messed up WE ALL ARE and provided a 100% payment for our messed-upness because He loved us so much.
We can turn away from the harms, hurts, and the hellish mess we’ve made to gaze on the penetrating, love-filled gaze of Jesus, who bore God’s wrath and righteous punishment on The Cross.
Like any loving dad, God may shield us from the full brunt of our consequences, hoping we'll turn it around. Then, if we dig in our heels, His same generous love will let us have our way, all the way, so we’ll be motivated to return to Him and surrender to His changing ways. Methods and outcomes for which we get zero credit. That's both a great relief and ego-leveling.
When we finally come running home, this same God, Father, Son, and Spirit rushes out to greet us like we're the prodigal son, helping us, healing us, and showering us with love and blessings we don’t deserve.
We’re living with many increasingly alarming consequences of our selfish, short-sighted sins today. So many. We need a superpower to help right the wrongs way beyond any ballot.
Will we run home to our Universal Daddy, apologize for our epic failures, realign with God, and ask Him for help cleaning up our individual acts, nation, and world?
I sure hope so.
Love, grace, peace & joy in Christ,