Fasting and Repentance
… Repentance is a contract with God for a second life. A penitent is a buyer of humility. Repentance is constant distrust of bodily comfort … Repentance is the daughter of hope and the renunciation of despair. A penitent is an undisgraced convict. Repentance is reconciliation with the Lord by the practice of good deeds contrary to the sins. Repentance is purification of conscience. Repentance is the voluntary endurance of all afflictions. A penitent is the inflicter of his own punishments. Repentance is a mighty persecution of the stomach, and a striking of the soul into vigorous awareness. [St. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 5].
The symptoms of repentance resemble an illness. In the midst of our regret, we feel little inclination to socialize, or even to eat. Spiritually disoriented, we withdraw from our normal lifestyle, apathetic about pastimes and amusements.
When immersed in sin, drowning in lust, passions and depravity, we can use fasting as a rope to pull ourselves back to the safety offered by God. Then, we may continue fasting to stay spiritually conscious and well-directed.
Fasting helps repentance by augmenting our spiritual awareness and documenting our remorse. A fast may first prod guilt and generate consciousness of our misconduct. It also evidences heartfelt regret and sorrow, signs of true repentance.
“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. [Joel 2:12-13 (NIV)].
Faith in Action
By expressing our repentance through fasting, we translate our thoughts into physical action, our emotion becomes a reality. However, the act of fasting does not constitute repentance. Fasting is only a manifestation of our sorrow, a demonstration of our regret.
A holy and lawful fast has three ends in view. We use it either to mortify and subdue the flesh, that it may not wanton, or to prepare the better for prayer and holy meditation; or to give evidence of humbling ourselves before God, when we would confess our guilt before him. [John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion].
Repentance and humility are intimately coupled in the truly awakened conscience. Grounded in acknowledged guilt, they force the remorseful mind into correcting distorted thoughts. With sincere penance, we revise our attitude and behavior. We refocus the image we have of ourselves and of others around us.
It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved (Jer. 18:11, 25:5; Ez. 18:30, 33:11-15; Joel 2:12; Mt. 3:2; Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38). Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man. [Colin B. Donovan, STL. The Holy Season of Lent].
Follow Divine Guidance
The Hebrew word teshuvah and the Arabic tauba both mean “repentance.” Their literal translation is “to turn” or “return.” They express the scriptural process of turning away from a path of error back to the path of God.
“Rebbe, I am a sinner. I would like to return, to do teshuvah!” R. Israel of Ryzhin looked at the man before him. He did not understand what the man wanted. “So why don’t you do teshuvah?””Rebbe, I do not know how!” R. Israel retorted. “How did you know to sin?” The remorseful sinner answered simply. “I acted, and then I realized that I had sinned.” “Well,” said the Rebbe, “the same applies to teshuvah, repent and the rest will follow of itself!” [Quoted in “The Dynamics of Teshuva” from the book Deep Calling Unto Deep, by Dr. J. Immanuel Schochet].
This turning requires a change in thinking. We must reject our wayward and delusional lifestyle and return to obeying Divine guidance.
The New Testament word for repentance means changing one’s mind so that one’s views, values, goals, and ways are changed and one’s whole life is lived differently. The change is radical, both inwardly and outwardly; mind and judgment, will and affections, behavior and lifestyle, motives and purposes, are all involved. Repenting means starting a new life. [J. I. Packer].
Turn Right @ the Light
Repentance is acknowledgment of shameful, deplorable, and wrongful action that shows disobedience to the Divine Will. Such disobedience, when deliberate, results in spiritual estrangement, separation from our sacred relationship with our Creator.
Surely God loves those who turn unto him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves. [Quran 2:222].
A mistake may be inadvertent, but evil is willful. The cognitive mind must understand that it has deviated from its proper course. It has transgressed beyond Divine boundaries.
The heart must then turn to the right. Even before we perform any penance, this turning of the heart is necessary.
The individual who truly repents, not only sees sin to be detestable and vile and worthy of abhorrence, but he really abhors it, and hates it in his heart. A person may see sin to be hurtful and abominable, while yet his heart loves it, and desires it, and clings to it. But when he truly repents, he most heartily abhors and renounces it. [Charles G. Finney].
Tears of the Fasting Heart
Penitential fasting symbolizes the crying of our entire physical body. When we fast, our tears come from our heart, then seep into every crevice of our mind.
Crying helps us endure as we make our way back. Sincere tears purify us, clearing our clouded vision, and wiping away anguish and grief.
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. [1 Corinthians 10:13].
Our fasting and our tears provide physical vehicles that bring our lament to the surface. They document our heart turning to God and relieve the burdens weighing our soul.
On no soul doth Allah place a burden greater than it can bear; for it is (the benefit of) what it has earned and against it (the evil of) what it deserved: (Pray:) “Our Lord! do not punish us if we forget or fall into error! Our Lord! Lay not on us such a burden as thou didst lay on those before us! Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear! Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith.” [Quran 2:286].
Jonah and Nineveh
Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. [Jonah 3:4-10].