114) Phony vs. Real Repentance

From “No Road to Respectability” by Eric Metaxas at <www.Breakpoint.org>   July 31, 2013

      How is it that disgraced politicians keep popping back into public life without much trouble?

     As I record this, former congressman Anthony Weiner is staying in the race for mayor of New York.  In case you forgot, he’s the one who resigned in 2011 after sexually suggestive tweets he sent to virtual strangers became public.  He’s staying in the race, despite reports of continued sexting.  He joins disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer, who is running for comptroller, on the ballot.  It isn’t only New York: recently, South Carolina voters returned Mark Sanford, who ruined the phrase “hiking the Appalachian Trail” for the rest of us, to Congress.  (Sanford was governor of South Carolina when he went missing for several days.  He explained he was ‘hiking the Appalachian Trail’ when he was actually in South America with his mistress.)

     These and other instances of politicians “falling from grace” and then being restored to a measure of respectability, are usually explained by the statement “Americans are a forgiving lot.”  As a Christian, I am all for forgiveness, as I’m sure you are.  But what’s on display in these instances isn’t so much an example of forgiveness as it is of “cheap grace.”

     That’s how David French put it at National Review.  The expression “cheap grace” comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Cost of Discipleship.”  “Cheap grace,” Bonhoeffer wrote, “is the grace we bestow on ourselves; the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.”

     As French pointed out, “the pattern is familiar and depressing:  Public stumble, public apology, public rebirth– and then the next public stumble follows with depressing frequency.”  Some politicians “opt out of scandal” by “marrying their mistresses and prancing in front of cameras with their latest adoring spouse,” but the end result is the same: a parody of forgiveness, and grace that makes the real thing increasingly unrecognizable.

     I agree with French that the allure of “cheap grace” is easy to understand.  “We want to close the worst chapters of our lives as quickly as possible and just get on with living on the same trajectory as before, minus the embarrassment.”

     But grace and true forgiveness are supposed to change the course of our lives, not preserve it.  They are supposed to make us better as well as wiser.

     How this might happen is illustrated in the story of John Profumo, the British Secretary of State for War.  In 1963, Profumo was at the center of a huge sex-and-spies scandal that eventually brought down Britain’s conservative government.  Profumo resigned “disgraced and stripped of all public dignities.”  Yet when he died in 2006, the Telegraph wrote “few ended their lives as loved and revered by those who knew him.”

John Profumo

     John Profumo (1915-2006)

     That’s because, as Peggy Noonan recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, Profumo “did the hardest thing for a political figure.  He really went away.”  “He didn’t give interviews, never wrote a book, didn’t go on TV.”  Instead, he spent the next forty years working at “a rundown settlement house called Toynbee Hall in the East End of London.”  Really working.  He washed dishes and cleaned toilets.  In a 2003 interview, in response to the question “what have you learnt from this place?” he replied, “Humility.”

     And that’s precisely what is missing in our culture of public confession and cheap grace.  Profumo “got it;” he demonstrated remorse and died “loved and revered.”  You might remember another famous, disgraced public figure who got it:  Chuck Colson.  After his fall from power during Watergate and a stint in prison, Colson spent the rest of his life ministering in prisons around the world to “the least, the last, and the lost.”

     By embracing repentance and humility, Profumo and Colson experienced true grace:  A grace that God makes available to each and every one of us.

(To view the full Peggy Noonan article on John Profumo go to:

http://www.peggynoonan.com/how-to-find-grace-after-disgrace/ )

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Acts 26:20  —  First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.

Isaiah 30:15  —  This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:  “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”

II Corinthians 7:10-11a  —  Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.  See what this godly sorrow has produced in you:  what earnestness, what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what alarm, what longing, what concern,what readiness to see justice done.

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Most great and mighty God, you are the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, the Creator and Preserver of all things.  Look down, we beg you, on us your unworthy creatures.  We humbly thank you for your daily care of us.  We beg your pardon for whatsoever you have seen amiss in us this day, in our thoughts, words, or actions.  Strengthen us in every good purpose and resolution.  Reform whatsoever you see amiss in the temper and disposition of our minds or in any of the habits of our lives; that we may love you more and serve you better, and do your will with greater care and diligence than we have yet done.  In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  Amen.

–Warren Hastings (1732-1818) English colonial administrator