Scott Benhase: How a bishop repents

Repentance changes how you see the world, and therefore how you work.

Repentance is at the heart of our Advent preparation to welcome Christ into our lives, where we hope he will shape and rule our hearts.

My own experience of repentance tells me that it is life-altering. My repentance has caused me to place less importance on the ways I’ve defined differences in people. Those differences, because of my repentance, have become less important to me. My repentance has helped me begin to see all my neighbors as God’s children, as sacred creatures whom Jesus came to save and set free. My repentance has brought me to a point where I care less about being right and more about doing right. I find myself caring less about differences of opinion between myself and other people and more about what I and other people do with our lives. The more I practice repentance, the less I care about a person’s poli­tical affiliation and the more I care about the fruit produced by that per­son’s life.

The more I practice repen­tance in my own life, the more I try to see the world from God’s per­spective found in Jesus. And that means I’m less worried about the fate of the earth. That’s not to say I’ve adopted a Pollyannaish worldview. Just because one tries to see the world as God sees it doesn’t mean he needs to be in denial about the world’s reality. God, of course, has never been in denial about the creation. The cross of Jesus is God’s declarative statement that God has accepted the world as it is. And the resurrection of Jesus is God’s clear statement that the world (as it is) is unacceptable to God. The cross and resurrection help us all keep God’s big picture in mind. 

Advent isn’t a time for despair. Advent calls us to look again at ourselves and at the world God has created. If we’ve given into the belief that the world is a vicious, unforgiving, meaning­less place, then we have not yet repented enough. Repentance changes the way we see the world. And maybe for the first time, we can see God in the face of Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Scott Benhase is the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.