"Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" - Romans 2:5
Whenever people say we must first repent in order to obtain God's forgiveness, I imagine a stunned Noah watching the flood recede and the devastated land appear.
Whenever anyone says God's heart won't turn to us unless we first confess, I imagine Noah surveying blasted vegetation and bloated carcasses, shocked into silence.
And I remember that the Bible says God was also staggered by the havoc God had caused, and swore by the rainbow never to do it again.
The survivors of the flood had to know that sooner or later they'd mess up and sin again. What if God reached a new breaking point? How could they begin the long labor of making earth habitable again if it could all be wiped out at any time? You can't live a fully human life looking over your shoulder.
But God promised "never again." God put mercy before everything. And with that assurance, they stepped out of the Ark.
Ever since the rainbow, we have it backwards if we say our repentance leads to God's kindness. It's because God disarmed that we can even think about showing God our sins. It's because God promised peace that we can confidently ask for peace. It's because God vowed mercy that we can say to God, "Have mercy!"
In church the prayer of confession always comes before the words of assurance. We should be starting with the assurance.
Thank you, most merciful God, for your kindness that is even now leading us to repentance and new life.
Mary Luti is Interim Senior Pastor, Wellesley Village Church, Wellesley, Massachusetts.