Repent and Believe

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

This is the first and great commandment.

And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

(Matthew 22:36-40)

Christianity can also be boiled down to two other commandments: repent and believe.

Repentance opens us up to the possibility of forgiveness, which Christians believe will be freely given to those who truly repent. Human beings are not perfect – we are careless, we make mistakes, we do stupid things, we are selfish and blind, we hurt ourselves and others. We’re only human. But if we are unrepentant, we are unforgiven. We carry a heavy weight of existential anxiety, the existential anxiety of guilt and condemnation.

The weight of our guilt is proportionate to the weight of our sin, the weight of our accumulated karma. This is not just an abstract idea. The body remembers. It carries a toxic “body of sin”, a “pain body”. Whether or not we are “more sinned against than sinning”, the trauma of sin is in us. It creates discomfort and disease. It cries out for healing. It cries out for release and purging, for detox and purification.

Each of the four gospels begins with John the Baptist’s call to repentance and the symbolic cleansing rite of baptism with the promise of an even more powerful cleansing to come:

“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance. but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire” (Matthew 3:11)

But modern secular people have forgotten how to repent and how to be cleansed of their sins. Liberalism has put paid to both sin and repentance and has pathologized guilt, which it claims can be treated with psychotherapy and psychiatric drugs. However, no amount of therapy or drugs can expiate the existential anxiety of an unrepentant soul. Liberalism is so deeply ingrained that even Westerners exposed to ancient shamanic traditions close their ears to the plant medicine’s clarion call to repentance and reformation, however much they may purge.

Another major source of existential anxiety, according to Paul Tillich, is doubt and meaninglessness. This is a problem in its own right, which can result in the despair of a full-blown existential crisis, and even suicide. However, in its less acute form, it also has negative consequences. Where there is doubt, there is vacillation and relativism. There is no motivation to do the right thing, no moral conviction, no firm resolve. There is no compelling reason to not sin again, nothing to prevent you from creating more bad karma.

The forgiveness that comes with repentance clears you of past transgressions and emotional baggage. The righteousness that comes with belief restrains you from committing further transgressions in the present. Love forgives. Faith guides. These are two of the Christian virtues, dealing with the existential anxiety of guilt and condemnation in relation to the past and the existential anxiety of doubt and meaninglessness in relation to the present. The third is hope, which deals with the existential anxiety of fate and death in relation to the future.

“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)