Turn around, please!
Changing direction at full throttle? This rarely succeeds. What big ships and religious people have in common—a plea for repentance and a genuine new beginning.
A supertanker is crossing the ocean. A course correction is pending. To bring a 250,000 tonne vessel to a full stop takes time: the International Maritime Organisation stipulates a maximum of 15 ship lengths. At a length of 400 metres it will take the tanker six kilometres to stop. The captain reaches for the telegraph and pushes the throttle from full speed ahead to astern propulsion. A collision avoidance manoeuvre could be useful here too: the tanker needs five ship lengths to make a complete turn; its turning circle is two kilometres.
Turning a ship around in port, on the other hand, appears to be fairly simple. Low speed, the correct rudder position, and help from small and powerful tug boats pushing and pulling the ship. The direction is correct and docking is successful!
Nudges from God
Reversing, turning around, and redefining your course … This is something that every person has to do in life: moving away from human things towards that which is divine. It is repentance, the return to God—as the Greek word epistrepho implies—that triggers such a change in life.
A change of course is best done if one is not going full throttle. It is much easier if one comes down first, “docks in port”, and allows God to nudge one a little from the left and the right. It takes time to reflect, like the lost son did before returning to his father (Luke 15). Or like King David, who repented after Nathan the prophet drew his attention to his mistake (2 Samuel 11).
Over and over again
Turning around and turning back—this is what baptism, a unique event, is basically about. Man’s life is directed towards God. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Whoever has turned to God is a different person! He is no longer only a sinner who is far away from God. His life has been given a new perspective, new references. His thinking, behaviour, and beliefs have been reversed.
Constantly turning around and turning back—this is a task faced by someone who regularly professes his belief in God but must realise he cannot attain a state of sinlessness. Man falls constantly and moves away a little from God. Acknowledging one’s own sinful nature, but also becoming aware of God’s grace is sometimes easier and sometimes more difficult. Repentance and turning back is also a process that accompanies our lives.
A fundamental change of being
Turning around is a good way to prepare ourselves for the absolution and Holy Communion. “With the plea: ‘And forgive us our debts,’ the faithful confess that they are sinners before God and ask Him for grace” (CNAC 126.96.36.199.6). Repentance is not tied to a particular day or a particular event.
There is another important aspect beyond the confession of our sins. “Repentance results from recognition of one’s own shortcoming or misconduct. It incorporates remorse—the feeling of suffering caused by wrongs committed in deed or omission—and the earnest endeavour to change one’s attitude and improve” (CNAC 188.8.131.52). Confession is followed by the most important step: the change, the fundamental transformation of being.
Being attracted to Christ and attracting Christ
God leads the way. God loves and calls man, upon which man reacts. “Baptism is ‘putting on Christ’. With it, the first step on the path to renewal of the inner man has been taken: ‘For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ’ (Galatians 3: 27). This image constitutes the basis for abandoning one’s old way of life and putting on the virtues of Christ. It describes that which comes to expression in the term ‘repentance’, namely the act of turning away from one’s old nature and turning to the Lord. This means that one must earnestly endeavour to lead one’s life in accordance with God’s will. The baptised person vows to conduct and organise his life under the regency of Christ” (CNAC 8.1.6).
God then grants forgiveness and salvation to those who turn to Him. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55: 7). Insight, repentance, and turning to the Lord is nothing sad or oppressive, but joy, happiness, and the way to eternal life. Whoever receives God’s grace leaves everything else behind. We are talking about a genuine new beginning, a transformation. We are asked to give up, to let things be, and to have the will to change.