Repentance can be painful

by Rev Jason Phua

Bible Reading: Ezra 10:1-44; Psalm 119:33-48

READ (verses chosen for meditation)
Ezra 10:3-4 “Therefore let us make a covenant with our God to put away all these wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God, and let it be done according to the Law.”

Oh what a horrible suggestion by Shecaniah the son of Jehiel! How could the people of God be asked to put away their wives and children just because they were foreigners?! Even if Israel sinned against God by marrying foreigners, how could a suggestion be made (and later adopted) to destroy families like this? What does this mean for marriages now? Is God telling us to file for divorce if our spouse is not Christian?

If the above thoughts are in our minds when we read Ezra 10, then we could be guilty of a common reasoning error: “Hasty Generalisation”. Contextually, Ezra 10 described a unique situation of Israel when they were given the opportunity to rebuild themselves physically and spiritually from exile. They themselves acknowledged that they have sinned gravely against God because in the first place they directly violated the Mosaic Law (which they have covenanted with God).

Furthermore, the fact was that through such marriages, Israel was spiritually compromised through idol worship. Hence, the lesson here is not about whether one should file for divorce of a non-Christian spouse (For more guidance on this matter; can refer to 1 Corinthians 7:13-14 as well as 1 Peter 3:1-2) rather it is about true repentance. It is about the spirit of repentance which Ezra and the people had when they realised how they have grieved God and how God had graciously dealt with them for nearly 900 years. Yes, it was a painful act of repentance; but they realised they had to do it if they truly want to turn back to God and start anew.

True repentance can be painful because it is the act of turning away from our sin and turning towards God. The act of turning away from our sin can be painful because we might be asked to severe ties with something or even someone we love.

For example, we could be asked to severe ties with undesirable materials on the Internet we so cherished. They could be materials which “comfort” us, even when temporarily on days when we feel lousy or stressed. Or we could even be asked to think twice about being in a romantic relationship with a person who is not sharing the same faith as us.

Yet, if the pain (in repentance) does not take place; we know that we could be in a worse position. We could be dwelling in a downward spiral of sin and even end up in a well so deep that coming back up would be immensely challenging. Or we could even cause harm to the person we profess to love if we do not make that tough decision.

Ezra 10 gives the hope that even if repentance is painful; it can be done with God. And when we truly repent to glorify God; we can enjoy the spiritual freedom and joy of which it brings. We can put things right again. Who knows, perhaps those who witnessed such acts of repentance would be so moved to give their lives to God; because they realised that only a God who truly loves would demand such obedience. Let us therefore put our trust in Him, for no matter how painful it might be; repentance is necessary for spiritual revival and the new life.

Lord, search my heart and empower me to severe ties with things in my life which affects my relationship with You. Amen.