An Admirable Life-19 (Genius)-Penitence

"And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian."

                            Luke 4:27  


What connects genius to humility and forgiveness? If humility is a regular preference for the will of God, if forgiveness is the end of vengeful anger, if genius is such intellectual acumen as one has welded together with others in emphatic discussion of solid ideas, then the element most likely to bring together humility, forgiveness and genius is the old covenantal act of penitence.

   In his classic sermon On the Small Number of the Saved, the French cleric Jean Massillon writes, "…a penitent is a man intrusted (sic) by God with judgment against himself…"

   Genius is naturally prideful but can never be just arrogant. Hubrisic self-love damns the soul for it can do no other.

   Consider penitence. Does it not appear the death of penitence has been the end of the Church? If Heaven, for entrance, requires either innocence (which we do not have) or penitence (which we most often do not practice or preach), is it not fearful to observe this fact; the number of the upright seems to have diminished in direct proportion to the number of mere believers?

   Or, is the loss of reverential awe remarkably similar to the dearth of personal regret for one's own sin? Does it not seem our own culture mixes its Christian pretensions with secular corruptions? 

   If we agree genius is necessary for leadership, what is the spiritual corrective for the natural corruptions that come along with high position and influence? What is there for the good, if not self-judgment, by which we mean the inner ability to judge our own character as God judges me?

    No, stop thinking of it. You cannot enter the desert in camel's hair to observe penitence. Penitence is not asceticism. Age, poverty, infirmity; all these may cause me to act less frivolously. A penitent faced with loss or privation does not ask, "Why me?' He assents to the trial as one who knows he has previously ab used his health, his wealth, his world.

   Yes, self love is the bete noir of penitence. Narcissism will not allow penitence. The present state of the world will not afford narcissism much longer. Nietzche looked on genius and saw (himself as) super-man. Kierkegaard understood his own genius but sweat drops of blood to be an apostle, not just a genius. Nietzche made himself god, with nothing for which to repent. Kierkegaard made himself a penitent and came closer to God with his repentance than Nietzche ever could with his self love.

   Nietzche was right when he saw the world's psychic bond with genius. He erred most egregiously when he insisted greatness so overawed the simple that only sterility could follow in its wake for genius could only exhaust the lesser beings. The life of the Christ proves otherwise. No one has been more a genius. He inspired a pre-scientific age to believe illness could be overcome, a pre-psychological culture to know it was what came out of a man that made him unclean (marked him as unclean, showed him for what he was actually) and reordered a paternalistic age to value both genders. In His life, Jesus, the Christ, and with His death, Jesus ennobled all who came after Him. He was not an exhausting force, but an exalting power.

    Jesus, the Christ, the One Person who never had cause for penitence Himself, Himself taught personal penitence. Think of this; every man who thinks of Heaven flatters himself he will not be excluded. Even the man who thinks seldom of Heaven (or never) in some way insists his beloved will somehow be included. Some personal goodness, singular act of charity, stroke of genius, will save him or his beloved when they exit this life to meet the God they have ignored for a lifetime.

   Where does this arrogance originate? It must be in the loutish laziness that sees genuine penitence as too hard a work or too far beneath oneself. Yet, penitences should be as natural to the redeemed as breathing oxygen to a land-dweller. We do not redeem violating certain laws. Redemption is conversion. Penitence is conversion in that it marks conversion in us.

   Genius is tied to humility and forgiveness by penitence.

Opinions expressed here are mine alone.





11 thoughts on “An Admirable Life-19 (Genius)-Penitence”

  1. RD wrote: Does it not seem our own culture mixes its Christian pretensions with secular corruptions?
    I think this is a huge issue. I attended a SBC church while on vacation this weekend. The production was straight out of the modern church cookbook. Trying to worship in spirit and truth is difficult in an atmosphere where the production speaks louder than the Word.
    The modern worship problem is not all embodied in your “Christian pretensions” mixed with “secular corruptions,” but I thought of last week’s example when I read your sentence.

  2. How about this for genius? The one who can cipher my writing despite ubiquitous typographical errors is a genius. 🙂

  3. Davis,
    Penitence requires a measure of self-awareness. When delusion rules the mind we make of ourselves what we will. Therein is our escape from the “entrusted” from God to judge the self. Our lives are often filled with the best desired projection of ourself (Facebook, Twitter, etc), but that is not the self. Our conscious self betrays this and so we live ever to escape the self-judgment that comes with the pretensions of who we are not.
    While there may be apt cause to set Nietzsche over against Kierkegaard, what is oft missed is the former’s rejection of the image/vision of god portrayed by the purveyors of religion over against the leap the latter invites us to when given the image/vision of God through the lens of Jesus. So, with Nietzsche we may need to put to death these alternate images/visions of god/God. In so doing, we rightly practice a-theism.
    Upon our self-aware discoveries we have lived into a vision of the Divine of our own making we must then participate in an ongoing penitence since we are always tempted to re-create god in an image that accepts our best projections of ourselves rather than experience the transformation of our conscious self, to which we are in great need.
    To engage that with humility and forgiveness would indeed be genius.

  4. Well done as usual, thought provoking but you seemed to ask for more so here are some thots you provoked: why just genuis connected to forgiveness by pentitence? what truly produces the pentitence? looking to the exp.of the disciples with Jesus, His genius is not always and rarely fully understood. Rebukes came, waves were walked, roosters crowed.The “instructed by God with a judgement against himself…” cannot come without this. It seems the bigger connection of pentitence to forgiveness or to to any Christlike trait comes in the context of walking with Jesus in daily routines of faith and the Spirit’s “ah-ha” moments that strike at His seeing the right timing for this teachable momentin our hearts. That said you point out in your own words the hard choice to look, to grasp,to grapple with a concept too hidden in ritual, (though the ancient church practices may at least point us rightward) and declared “non-utilitarion.” It doesn’t fit our vision statements nor move us toward our “missional goals.” Another wave of thoughts…In Paul’s writings the concept of pentitence may be present but hidden like yeast in dough. He does mention in light of the genuis of Jesus, the sacrifice of J., the mystery of J. , all which could be used of the S. to bring us to an expression of pentitence, he instead points us toward thankfulness\gratitude\grace once more. For simlple minded folks like me, who do appreciate your wrestling with these angels\demons for us that we might better find our own grasp, I can hardly tell when one starts and another begins (humility, pentitence, forgiveness, pride, self-love, self-less love etc) and I find myself just trying to find Jesus in all this and walk with Him. Now go unstick your fingers and fly with Spirit led clarity to spur us on to good works.

  5. Cos,This is the necessary discussion. What is penitence for? How does one connect the spiritual (heart) to the intellect? My part of the discussion is to introduce topics we dont talk about because we no agree/discuss what is admirable in our super-narcissistic age.
    Thanks for this. I hope others pick up on it.

  6. Yet, Nietzche finally identified himself with the crucified Lord (though he mostly kept it to himself and many, with good reason, believe he identified himself as the crucified savior) and Kierkegaard at last recanted much of his own work (though probably mostly out of despair, the kind of despair that plagues the greater intellects. 

  7. What end Nietzsche or Kierkegaard came to cannot serve as a pointer to some nefarious slippery slope lest we leave them be for fear. And, that fear really should be to entertain a logical fallacy.
    The process which is advocated is how we might appropriate the two as we wrestle with the kind of transformation King Jesus both demonstrates and calls us to. We should well practice putting to death the gods that are no gods even as we have submitted to them as though they are gods.
    And, at some point along the way when these supposed sufficient intellects lead us to a non-deconstructible that we must still acknowledge – namely God – we will then have to put to death the god that has become our knowing and, as it were, leap to Jesus’ own way. Or, we may all suffer the despair of a hidden commitment or an abandoned project.

  8. No, their end makes the other a truth or otherwise. Where did they lose their courage? When shall I? Is the noisy anti-theist today real, or a product of his marketing department? No, we have to decide about the end. It is not all ontology. There is the much discredited teleological thinking to be considered.
    Where it ends gives us a clue about where it was going. I think courage has to find a place in the admirable life. Too much of baptist stuff is skulking in the dark. It makes the slimy creatures more powerful, like Snake who holds Boj over at My Story Place.

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