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Contrition


Thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. Isaiah 57:15
It seems significant to me that the word "contrite" is used here in conjunction with humility.  Contrition and humility are really two fairly different things.  The dictionary says that contrition means:
"Sincere remorse for wrongdoing; repentance."

Although I have titled this article "Contrition", it could just as easily be about "Humility", since I'm trying to find in each, some clues for understanding the other.  I have never been able to work out exactly what a person must do to possess (or prove) humility.  So many of the traditional "evidences" of humility can become pride traps in themselves.  But perhaps there is a clue here, with regard to "sincere remorse for wrongdoing".  Certainly such a spirit is sadly lacking in the world today.  Everywhere you look (and that would especially apply to us religious people) individuals are arguing that they are right, that they don't get enough credit for how right they are, and that others are wrong.  Even when people are faced with undeniable proof of being wrong, it's still treated as a flaw, fault, weakness, foible, or some other equally excusable description.  If they apologise at all for their behaviour, it's often along the line of, "I'm sorry if I have done something to offend you."  Such a long way from "sincere remorse for wrongdoing".

Contrition, on the other hand, involves a feeling of deep emotional pain (i.e. remorse) which one suffers when thinking about the wrongdoing.  The harm that the wrongdoing has brought about (and that it threatens to continue to bring about) agonises the soul of one who has a "contrite spirit", or, as it goes in other passages, the one who has a "broken spirit" or "broken heart".

"The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." Psalm 51:17

Have you ever experienced this?  Have you ever seen how your sin hurts yourself, hurts others, and especially hurts God?  Jesus was tortured and killed in an effort by God to drive home to us just how evil sin is, how much he hates sin, how badly he wants us to stop sinning, and how he wants us to come to him pleading for forgiveness in "sincere remorse" for what we have done.  Shallow apologies and glib talk of forgiveness must break God's heart.

It may be unreasonable for us to feel remorse over every little thing that we do wrong; but if we have never had a revelation of just how bad we are in our own strength, and how much we need God's love and forgiveness to make anything of ourselves, then it may be that we are not candidates for God's forgiveness at all.  While he loves "a broken and a contrite heart," he feels equally appalled at the opposite sort of spirit... the spirit that goes with so much of what passes for religion these days.

Over the years I have seen so many people who have had their sins pointed out, who just rebel and run away from the truth.  Each day that goes by they become more and more trapped in their own self-righteousness, until there appears to be no hope of them ever repenting.  Everyone else is wrong except themselves.  And when that happens, what they do not realise is that they are (at least according to Jesus) guilty of the absolute worst sin, the sin of self-righteousness.  (This may also be what the "unpardonable" sin is all about too.)  As the Apostle Paul said, he was "the chiefest amongst sinners" simply because he had become self-righteous about how wrong this new Jewish sect was in comparison to himself and his own religiosity.

Like the verse above says, God is not impressed with "sacrifices".  That term "sacrifices" sums up the rituals, traditions, and paraphernalia of religion, without a broken heart before God.  If we have never felt sincere remorse for our sins, perhaps we should at least feel some remorse about NOT having had a broken heart for all our wrongdoings.  Perhaps we need to fall on our faces before God and BEG for his forgiveness... beg for him to reveal to us just how wrong we really are by comparison to his perfect love.

I can't make a judgment about when or how much anyone should experience contrition; but I do know that, between us and God, such an experience is essential.  Such a fervent prayer for forgiveness is the one that God is looking for... just between us and him.  No need to make a show of the prayer; but if we pray it, there should be a difference in our relations with others as well.

We all need to get more serious about that kind of relationship with God.



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