“. . . if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
WHEN SOLOMON HAD BUILT THE TEMPLE TO GOD IN JERUSALEM, MANY FERVENT PRAYERS WERE OFFERED AT ITS DEDICATION. Solomon implored God to be merciful to His people. If in the future Israel acted unfaithfully toward God, Solomon prayed that God would hear their prayers for forgiveness. God then appeared by night to Solomon and said that, yes, He would indeed hear the prayers of the people, but He made clear the manner in which those prayers would have to be made: “. . . if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” When the wayward seek God, they must do so with genuinely penitent hearts. There must be a respectful commitment to do differently.
It is a great wonder that we are able to come before God at all and request His forgiveness. That we are allowed to “seek His face” can only be attributed to His compassion and mercy. Under these conditions, it is unthinkable that we would approach Him with anything less than a humble, contrite spirit. If we have any inkling of how serious our sins really are, we will make every effort to show respect to the King against whom we have so foolishly rebelled. Given our inexcusable actions, any sort of pride or arrogance on our part would be profoundly insulting to God.
But in our humility, there is something we must be careful about: we must make sure that our penitence is not simply self-pity. The humility that befits the seeker of God is focused on God, not on self. To be sure, our contemplation of God’s goodness will remind us of our own lack of goodness. But if we are thinking rightly, the result of this reminder will not be a wallowing in remorse for what we have lost. It will be a penitence — at once reverent and grateful — that lifts up its head lovingly to the God whose love has been offended. Godly sorrow is a cleansing, purifying sadness that takes full responsibility for its error and longs for the opportunity once again to show its love for God.
“Penitence does not grow by our looking gloomily on our own badness, but by looking up to God’s loveliness, God’s love for us” (William Congreve).