Room to turn around

“Lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears” (Hebrews 12:16-17 NKJV).

While looking for a place to eat lunch in Dhaka we found ourselves on a divided boulevard with concrete barriers separating the north and southbound lanes. When we reached the restaurant we had chosen we could not turn in because there was no break in the barriers. We had to drive a considerable distance past it, then turn and come back. Since we had already driven more than six hours to get to Dhaka, then another hour plus of city traffic jams, we were not pleased at the extra time and distance.

Life often presents us with situations from which it is difficult to retreat. The result is regret, guilt, and problems in our relationships. The late Marshall Keeble, in speaking of resolving personal differences, compared saying “I’m sorry” to the reverse gear (he called it “the back-up gear”) in an automobile. Keeble stated, “I wouldn’t own a car without a back-up gear in it.” Most of us would readily agree with him, yet find it very hard to admit fault and ask for forgiveness, even when we really know that we have done wrong.

The Hebrew writer used Esau as an example of one who could not find a place for repentance. Note that the problem was not his father’s willingness to forgive. If you look at the original story in Genesis 25 and 27 it is obvious that Isaac was as eager to bless Esau as the son was to receive the blessing. But the primary blessing had already been bestowed, to Jacob, and could not be retrieved.

Some in New Testament times were very complacent about sin, thinking that since grace is abundant, sin is easy to be forgiven (Romans 6:1). Even if that was true (and Paul corrects their error beginning in verse 2), it would not remove the physical consequences of sin. A drunkard may repent and change, but harm done to his health will almost always remain and cause suffering, not to mention the reputation he has acquired and the relationships that may have been destroyed. Similarly, a thief may reimburse his victim, but how can a murderer restore the life he has taken?

I have learned that while driving in cities it is wise to plot one’s route so as to allow for turning around. The same lesson pertains to our lives. Always be willing to recognize a wrong path, an incorrect turn, and change directions while there is time and place. James points out the way: “Confess your sins one to another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

The apostle John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). But we must act while there is time, or room.

Finally, Jesus gave two illustrations of timely repentance: “Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:23-26).

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