Repentence became caricatured at some point in my life into the epithet, “Turn or burn.” That phrase had an aire of facetious over-statement to it even then but conveyed the angry, harsh, judgmental intent of many of my fellow believers.
Repent merely means to have a change of mind, a change of heart, a reorientation of one’s outlook on life. It means a turn about in word and deed but also in attitude and orientation. I think one could summarize the teachings of Jesus to say, “Hey, you guys been looking at things this way; take a break and look at things differently.” Just one illustration from the New Testament illustrates this. In the story of the “Woman at the Well”,(John 8) Jesus noted that he knew that she was an adulterous woman and he knew that the law called for her to be stoned to death. But he looked at things differently, did not view the law so rigidly on that occasion, and told her to “to go and sin no more.” He demonstrated a repentant point of view by approaching an individual with a mindset contrary to the conventional wisdom of his day.
In terms of today’s world, I think repentance can be illustrated in many ways. But a fundamental feature is that people who have truly repented…in the depths of their heart…have found the temerity to view the world in a different manner than they were taught, in a different manner than the prevailing culture would have them think. Repentant people, perhaps, will have come to see the glass half full whereas before they always say it half empty. They will see the world as offering hope whereas before they saw it as grim and ugly, bereft of any hope, with only apocalyptic doom in the offing. One who has repented might find the grace to see himself/herself has having intrinsic worth whereas before he/she saw only worthlessness and self-loathing. One who had repented in the depths of his heart may no longer see homosexuals as less-than-human, worthy of scorn and contempt and even violent persecution. One who has repented might see the other political party is more human terms, seeing them no longer as the personification of evil or devoid of any intrinsic value
“Meta-noia” is the word. Check it out. It is a rich concept. An old rock tune included the lyric, “Metanoia strikes deep.”