I Love to Repent: O Felix Culpa

By Joel A Hess

We will soon be singing o felix culpa as we march into the sanctuary to celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and for the dead: you and me. “O happy guilt,” Augustine exclaimed long ago as he reflected on the mystery of God’s ridiculous reversal of good for evil.  

For quite a while, Lent has been a time of repentance. When we think of repentance, we think of sad songs that accommodate our Lenten reflection. We think of the rugged cross from our Christmas trees reflecting the outlandishness of our sins: chiefly that we would kill God. Indeed, we are monsters! For many, Lent offers a morbid Mardi Gras satisfying sneakily self-righteous Christians who love to say “I deserve it.”

Frequently preachers kindly describe sin as “missing the mark.” This is far from the truth. Instead, sin is turning around and shooting our instructor in the head, and then dancing on his body. The same hearts and minds that put God on the cross lie under your bones. The same desire to spit on the one who loves you causes you to throw a nasty eye at the driver who just cut you off. Jesus did not die for your parking tickets; He died for murderers, anarchists, porn addicts, and assholes. I hope you are one of those, because if so, Christ has a gift for you!

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Perhaps we want to say that we missed the mark because we don’t really like to be honest about the depth of our depravity. We like to think that we can manage sin. We manage it by excusing it, finding reasons for our failures, blaming our society, parents, comparing ourselves to others, or even by going through the motions of Lent.

The business of all other religions is the disheartening task of managing sin. Jesus says, “Come to me you who are weary and I will give you rest!”  Jesus didn’t come to help us manage sin. He came to kill it! Indeed, it was killed when He was killed.

It’s ok! You don’t have to offer reasons for why you acted how you did. You don’t have to create nice phrases like “I’m broken” to make yourself seem more deserving of compassion. You broke it, so say it!

We aren’t standing before Allah. We are standing before Jesus. Don’t be afraid of your sins. His death loves your sins, gobbles them all up, and buries them.

O felix culpa!

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I love to repent, as stupid as it sounds. Well, maybe I don’t always come willingly, and that old dead man in me sometimes shudders loudly. And yes, sometimes God has to shock me into it, surprising me like Nathan pointing his finger at David, “you the man.”

Ultimately, though like a little child who loves to watch his pennies disappear in that plastic spiral thingy in the mall, I love to see my sins disappear in the wounds of Jesus, in the ever flowing waters of my baptism, in the flesh and blood under bread and wine.

So don’t be sad during Lent. Be happy! You may smile when you confess your sins. You may smile when you hear, “I forgive you.” This is the strangest exchange: how he loves you and me.

O felix culpa. O happy guilt, that we would know a joy greater than Adam and Eve knew even before the fall!

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9 thoughts on “I Love to Repent: O Felix Culpa

  1. Asking God for forgiveness of sins is less difficult than turning away from them. Every person since the beginning has the curse of this condition, including they who truly love the Lord and strive to obey. As for me, I am no different, and 1John1:9 is a verse I say within myself when I have relapsed into besetting sins, having forgotten that in doing so we again crucify the Lord of Glory. Since we believers, striving continually and regularly against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and experience constant and virulent spiritual warfare within our minds and hearts, we know for certain this war will be waged so long as we are in these bodies. But wonderfully, after confession and repentance, we often feel the inner peace which the Lord gives us generously, and thus we are sustained and nourished by His grace before we again enter the arena to continue the battle.

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  2. Our current Bible study has been on theodicy and this was one of the concepts reviewed. I don’t like felix culpa and think that Augustine’s statement is greatly misinterpreted.

    O truly necessary sin of Adam,
    destroyed completely by the Death of Christ!

    O happy fault (felix culpa)
    that earned (merited) for us so great, so glorious a Redeemer!

    This is the RC Exsultet but not ours, for good reason. Our sin does not merit Christ and we should not rejoice that God allowed Himself to be humiliated for us. It is not a happy guilt that we murdered our Savior. One can and should rejoice in salvation but not in the cost. I am sorry that I need to repent. it brings me no joy that I have sins to confess. This does not undermine confidence in grace or the joy of absolution. I just cannot be both happily repenting and heartily sorry. I bring my broken and contrite heart to be repaired and then, sadly, break it, again. I am a beggar, a leech of grace. My sin is not necessary and does not magnify my value in the sight of the Lord. I am not more precious to God because I am sinful. I am precious despite my sin. This mortifies me. I am ashamed to need Christ but happy I have Him.

    I rejoice in my Savior not because of what He did but that He did it for me and I truly wish there had been another way. Because He did this for me, because He allowed Himself to be abased and condemned in my place, I know that I can confess my greatest sins because a God who has done such is fully committed to my reconciliation with Him. It is my heart’s desire that each confession truly be my last and that the final reconciliation come and remain. At that point we will have the relationship in God’s presence that God granted to Adam and Eve at creation. It is not that we will know better or feel more strongly but know what they once knew and have what they once had, no barriers to God.

    If felix culpa were proper attitude, I believe we would have preserved this in our liturgy but it is not to my knowledge
    in our Exsultet done at vigil. Am I wrong?

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    1. i would agree that ‘felix culpa’ is interpreted wrongly often. i believe i am interpreting correctly. it’s ridiculous but somehow God took our sin and revealed a love for us that Adam and Eve would not have known had not they sinned. it doesn’t make sin good. God is just crazy! perhaps more difficult to explain or understand than the trinity. our fault did not earn, as in deserve, Jesus. i believe Augustine is not applauding the work of sin, but simply stating the insane fact that God’s response to sin was to send a savior.

      also i take repentance to mean the whole nine yards – confession and forgiveness – not just confession. i confess knowing i will be forgiven. as a whole it is a joyful act, even though there may be tears shed in the process.

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      1. Augustine, I believe, is taken wrongly by later theologians. He merely said, in essence, that God decided to allow evil to exist and bring good from it, anyway. We have that in the crucifixion. God, somehow, works our salvation from our greatest act of rebellion. But taking that to think that things will be more good than good, that we will, not simply complete human beings, as originally intended, but something more, realizing a love that mankind was not intended to feel makes sin a good thing in a more than paradoxical sense.

        Many Muslims and Mormons believe that the Fall was engineered by God for such a purpose, one to experience the majesty of god and the other to build character so god can prepare us for divinity. Both find the Fall essential, a necessary thing. I disagree. It was rebellion, unnecessary, unintended, and wrong for us, in every way. Does God work with the crap we give Him? Sure. Does that make it OK to give Him crap? No.

        We agree that we confess in faith and receive forgiveness. We could not plead our case to God if we feared wrath, anyway. But, unless we are sorrowful in confession, we cannot be joyful in absolution. God transforms our guilt to joy. The lost are those who carry their guilt and don’t let God transform it. In the end, I think you and I both have the joy of salvation. That’s what counts.

        I wish you much joy in repentance!

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  3. I would prefer to express it differently. Rather than say, “God is crazy!”…..we might just say He is gracious, long suffering, compassionate, just…..and we never want to test Him, question His reasons, dispute His ways. Often I read articles on the Internet by believers who express their ideas about God in less than reverential ways, and I do understand the desire to be contemporary in speech. I once listened to an LCMS pastor give a sermon in which he repeatedly mentioned God’s love as “crazy love.” His point was we are undeserving of His love, as sinners, but still…..”crazy love?” I am not a legalist or a nitpicker as my vocation, but when we are speaking about God, His ways, His acts….we should be more careful. That is one man’s opinion. But the article was overall good, and the message understood.

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    1. I don’t mind “crazy.” God’s ways are not rational on our terms. We’ve got prodigal grace, endless love, and no penalty for our sin without any reason for it. This is a God who created tektonic plates, fleas, and allows us to be sinful, to live in open opposition to Him. There’s a some amount of chaos He seems to enjoy.

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      1. I am sorry to have to say this, but I believe you need some time spent in heartfelt self examination. Your tone of speech makes it seem like you are such a casual person that you can speak of God as if He is one of the guys, one of your pub drinking buddies, or some very cool seminary professor who could get down with the students and discuss theology like its nothing but guy talk about an NFL game. For whoever else you perceive Him to be…He remains eternal God…..and you and I do not bring Him down to the casual position of a humorous caricature. When Moses stood before God….he was told by Our Lord that this was holy ground. When we approach God, or speak of Him, it must with much more respect and reverence than you have shown. It cannot be any other way. If the Bible is your guide, you will nary see any reference to Him made in the sardonic tone which some of today’s self indulgent and worldly professing Christian writers (and even some pastors) take delight in repeating. Despite what you may think to the contrary, one can certainly become too casual with God, and in the process…..heap disdain upon His throne. Think! Speak wisely, not as a fool!

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      2. I fail to see in what way I have been overly familiar.

        God’s ways are not rational on our terms. We’ve got prodigal grace, endless love, and no penalty for our sin without any reason for it.

        “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.” 1 Cor. 3:18

        If we merely accept what God is without asking why or were not meant to, we would have no Psalms, no Job, no Abraham bargaining for Sodom, no Jeremiah. In the end, we settle for it being beyond comprehension that He is long-suffering, loving, patient and kind to those who wish Him the worst, us. All of God’s desire is for our good, He wants us to share in what He has.

        This is a God who created tektonic plates, fleas, and allows us to be sinful, to live in open opposition to Him.

        There is no doubt that He created these things meaning that, somehow, tektonic plates are good, as God has created them despite the fact that their existence and consequences leaves many to contemplate what seems like senseless suffering. We receive no answer to why He allows such things (and He does allow, He is not neutral) and why He did not start over post-Fall, why He created free will. It is our freedom to reject and defy that perpetuates sin. There is nothing forbidding us from asking questions of the One who, from the moment He pronounced His curse took ownership of the situation and promised salvation, who came to walk among us, died at our hands, as our “friend” and “brother” and imparts to us (makes contact with our flesh) His body and blood. It certainly is no sin to marvel at what He does against all human reason. Name one other faith where God claims to be relative and friend and servant of those who serve Him? One with a notion even of fatherhood that matches ours? Do you know how radical the Lord’s Prayer was in the ears of Pharisees? How overly familiar its tone in their ears? I don’t have to be “too casual” because I have not written the terms of the relationship, He has, and I feel comfortable in the tone set by the prophets and poets. God does not play favorites. Concerning holy ground, remember that the curtain was torn and that ground exists no longer. We, not the high priest, with the bell on his ankle come into God’s presence in divine service.

        The Law we are given explains our place, what we are, what we ought to do and be. But no one can see Law in floods, hurricanes, volcanoes, mosquitoes, ebola – all of this is God’s creation. He made it, it is good, He set it in motion, and He preserves it. All that comes from it, He allows. We could argue that it is punishment for our sins but that negates his Word:

        “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-8

        “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Cor. 5:21

        This is how God is disposed toward us. He took the blame and punishment for all our sin. If you see the sanity in that, of God divesting Himself of power and allowing His enemies to kill Him, more power to you. If you can find a rational, bulletproof, sane reason for suffering while agreeing that God is in charge and not making us suffer, go right ahead. It is neither disrespectful nor sinful to question God’s reason or to admit that what you see in Him is crazy, irrational, insane on human terms. None of this denies or ignores His power or majesty. Indeed, those are His only explanations to us. We are fortunate that we find our joy in God as a person and not a force, as a loving father and friend because, for Christ’s sake, we are spared the judge and the terror of His wrath.

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  4. You have defended your position well, and you have made some good points, but you still seem to believe that although Job and others questioned God, it is within your right as well. The Bible does not set this up as examples for us to follow or as an acceptable way to speak to God or about Him in that manner. And yes, there is a casual component involved when you, in your own words, stated; “there’s a certain amount of chaos he seems to enjoy.” Do you think your words here are respectful? Do you think it is your place to casually speak about the Lord as if this is some acquaintance in your circle? I suppose we can leave this thread closed, as you will most certainly see no agreement. But the honor of God requires us to approach Him and speak of Him without forgetting Who He is. God need not explain to His followers why He acts in specific circumstances or does not act. You and I are the clay, as the entire world, and the Potter will do what He will, and it is not for us to argue with our Maker.

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