‘But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.’ Exodus 32:32
In the first part of this chapter Joel has prophesied about the ‘day of the Lord’ as a dreadful ordeal: inescapable, not to be averted. ‘The day of the Lord is great; it is dreadful. Who can endure it?’ (:11). But then follows the tender call for repentance in the passage we read today. This call for repentance speaks about fasting and weeping and mourning.
Have we not got a wrong idea of what the Bible calls repentance? Repentance is not a matter of some emotional tears as a result of a moving message and making a decision to live a little bit better: to reckon more with God, to do some more Bible reading and praying. No, it is a crushing insight, a deep awareness of the fatal end of a willful way, religious though it may appear. Repentance is a prayer for the mercy and compassion of God.
When we really turn to God, we realize that we cannot take this for granted. That assumption is the deception of the theology of the cheap mercy and the supposed forgiveness of sin. Joel tells us clearly that this is not so self-evident. ‘Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing!’
Let us, please, stop fooling ourselves with the preaching of a super sweet god. God is holy and to be feared! But Joel also tells us, ‘He is gracious and compassionate.’ Therefore, we should listen to this call and stop seeking our own interests. Let us call to God with a compassionate and priestly heart for the sake of our people, yes, for the sake of the whole world, ‘Spare Your people, Lord!’