He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14
What is the first place you think of when you hear the word canyon? If you’re American or if you’ve been to western United States, The Grand Canyon in Arizona would most likely be your answer. Why not? It is after all THE most famous hole in the ground, which is why it receives close to 5 million visitors annually. But have you ever heard of a slot canyon? I am not a geomorphologist and I don’t claim any expertise on this subject. But my husband and I just had the opportunity to visit the Antelope canyons within the Navajo Nation in Page, Arizona, so I learned a few things about this interesting landform.
Slot canyons are found worldwide, in geographical areas with little rainfall. Here in the US, the ones we know of are in northern Arizona, southern Utah, New Mexico, and California. A slot canyon is vaguely defined as a long, narrow, deep and tortuous channel or drainageway with walls of sandstone, limestone and other sedimentary rocks. I was reading up on the Antelope canyons and admiring the photos on the website of the local tour company way before our trip but I later realized nothing could have adequately prepared me for the experience. What I saw exceeded my expectations. From the beams of sunlight that find their way through the narrow slits above me, creating natural hues of orange, red, yellow, pink and purple; to the variable and sometimes undulating shapes of the sandstone walls, which, at certain points are literally next to you – everything exudes our Creator’s majesty. It is incredibly beautiful, fascinating, and almost otherworldly. I noticed though that because of the irregularly-shaped spaces inside, there are segments and crevices that remain in darkness. They are either too distant from the openings where sunlight penetrates the canyon, or they are positioned at an angle that creates shadows and prevents them from being illumined. However, when flash floods occur as they do during the monsoon season, water can rapidly fill every inch of the canyon. There is no corner, crevice, slit, hole, that cannot be reached and washed with the gush of rainwater.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Prov. 28:13
I believe the same is true of the human heart and that many times, we shelter sin and shame in our own secret crevices. We can understand how this could be the daily reality for someone who is unaware or unyielding to the grace of God. However, this is not only true of unbelievers. Although justified once and for all through Christ’s victory on the cross, believers in Christ are works in progress who continue to wage war against sin.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in 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 1:8-9
As followers of Christ, we have tasted and seen God’s mercy and compassion. We read in Scripture about the tenderness of our Shepherd’s heart towards the weak. But do we understand the crucial role of repentance in the work that the Holy Spirit is doing in us? I think that for most of us, we intercede much and confess very little in our personal and corporal prayer life. If we paid more attention to what we say, it sounds as though we seek His provision more than His pardon. We desire to be fed and clothed more than to be forgiven and cleansed. And we know what the bible says about our words – they merely reflect what’s in our hearts. We all have much to learn from the psalmist David, who rightfully lamented over sin and earnestly sought God’s forgiveness.
Have mercy on me O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgression. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Psalm 51:1-2
Repentance is not an item to legalistically check off some list of what makes one a good Christian. Repentance demonstrates our total dependence on Him against Whom we have sinned and continue to sin. For a child of God, repentance is born out of a heart that has been softened by grace and is secure in the love of the Father; a heart that cannot bear for any of its parts to remain hidden in the shadow of self, unchanged by the glory of His light. The closer we lean into the heart of our Master, the sooner we are able to recognize sin and bring it into the light of His mercy. Genuine repentance enlarges the portals through which His grace flows abundantly. When His Spirit leads us to repentance, God allows us to feel His sorrow over sin, and creates in us a deep desire and thirst to be washed and cleansed by Him who shed His blood in Calvary. The more we linger in His presence in prayer and reflection, the more we are awed by the preciousness of Christ, and the lesser things we were foolishly holding on to are swept away in a flood of grace.
I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. Isaiah 43:25
No one ever visits a slot canyon to sprint through it. Not only is that dangerous. It is also an absolute waste of an extraordinary opportunity to appreciate the unique beauty of this piece of God’s creation. In the same way, we shouldn’t rush through seasons of repentance for they are seasons of great grace. It’s when the grain of wheat falls deep into the earth and dies, in order to bear fruit. It’s when our prodigal thoughts and ways find their way back home, and humbly rest at the feet of Him who purchased us by His blood. There is nothing so freeing as being forgiven by Him who knew no sin. He who desires unbroken fellowship with us, is also the One who sanctifies us. It is therefore with faith and confidence in the Lamb who was slain that we pray:
Search me O God and know my heart
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!