Here’s a concept that will shock you: Satan, the devil himself, knows more correct theology about God than even the most brilliant saints in Church history. It’s true! Satan, after all, is a supernatural being with an intellect far greater than mere mortals. He is a powerful angel who was in the very presence of God until he rebelled because of pride and then was cast out of Heaven. Satan has seen God in action—from the inside—and he knows exactly what God is like. So, he knows more about God than even St. Thomas Aquinas or Saint John Paul II.
However, the difference between Satan and a devout Christian is that Satan would never, ever consider repenting.
It’s not enough merely to know about God or to believe in God. St. James wrote in his epistle in the Bible, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19).
In this week’s gospel reading at Mass, Jesus declares a very bold statement, and then for emphasis He repeats it. He says, “But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish!”
Repentance is so important. It was the primary message of countless Old Testament prophets. It was the message preached by John the Baptist as he called people back into a relationship with God. It is the message Jesus is proclaiming to us this week.
If we don’t repent, we cannot be forgiven. If we’re not forgiven, then we’re still stuck in our sins. And if we’re still stuck in our sins, then we can’t enter into Heaven. So as Jesus said—twice—if we do not repent, the end result is that we will perish. Repentance is that important.
Unfortunately, in our modern society it is very difficult to repent—and not because we have nothing to repent of. On the contrary, our society just might be committing more sins per minute per person than any other culture in human history. If you don’t think so, just consider the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, anger, lust, greed, envy, gluttony, and sloth. In bygone generations people were taught to avoid these seven attitudes that invariably lead to sin. In our modern generation, these seven attitudes are encouraged, celebrated, and even rewarded. The result is a multitude of sin just exploding all over society.
It’s certainly not a lack of sin that makes it hard for us to repent. The problem is that we refuse to acknowledge that sin is sin anymore. We are now steeped in moral relativism, which insists that people can define right and wrong for themselves. Nowadays, the only real sin is to claim that sin is real.
But there’s one big problem here. Jesus says if we don’t repent, we will perish. I suspect Jesus said the same thing to Satan back when the devil was throwing his prideful hissy-fit in Heaven. At that moment, when Satan possibly still could have repented and been forgiven for his rebellious arrogance, he instead defiantly proclaimed that he had done nothing wrong except stand up for his right to make his own choices and define right and wrong for himself.
As a result, Satan was cast from Heaven because of his sin and his lack of repentance. He now prowls the world in a seething rage of agony, looking for unsuspecting souls to deceive and devour. (See: 1 Peter 5:8.) He is apparently having a bloody field day in our modern world.
What a crying shame that we find it so hard to repent. It is, as Jesus said—twice—absolutely necessary to keep from perishing. Without repentance, even great theological knowledge about God is not good enough. Without repentance, we’re no better than the devil.