A few years ago, America watched as Andrea Yates came to trial for murdering her five children. Her attorney contended that she was innocent by reason of insanity; that “the killings were brought on by psychotic delusions, exacerbated by repeated episodes of postpartum depression.”[i] Even her husband, the father of the five children, claimed that she was a victim of mental illness and therefore should not be held liable for her actions.[ii]
There was a great sigh of relief by many Americans when the jury ultimately rejected the defense’s argument and convicted her of murder (later overturned). But this case brings to the surface a disturbing trend that seems to be growing—not just in society at large—but also in the Church: an increasing unwillingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions.
True repentance is impossible without the admission of guilt. This fact makes the current mindset all the more troubling, as people—saved and unsaved alike—find multiple reasons why they do what they do. “I molested that child because I was abused as a child.” “I lusted after that woman because of the way she dressed.” “I visited that prostitute because my wife is cold in bed.” Understandably there are often contributing factors to people’s actions, but why has it become so wrong to say, “I’m wrong”?
I don’t know what Andrea Yates and others like her were thinking when they committed their dreadful crimes, but this I do know: there will be no insanity pleas on Judgment Day. We will be held accountable for our actions. (Romans 14:12) Without a doubt, those who claim to have experienced temporary insanity when they committed some criminal act had a long history of rebellion to God that precipitated it.
The fact is that we’re all rebels by nature, and the only thing that any one of us can do to find forgiveness and cleansing from sin is to repent. However, before there is repentance there must first be confession, an unequivocal acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Whenever we attempt to minimize the wrongness of our actions, rationalize our sinful behavior, or shift the blame toward someone else, we are, in essence, telling God that we are right and He is wrong. (I John 1:10)
How different was David’s attitude after he was caught red-handed in the Bathsheba affair. His response was to cry out in anguish, “I have sinned against the Lord!” and to write a confession for all to see (Psalm 51).
The Bible predicts that the last days will be characterized by unprecedented evil and a stubborn refusal to repent. (Revelation 9:20, 21; 16:9, 11) Just before the first advent of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist boomed, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” If that was the way to prepare for His first appearance, is there any reason to believe it should be any different for His second? As we draw ever closer to Christ’s return, I for one am determined to do my best to live in a spirit of continual repentance. The truth is that I am wrong in many ways, but by acknowledging this, I allow the Lord to make me right.
[i] “The Yates Odyssey,” Time Magazine, June 3, 2002.