Archive for February 17th, 2010

Why Lent?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the traditional beginning of the Lenten season and the time when small wars break out around the Protestant household over whether or not the season should be a part of the Christian calendar.

Many argue (quite plausibly it seems to me) that we should learn from the calendar God established for His people under the Old Covenant, which had only one day of fasting set apart each year (and it was surrounded by numerous days of feasting). If, they say, this was the case prior to the coming of our Savior (and the inauguration of the new heavens and new earth, the days of “continual feasting”) why would we institute a season of 40 days of “fasting”? And, I think I agree — assuming that Lent is celebrated as a 40 day fast. But the question is, “Is this how Lent should be celebrated?” I don’t think so.

I know that traditionally, Christians have “given up” something for Lent and usually that “something” has been something they particularly enjoy. This may be seen as a form of “fasting” I guess, but if it is, it’s a very pale shadow of what “fast” (doing without food of any kind) really means. I understand the rationale for the practice, but given it’s very limited focus, it seems to me to miss the point of fasting in general and is easily metamorphosed into something like a “Pharisaical” act (i.e. “God surely must be pleased with me since He sees me foregoing my usual afternoon grande chocolate-caramel-cinnamon mocha latte with extra foam, which I’m absolutely dying to have right now!”).

This is — probably unintentionally, but it is all the same — a distortion of the whole purpose of fasting. We fast to remind ourselves of the seriousness of our sins. Our sins are a high-handed insult to the gracious, loving God who made us. They are so grievous that we deserve no good thing from God — indeed, we deserve to starve to death. Fasting should have the same effect upon our attitude toward sin that spanking is designed to produce in our children — i.e. it should impress upon us that sin is bad, painful, worthy of death, and that I ought to hate it and stay away from it. I’m not sure that giving up Godiva chocolate for forty days always has the same effect.

So, unless the congregation is going to engage in a corporate fast for a particular reason or you decide to set a day aside for a real fast (which means no food for 24 hours or at least until sundown), I’m not sure that these lite fasts mean a great deal — and we probably are better off without them. But that’s a different matter than saying that Lent is evil or unprofitable. (more…)

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