I just finished a book by the Mormon writer Orson Scott Card, "Children Of The Mind." There's a rather memorable line in the book where Ender Wiggins, the book's protagonist, says, "I'm not a Christian. I don't pay for my sins, I learn from them."
I really liked that line. Coming from Mr. Card's Mormonism, it gave me a look at the world from a perspective not my own within Christianity. I love to look at what I know from different perspectives and understand what the outsider perceives.
"I... learn from my sins." Each of our sins are truly evidence of our need to learn. It is a very good thing to learn from one's sins. Technically, learning changes the mind. And I've always learned that the Greek word for "change your mind" is metanoia, and that metanoia is the Greek word in the Bible translated "repent." When you see the guy in a sandwich board that says, "Repent," the word means, "Change your mind." Thus, Mr. Card's character Ender is voicing the fact that there's a sense in which he repents of his sins. This is an idea at the core of what it means to be a Christian.
I've come to think that Christianity's Gospel has been hijacked with some odd, unscriptural accretions. This business of asking deity, Jesus, to enter one's heart, a pump for blood, never made sense to me. Same goes for "accepting Christ." What exactly does it mean to "accept" deity? These accretions hide what I believe to be the true Gospel: there is Mercy in Christ. Repent and believe to obtain it. Repent and believe. Repent. Change your mind.
Repent of my sins? Change my mind about my sins. Learn from my sins. These are awefully similar if not the same things. So, I'm all with Mr. Card and Ender, by all means learn from your sins for judgment is at hand.
This is not Ender Wiggins' slander.
Instead, he said, "I don't pay for my sins..." before he said he learned from them. Where and how could he get the idea that sins have to be paid for? Rhetorical question. We all carry within us the sense of Justice as image bearers of God. Justice demands that evil be punished. The lady with the blindfold holds scales. The scales of justice must be balanced. Christianity, and Judaism, and I presume Mormonism all assert the necessity for justice.
What Ender Wiggins gets wrong is that he thinks that sins are paid for by the sinner. Or that Christianity teaches that sins are paid for by the sinner. A bit of careful thought by Mr. Card would quickly disabuse him of this notion, for surely he's seen the central symbol of Christianity, the Cross of Christ. The Christian who is truly a Christian never pays for his sins and never thinks that he can and never thinks that he does. The Christian believes Christ does the paying, and that belief is counted for Righteousness. With that out of the way, the Christian can get about the business of learning from his sins.
So, how is it that Mr. Card knows about the Cross, even superficially, yet has Ender Wiggins claim that Christians "pay for" but not "learn from" sins. I think it's the Roman Catholic notion of penance. The Christian, even the Roman Christian, never pays for his sins. But the Roman Catholic often pays a penance. Penance is a mixed thing. When I've offended someone and seek reconciliation of the relationship, a peace offering helps restart the dialog. I'm not Catholic but I've occasionally been assigned a penance by my Catholic friends. And when I've not really been repentant about doing something that I thought right, but my boss would think wrong, I've asked what penance he'd like now that I'd given him a fait accompli.
This notion of penance gives the wrong impression to outsiders. And as you can see it can also serve as a substitute for repentance. And the penance can serve as an occasion for Simony (the attempt to buy grace for money named after Simon the sorcerer rebuked by Peter in Acts). The worst abuse of the penance in history served as the spark that lit the fires of the Reformation, specifically the sale of indulgences. "Sobald das Geld im Kasten klingt, Die Seel' aus dem Fegfeuer springt" As the gold in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs.
I think this is why Mr. Card put slander about Christianity in the mouth of Ender Wiggins. I think the ease with which the doctrine of penance is misunderstood both within and without The Church strongly argues against Romanism. My own Reformed thinking insists that grace is free. Grace is free.