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What Stephen King Taught Me About Repentance

  • Russell Moore

    Russell Mooreis president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The ERLC is the moral and public policy entity of the nation’s largest Protestant…

  • 2010 Jul 12

Before you start judging me, I don't read Stephen King's horror books, and never have (not that there's anything wrong with that). In the past year, though, I did read, for the second time, King's insightful little book on writing, called On Writing.

In the book I came across an anecdote I'd highlighted the first time around that I'd forgotten about. King writes about how he came to see that he had a drinking problem. He denied it at first, he writes, because he could continue to work and be productive, something, he thought, drunks can't do. King continues:

"Then, in the early eighties, Maine's legislature enacted a returnable-bottle-and-can law. Instead of going into the trash, my sixteen-ounce cans of Miller Lite started going into a plastic container in the garage. One Thursday night I went out there to toss in a few dead soldiers and saw that this container, which had been empty on Monday night, was now almost full. And since I was the only one in the house who drank Miller Lite…"

It suddenly dawned on King: "I'm an alcoholic, I thought, and there was no dissenting opinion from inside my head…I was, after all, the guy who had written The Shining without even realizing (at least until that night) that I was writing about myself."

So far as I know King doesn't claim to be a Christian, and his "recovery" isn't exactly what the Bible presents as repentance. Nonetheless, the image of something as mundane as a recycling bin full of cans prompting a life-change prompted me to think about the goodness of God in such things, in my own life.

I'm finishing up writing a book on temptation right now, and have been thinking a lot about how hard it is for me to see my own temptations, much less my outright sins. They're just too close so they seem "normal."

Drunkenness isn't my particular point of weakness, but I sure have lots of others. And this anecdote reminded me of how many times God has used something minor to arrest my attention. It usually isn't a cross in the sky or a vision on the road. But I'll hear someone speak and think, "Oh man, that sounds like me, and I don't want to be like that." Or a conversation will prompt me to think about some stupid parenting maneuver I've been attempting. Or my son will pretend to be "Daddy," and I'll think, "Hey, that's not how I want to be remembered by my boys." Or I'll stop in the middle of my self-pity and whining to see a sunset that will remind me how good God is to let me view it. And so on.

I'd imagine you can think of similar things in your own life, uncanny little moments that turn you around, back toward the goal of Christ. That's discipline, though not what we typically think of when we think of discipline. These moments are moments of gentle kindness. And God's kindness is meant "to lead you to repentance" (Rom. 2:4).