From the Latin contritus ‘ground to pieces’ or ‘crushed by guilt’, contrition is sincere and complete remorse, i.e. regret with a sense of guilt for sins one has committed. This is a key concept of Christianity, when we can then seek divine forgiveness through the act of repentance towards God, through no lesser man (as taught in the Church of Rome) but through Christ our mediator, the only mediator between man and God (1 Timothy 2:5). It is often regarded as a prerequisite to divine forgiveness (see regeneration and ordo salutis).
“Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)
Its elements comprise of hatred and regret for ones sin, a desire for God over sin, and faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross and its sufficiency for salvation. Exhortations to the value and necessity for repentance are quite common:
“I desire not the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” (Ezekiel: 33, 11)
“But unless you repent, you too will perish.” (Gospel of Luke 13:5)
At times this repentance includes exterior acts of satisfaction (Psalms 6:7): it always implies a recognition of wrong done to God, a detestation of the evil wrought, and a desire to turn from evil and do good.
This is clearly expressed in Psalm 51 (1-12):
“Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions; and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight; that Thou mightest be justified when Thou speakest, and be clear when Thou judgest. Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, Thou desirest truth in the inward parts; and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which Thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
This also appears clearly in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (Luke, 18:9-13), and more clearly still in the story of the prodigal (Luke, 15:11-32): “Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before thee: I am not worthy to be called thy son”.
A degree of brokenness is vital for deliverance as we are broken and emptied of self, ready for nothing but the Lord. We find ourselves walking through the valley of the shadow of death, suffering through heartbreak, loneliness, helplessness and insecurity. Often this means a series of failures in life where everything turns to dust, as if God is teaching us to learn to rely and depend only on Him, not on other people or our own self, and our own resources.
Through brokenness, we may be exposed to isolation, abuse, contempt, ridicule and abandonment from those in the world. More than being powerless before God, being broken means also being made to see as God does, not only the extent of other’s sinfulness, but our own.
Once we surrender in this way, we end the rebellion to the works of God in our lives. We learn to walk in the way that God wants us to walk, with Him, in humility and in love.