Lesson 9: Confession or Denial

A woman going to confession.I had hoped to come up with some insights that would help break the gridlock in the discussions about abortion, human sexuality, and racism. After struggling a couple of months, I found myself suggesting we should simply work harder in practicing compassionate love and using creative, healing words. That certainly would go a long way. However, I was hoping to find more.

Then in a two-day period, I received communications from Paul, Kerry, and the seminary president that all focused on a part of the tradition absent in the current debate. All three spoke of Christianity offering a realistic understanding of sin in a morally compromised world. We hear people loudly accusing the opposition of evil plots and actions, but my correspondents were emphasizing realism, especially in terms of self. They advocated the importance of engaging in the discipline of confession.

That resonated with me as I had repeatedly thought those on both sides of our cultural divide needed to come to terms with reality. For instance, they casually throw around phrases such as “the best in all history” when referring to themselves or “the worst in the entire world” about their opponents. The three communications maintained realism starts with being realistic about ourselves and lying about other things stems from lying to ourselves about who we really are.

Paul sent a post from Keith Giles that charted how the Book of Romans is misread when it is used to judge others such as gays and lesbians. St. Paul’s letter condemns no one but, rather, promises we can be honest about our own sins because God’s love prevents them from separating us from his salvation. The Apostle shows we all fall short by meticulously pointing out the failure of his own actions and the turmoil of his own internal struggles. In the 11th chapter, he writes, “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment.”

Confession is then accountability taken in the context of God’s compassionate love. We examine ourselves knowing that we are beloved. It is also a significant part of the renewal that takes place when God pours out his transforming mercy on us all. That is evident in confessional prayers such as the one used weekly in my congregation. “Merciful Lord, I confess that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have not done. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. For the sake of your son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on us, forgive us, renew us, and lead us that we might delight in your will and walk in your ways to the glory of your holy name. Amen.”

Sadly, confession is missing in much modern church life. Popular theology sees it as negative thinking that damages self-respect. To dwell on our human frailty, weakness, mistakes, and self-centeredness is regarded as promoting self-loathing rather than faith in God’s mercy. God’s love is taught as leaving the past behind without any self-examination.

That kind of theology leads to all kinds of absurd self-confidence that has little to do with Christ’s teachings. It certainly fails to recognize we participate in sin when we profit from a society based on greed and gain, one that brings suffering to a number of its citizens.

It also prevents a profound understanding of loving relationships. When we use Jesus’ passion as the model, we see compassionate love that suffers with and for others implicitly shares the sin of the other. That was brought out masterfully in the quote Kerry posted from Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov: “There is only one salvation for you: take yourself up and make yourself responsible for all the sins of men. For indeed it is so, my friend, and the moment you make yourself sincerely responsible for everything and everyone, you will see at once that it is really so, that it is you who are guilty on behalf of all and for all.”

I found it worked to begin our conversations with confession that included realistic self-examination. At least it set the stage for what I regarded as a way to the common good. It offers a platform on which we can work with one another rather than searching for ways to justify the demonization of anyone who does not completely agree with our views.

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  1. John Myers says:

    I agree nothing changes in our social divide until we confess. If we are to improve this world….. all of us, no matter our political or moral views, must start by acknowledging humanity is morally and spiritually broken. I think it is reflective of modern sensibilities to suggest we are not, that we are good, that we try to do good and should receive credit for it. Suggesting we confess to falling short is largely viewed as being harsh, and our narcissism then begins to judge others as our self-defense mechanism. Getting past this requires honesty – with others and ourselves. This is so much harder in a world built on dishonesty, and exacerbated by the reinforcement of this dishonesty by instant communication within the echo chamber that we feel good about living within.

    Of course, the problem with all this is that there is a Judge who does not judge by our standards, but His own. We must recognize God’s truth in His word. What God identifies as sin, must be viewed as sin. Why make excuses for it? The idiocy of the created trying to critique the Creator has always intrigued me.

    Confession starts with honesty and truth. If we cannot recognize that, we are lost…..forever. In a world built on deception and lies, my refuge is the Church of Jesus Christ. For me, the Church must be that. It must be built on respect for the handiwork of God that is in every human, and respect for the God that made them. Loving each other and God, as God intended, starts there. We all fall short. We must recognize that, confess it, and ask forgiveness from the only source that can give it. We will never take away the divide without it.


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