As Christians, we seem to be pretty comfortable with sin. I might even say we go so far as to keep it like a pet and show it around, so that everyone knows we "take sin seriously."
"Yeah, I know I'm a sinner! Just like Paul..wretched man that I am!! See? I got sin right here. I can even cry on cue."
Don't get me wrong. I think sin is our constant companion, whether we want it to be or not. We sin because we are sinners. A life of righteousness is a struggle. But I still wonder if we aren't too comfortable with it. We talk about it so much, we preach sermons on it, we gossip about the sins of others, we deny it, we tsk tsk about it, we pray and pray for relief from it, and we genuinely cry over it. But there it is, like a big lump in our laps every time we sit down.
I wonder if our obsession with sin has anything to do with our relatively easy life. I somehow suspect that living at a subsistence level leaves little time for naval gazing. "Each day has enough troubles of its own." (Matt. 6:34) Hard work has a way of helping heal the pain of having sinned, too. At least I think it does. Hard work makes it a lot easier to think of yourself as worth something, as useful, as having a purpose. No wonder the Proverbs warns us against idleness. Not only does idleness give us opportunity to sin, but it gives us too much time to dwell on it afterwards. Dwelling on sin can cause a sort of fatalism that, in the end, can make sin harder to resist. "I'm no good. I can't help it. I've tried to do better, but I can't!"
This all leads to why I think the Catholic Rite of Reconciliation has real, solid, life-and-blood merit. It does two things. First, it gives us a place to put that lump that's been on our lap. You go and you unload it...all that sin. You confess it, out loud to a living, breathing person. That takes some guts. I think privately confessing it to God is easier, even if it shouldn't be. That might be another example of our level of comfort with sin, by the way. Anyway, there you are giving up this lump and going away without it. It's not yours to think about or talk about anymore. It's a done deal. Stop dwelling on it.
Secondly, a real, live, flesh-and-blood person assures you of God's forgiveness, out loud. You don't think that makes a difference? How many times have you confessed the same sin to God because you don't feel forgiven? It can be argued that confessing sin to another person is the way it should be done. (James 5:16) I think this is for accountability, to be sure. But it's mostly because 1) we need the prayers of righteous people and 2) we need to hear we are forgiven. We are relational creatures, which is why God sent his Son in the flesh, to walk and talk among us. Jesus was (is) personal, and that's something we can relate to.
But maybe we're so comfortable with sin that we're a little scared of what it would be like to walk away from confessing and be completely free of it, even for a short time. It reminds me of a character in Lewis's The Great Divorce, who couldn't give up their little sin, and stayed in hell instead of choosing to be free of it.
And have you read Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller? At one point he and his friends set up "Confessionals" on their campus, only they didn't hear the confessions of others. No, they quietly confessed their own sins to each person who sat down. I bet that was a freeing, even exhilarating, experience.
I hear that whether or not I join the Catholic church, I can go to confession. That sounds good to me. Someday. I'll get around to it I'm sure. But not right now, the sin is asleep on my lap, and I'd hate to disturb it!