Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Confessing sin

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!


Ampersand said...

Carrie, this sentence is wonderful (and true, IMO):

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."

I know it may be strange that as a non-christian I find this post to be so on target, but I do.

Now that I don't have a God to confess to, confessing to humans is just that more powerful (for me).

And I think there is a secular version of the sin-as-pet phenomenon..."I know I'm not perfect," serves to deflect further evaluation, input, introspection, and ownership of our actions.

I have found that owning my own #$%& is quite powerful...being willing to look at myself as cause and not blaming others has been a source of growth and peace for me.

Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this and appreciate your reflection on the topic.

Susanne B. said...

Totally agree with your post. I had my first Confession ever with Father Acker on the Friday before Palm Sunday. I was scared to admit my sins, but it was SOOOO FREEING. Not only did I hear a voice telling me that I was forgiven (something I really, really need!), but I also received wise, Biblical counsel on how to combat my particular sins. It was such a wonderful experience, even though I cried through the whole thing. (No surprise there, LOL!)

Confession was next on my blog topics as well. I thought I'd blog a bit about each of my chapters for my book, just to get a little start on each topic. Once I get done with Saints, Confession is a comin'.

Thanks for posting this. I especially like your analogy of sin being that weight in our laps -- that's what it feels like.

NoVA Dad said...

I've heard several folks lately mention the Miller book; it sounds intriguing. If you have time (and I've not had much time for blog-hopping lately, so I'll check to make sure you haven't already done this), I'd love for you to post a more detailed comment about the book so that those who haven't read it can learn more (and might even be persuaded to go track down a copy:-)

carrie said...

ampersand- I like your comparison: using "I know I'm not perfect" as a defense against real change. I've used it myself!

Susanne- I'm looking forward to your blog post!

NoVa Dad- I posted on Blue Like Jazz. It's worth tracking down.

Susanne B. said...

My Sunday School teacher at Lake Murray is going to his first Catholic Confession in thirty years this Saturday night. He said the reaction he's been getting from his friends has been interesting: anger, screaming, being hung up on, etc.

If you have time, please pray for Bill as he digests all that God has for him right now....