I was thinking...
Trying to teach the meaning of ‘confession’, a Sunday School teacher asks her class of 5th graders, “Can anyone tell me what must be done before someone receives forgiveness of sin?” After a few moments of silence, a small voice from the back of the classroom replied, “First, you gotta sin!” Out of the mouths of babes!
Lord Thomas Robert Dewar was a Scottish Whiskey distiller who, along with his brother, John built their family label, Dewar’s, into an international success. Lord Dewar was also an author and is known for pithy sayings such as “Minds are like parachutes they work best when open”. He also is quoted to have written that “Confession may be good for the soul, but it is bad for the reputation.” Out of the mouths of whiskey distillers!
Is confession healthy for our souls? We seem to live in a time where casting blame onto others is the chic thing to do. What seems to be the problem with this stylistic behavior is that it enables the ‘caster of blame’ to move toward being a professional denier of responsibility and deceiver of reality. If I am culpable in a problem and yet I keep making it someone else’s problem, then I begin to convince myself of something that isn’t true. I, in fact, become locked into a lie that has the potential of becoming blind to me (Which, by the way, is the early stages of hardening of the heart).
Confession is healthy, whether it be simply to God or others, in that it begins the acknowledgment of responsibility. Once a sin (whether big or small) is claimed as sinful, then healing can begin. But until then, it remains much like a small pebble in the shoe, moving from a mere inconvenience to a blister to infection to foot removal. If early, the pebble is removed, then the issue is removed.
There was church sign that once read, “Tired of sinning? Come Inside”. A few weeks later someone graffitied the sign and wrote below the message “If not, call 555-9267”. While we chuckle at such behavior (unless it is ours to clean up) it illustrates something that is true, sinning can be fun. Sinning disguises the unintended consequences. What is not readily seen is the devastation of self, relationships, life, and all that is precious that is just around the corner. Confession begins the process of diminishing the devastation.
In the movie Gandhi, the animosity between the warring groups of Muslims and Hindus plays a central role. Gandhi prayerfully fasts seeking to encourage people to work together. Finally, a Hindu man comes to Gandhi to confess his own role in the cycle of hatred and violence engulfing his country. Muslims had murdered his son, so he retaliated by killing the son of a Muslim.
However, guilt over this retaliatory act had driven him to the feet of Gandhi seeking advice on how to escape this hell of his own creation. After listening, Gandhi proposes this solution, “I know a way out of your hell. You must go and find an orphan boy and raise him as your own. But he must be a Muslim boy and you must raise him in the Muslim faith.”
Gandhi illustrates for me the power of confession to open the door to peace of heart and mind. It was John in his first letter located in the New Testament that said, “If we confess our sin, God who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Is confession healthy for our souls? What if we all took a step back and with Holy Spirit led honesty looked at our behavior, our words, our conversations, our emails, our social media, our relationships, our…? What if?
The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Executive Assistant to the Bishop