A joke told to men about to marry by already married men goes something this. “The two most important words in marriage are ‘yes dear’. The three most important words are ‘I’m sorry dear’. Say the three most important words at least once a month. You’re guilty of something so just say it.” All relationships benefit from the gift of confession.
Morning and Evening Prayer begins with a general confession. We confess things we’ve done and left undone. Honestly a lot of the time we say this without considering the details in the confidence that we have stuff we need to confess but aren’t fully aware of. A purist might say that this isn’t helpful, that in fact we can only expect forgiveness for things we itemize and explicitly confess. The problem with such an argument is that it misses the very purpose of confession.
Confession is the gift that allows us to realign our lives with God. The aim of confession isn’t to make us painfully aware of all our misdeeds. I certainly don’t need help recalling the stupid stuff I’ve done in life and now regret doing. Certainly there is benefit in an itemized confession in that it can help us accept God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness doesn’t take away the memory of those things but does take away the painfulness of the memory. The memory remains and helps us stay humble and willing to forgive others. This is a benefit of confession but not it’s aim. The purpose of the gift of confession is to realign our life with God.
The Meaning of Sin
In both Testaments of our Bible the basic meaning of sin is to “miss the mark” as with a spear or a bow and arrow. Repentance essentially means to correct our aim. Sometimes sin is understood in terms of breaking God’s law. Both concepts are helpful. Not all sins are equal in weight or significance. Some require a little re-aiming and others a total shift in direction. The general confession in our daily prayers is helpful in keeping us focused in the right direction. Big changes in direction usually take the form of a more intentional confession. In some situations people would benefit from a private confession with a priest. Anglican teaching about Private confession can be summed up in a humorous saying. “Anyone may have a private confession, no one must have a private confession, and some should!”
Some should. Some events of our past weigh heavily on our hearts and get in the way of our relationship with God and others. We have trouble accepting forgiveness. This is when a private confession in helpful. Confessing our brokenness to a pastor and hearing God’s forgiveness pronounced can free a person of the spiritual bondage of sin. I have witnessed overwhelming joy replace guilt in people. This works.
Gift of Confession
It is not God’s will that we be burdened by guilt of our sins. What God desires most of all is the return of his children. This is the main point of Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son. A better name, and favored among scholars, is the Parable of the Loving Father. It is a parable about God and His joy over the return of his wayward child. Confession is the path that leads us back to God from our wandering. It is a gift that empties our hearts of guilt and lets God’s joy fill us.