Confession beneath the Cross

Preparing to preach on confession of sin, centering on Proverbs 28:13 – “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

In preparation, I returned to that rich little classic, Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Two of his insights into confession and community:

1) Without confession of sins, there is no true Christian fellowship.

“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.” (110)

2) Only a Christian who has truly and personally encountered the Cross of Christ is a safe person to receive a confession.

Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession. (118)

That organ containing delusions

From Leif Enger’s excellent Peace Like a River:

I began to weep…weeping seems to accompany repentance most times. No wonder. Could you reach deep in yourself to locate that organ containing delusions about your general size in the world – could you lay hold of this and dredge it from your chest and look it over in daylight – well, it’s no wonder people would rather not. Tears seem a small enough thing.

Down the black hole of Jesus’ death

Rober Farrar Capon, explains “absolution” in the Parables of Grace, page 39:

[Absolution] “is neither a response to a suitably worthy confession, nor the acceptance of a reasonable apology. Absolvere in Latin means not only to loosen, to free, to acquit; it also means to dispose of, to complete, to finish. When God pardons, therefore, he does not say he understands our weakness or makes allowances for our errors; rather he disposes of, he finishes with, the whole of our dead life and raises us up with a new one. He does not so much deal with our derelictions as he does drop them down the black hole of Jesus’ death. He forgets our sins in the darkness of the tomb. He remembers our iniquities no more in the oblivion of Jesus’ expiration. He finds us, in short, in the desert of death, not in the garden of improvement; and in the power of Jesus’ resurrection, he puts us on his shoulders rejoicing and brings us home.”