When Confession to God is Not Enough

Tuesday Re-mix –

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16

Step 5: We admit to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

[I am using these Tuesday Re-mixes for a few weeks to think (again) about addiction to self-reliance and how that addiction is one of the biggest challenges to genuine community which we face in the American church culture.]

I grew up feeling sorry for my Catholic friends because they had to confess their sins to a priest.  It seemed to me that such a thing would be the most awful experience in the world.  My particular faith community taught me that, when it came to confession, I did not need an intermediary…I could confess my sins straight to God.  To be honest, I liked that a lot more, because it was easier to fool myself into believing I had actually confessed to God than it would ever have been to fool a priest.  I could go and spend a few moments thinking about my various wrong-doings and thinking about God, and maybe even whisper a few words to God about it all, and then leave feeling like I had done the whole confession thing.  Problem solved.  Easy to fool myself!

But it’s not that easy when there is a human being on the other end of the confession who can ask you questions for clarification and can make you say the actual words…out loud…describing what you did and who can tell you when they think you’re not “owning” your fault.  That, to me, is a less flexible and less manipulatable process.  It is very much like the difference between adjusting your hair or your tie without a mirror versus actually looking at yourself in a mirror.  Suddenly, it feels much more real.

That’s why scripture calls the New Testament church to confession BOTH to God and to one another…and that’s why recovery from addiction requires step 5: admitting to God and to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.  For those of us addicted to self-reliance, this whole notion cuts deep into our illness, forcing us to face perhaps our greatest fear…the loss of dignity.  After all, dignity is entirely dependent upon our perception of others’ perception of us, i.e., it is about how we believe others see us.  Confession, then, means letting go of all control of how others see us.  It is scary.

But do you see that, without this step, there really is no genuine healing and recovery from this particular addiction?  We can be alone in our prayer closet with God all day and night, and we can come out filled with conviction and determination to make things right, but until we learn to also find God in our brother, and allow our brother to see the truth about us and to influence us and to push us to be even better…until we learn to live in intimate community with God’s people, we have not really gotten any better.  And we certainly have not recovered from our addiction to self-reliance.

So, for this recovering self-reliance addict, I finally do arrive at the same place as my Catholic friends on this issue, though perhaps for different theological reasons.  I finally do conclude that confession to another human being, one I can trust to hold a confidence and to love me in spite of my biggest flaws, is a necessary thing for my recovery and for my Spiritual growth.  I wish it were not so, because it is so very hard to do.  But it is so.  I’m coming to grips with that.  How about you?  Have you experienced the power in confession to another human being?

© Blake Coffee
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One response to “When Confession to God is Not Enough”

  1. I, too, was raised Catholic and have had the opportunity to look at this same issue with some perspective as a Methodist Pastor for the last 25 years. The “I don’t need to confess to anyone but Jesus” framework is indeed slippery and cheap. The post resurrection upper room account of the disciples being mandated to release others from the burden and ramifications of real sin perpetrated on all horizontal relationships is essential in human relationships and in the advancement of communal life, or in Gospel language, Kingdom life. The relief of the burden of real responsibility when it comes to sin and bad behavior was not to be remedied by extending cheap grace, which I believe is part and parcel of a cheap gospel in American Christian circles leading not to “redemption and redeeming and transformed life and living” but just more of the same, leading to essentially more frustration and a fraudulent savior who saves us from very little that really matters this side of well, eternity. The insidious nature of sin, missing the mark, is fueled by a non-confessional accountability to an invisible god somewhere.

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