Wednesday, July 3, 2019
Therapeutic Deism in the Confessional. . .
This is surely true of the confessions substituted for the words printed in the hymnal. When we tinker with these, we do not help our people to hear the voice of the Law convicting them of their sins but muffle that voice and dull the sharp edge of God's Word. Be careful about substituting words of your own crafting in an attempt to make them more relevant. There is no more relevance than words of sin in thought, word, and deed, miserable sin, sin by nature, sin that we cannot undo, by our fault, our own fault, and our own most grievous fault. The more we try to point those words the rounder the point usually becomes.
But I have noticed that when we enter into the private space of individual confession, there too the great tendency is not so much to seek absolution but explanation, justification, and affirmation. It is as if we want the Pastor to understand why we sinned as we did so that the reasons will excuse the wrong and if the Pastor can understand then God will surely understand as well. We want therapy more than forgiveness. We want someone to tell us that we had no choice, the situation offered us no other course, our upbringing crippled us, life's cruelty left us vulnerable, and therefore the sin is not really a sin and we are not so much sinners as victims. Now, it may be true that there are explanations and conditions and a troubled past that left us weak in the face of temptation and vulnerable to the wiles of the devil's prompting but that really is not at all the issue. Sin is sin whether accidental or deliberate, whether big or small, whether willful or done without any real alternative. And sin's consequences are the same whether accidental or deliberate, whether big or small, whether willful or done without any real alternative.
God does not absolve us so that we feel better about what we have done. We don't need Him for that. God absolves us so that sin's dominion might be ended, its guilt released, and its prison opened so that we might be the holy, righteous, and pure people our baptism declares us to be. It is not therapy but rescue. It is not the place for explanations or justifications or excuses but for the blood of Christ to cleanse us from our sin and show us the path of righteousness.
Pastors need to be careful less they succumb to the temptation to make the sin smaller and to ease the person's guilt by making the sin of no consequence. We are here to listen to the conscience terrified by the reality of sin and shamed by its consequences and then to release the conscience with the Word of Absolution that says as bad as the sin was, the grace of God is good and forgives the sin. As big as the sin was, the blood of Christ is bigger. As shameful as the sin was, God restores us, declares us righteous, and shows us how then we shall live as His own, under Him, in His kingdom forever. At the end we should not feel at all that the sins we confessed were not so bad but rather that the grace of God is greater than we ever imagined and the gift of God in Christ better than we deserved. Being told we had no choice but to sin may help us for a moment but being forgiven of that sin will form a grateful heart that will endure forever.