Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Therapeutic Deism in the Confessional. . .

I have long lamented how we tend to confess less our sins than our failures to be true to ourselves, less the evils we have thought, said, and done than our priorities askew, less the terrors of our guilty conscience than the things we want to be told are really okay.  It is not new.  It is the way of sin and the voice of the sinful heart, the last gasps of the old Adam determined not to leave without one more attempt to redo Eden and keep us from God's grace and favor.

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.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

You have made excellent points about our tendency as fallen creatures to excuse or rationalize our sins, sometimes even justifying them.
I think we must remember that each of us, throughout the course of a 24 hour period, can receive and process a multitude of thoughts, images, and memories, entertain lust, desire, and sin in a staggering number of overwhelming ideas, some of which pass through our minds with the speed of a freight train. Try as we must to control every dark thought, every lustful sexual desire, every carnal inclination, and every scenario our imaginations nourish, we, being fallen, will often fail. We feel ashamed, guilty, and sometimes question our own salvation. How can Christ be my Savior when I am so weak and unable to resist even the very thoughts of sin, high plague me all the day long? That is why we can never see ourselves as anything more than sinners saved by grace, and humility must be real, our spiritual pride gone. Even when you love the Lord, you sin regularly in your mind, if not in practice as well. None of us can escape this reality until we are called home to the Lord. Be patient with the overwhelmed sinner, as Jesus knows our state, and He came to save us from our sins.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

If I may add to the above. It is well to remember that Jesus, knowing our weaknesses and the power of the "Old Adam" within, said the Comforter, the Holy Spirit of the triune God, would come to His followers to aid, nourish, and strengthen each, and that the constant conviction and instruction would sanctify and bless us on our earthly journey. He gave us Baptism and the sacrament of the Lord's supper for the remission of sin and for our edification in the faith. We are far from helpless, as God gives us armor in which to resist temptations within and without. We may be weak and vulnerable at times, but we are never helpless. This also is grace at work in the life of the believer.

Rev. Paul T. McCain said...

Pastor Peters, thank you for this excellent blog post. You have captured precisely the problem I see over and over again on the "Christ Hold Fast" and "1517 Legacy" websites, where "feeling bad" is elevated to the level of genuine repentance and where Holy Absolution appears, in many cases to be, little more than "Don't worry, God loves you" and where there is absolutely zero indication that the Christian life is actually a "life" to be "lived" in freedom, and there must be grace filled striving after holy living precisely because of what Christ has done for us and how we are, in face, given new life in the Holy Spirit.

Superbly done, sir.

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