Sin is not simply something that makes us feel bad. Sin is a grave obstacle between us and God, and between us as people. It is a barrier to the life God created for us and it is a wall that imprisons us from those around us -- the people we were created to live together with and we both want and need. Sin does not simply make people feel bad. It is not primarily about feelings.
When we confess our sins, we also confess how they make us feel. That is good and well, in and of itself. But repentance means owning up to the greater reality of what those sins have done and how what they have done cannot be undone -- not by us, not by our will, not by our desire, not by our works, and not even by our regret. We come as those powerless to do anything but sin -- unless and until the work of the Holy Spirit leads us beyond the feelings and into the concrete of what those sins do to God, to others, and to us.
Though the difference between mortal and venial sin can be helpful, it does not help for us to judge some sins big and other sins small -- small enough to be overlooked? Yes, Scripture does speak of sins that are “unto death” (I Jn 5:17). Mortal sins are grave matters – sins that betray God’s law and His will. The commandments tell us what God's will is and how that will places boundaries and markers for us to judge truth from error and right from wrong. So when we, knowing that law, choose our own will and act according on our own judgment, we are not simply rejecting the law or the rule but God Himself. Though venial sins may not involve all the conditions of knowledge, law, and willful consent, they do involve some of them. We treat them as if they were nothing more or less that the inadvertent infractions of a minor rule or the accidental choices we could not avoid or did not know. But they remain sins. Their power is to eat away at the conscience until wrong becomes right and right cannot be discerned anymore -- until God's law and Spirit no longer address us. In any case, these sins do not simply live within the realm of our feelings nor are feelings the only domain of their destruction. Sin has one currency. Death.
It is a good thing that your sins make you feel bad. It is a bad thing when we can sin with impunity and feel no sorrow or regret, much less contrition. But the feelings are not ends in and of themselves -- they are the place where the Spirit works to reveal what we would rather remain hidden. The full consequence of sin is death. Only the Spirit working through the voice of the Word can lead us from our dismissal of sin and its consequences simply to the realm of feelings and show us what wages we have earned by those sins.
When we confess them, whether together in the preparation for the Divine Service or individually before the Pastor, we are admitting more than how we feel but what our sins have done -- done to us before God and done to others by us. It is only in this context that the absolution makes any sense. Apart from the death that sin has produced in us and through us to others, no absolution is really needed. Instead, a thoughtful word of encouragement or a reasoned excuse or justification for what we said or did would suffice. But God has given us something more powerful than that which would dismiss sin. He has given us the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all our sin. And this does more than make us feel better or feel good. It breathes life into our deadness. It is not therapy but a resuscitation to life. For this gift and blessing, we can do nothing more than stand in awe. Such greater love no one has ever seen before.