I follow cycling in the general way of all sport (which means I know of the Tour de France and about Lance Armstrong). I had heard of the interview and the forthcoming confession but wasn’t keen enough to find a way to watch it and was happy to see snippets on the news and internet. The an-nouncement of a ‘confession scoop’ didn’t encourage me to watch at all. He hadn’t sinned against me and I didn’t need to hear words on TV that I felt should be said to specific people first.
Nevertheless this has been a topic in some of my conversations this week. What surprised me was how little the confession seemed to matter. Yes, people thought it was good he admitted wrong doing but, it seemed to me, that the people, I chatted with, didn’t regard it as hugely significant. I don’t think it changed their overall view of Armstrong. For them, it seemed to me, his guilt was ‘pretty clear’ before he fi-nally said so and what they were interested in was whether others involved will be found out and whether Armstrong could race again.
So what’s the point of confessing sins? We would say that it is the acknowledgement of sin – our sin – which we name and claim – and that is a good thing. But how do we see this sin? Unfortunate? A lapse? Only an issue because we’ve been ‘caught’ or ‘found out’? Not really our fault? Or from someone else’s perspective … per-haps the person we’ve hurt / sinned against? Perhaps from God’s perspective?
We all know that saying ‘sorry’ is relatively easy. The word isn’t a difficult one to wrap around the tongue. In fact we tend to be uneasy or suspicious of a sorry that comes ‘easily’. We’re not looking for the word rather than realisation of what has happened and repentance for it – a repentance that testi-fies to a desire to change – actually not an easy thing which is why repentance isn’t easy either.
Christian confession of sin is an acknowledgement of sin from a perspective not our own. We see our sin, our behaviour through others’ eyes and all our excuses and self justifications no longer stack up. That is why confession is made to the people we’ve wronged. So they see that we ‘see’.
With regards to God, it is also easy to just say the words of the liturgy or the 5th Petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Hence I recalled the confession found in the Order of Compline (LSB p253-259) – the service at the end of the day – part of which says ‘I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word, and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault …’ (LSB p254). Yes, this can be parroted too but the three emphasis hopefully wakes us up to the truth that there is no one else to blame for this par-ticular sin … but … me. Sometimes people make a fist and strike their heart at the word ‘fault’ (not hard!) but to give their body both memory and experience of confession.
So what’s the point of the confession? To receive an absurd hope – a new start. That is what God in mercy does – absolves – forgives – and equips us to start again. Saying sorry isn’t the issue of a con-fession! (Not really!) It’s an important step for sure but what is most important is what comes next. And if that isn’t there – what’s the point of confession?
Thank God for his absolution! That is what we need to hear! Only that gives us the new start to live according to the fresh insights seeing our sin from another’s perspective gives us. (God’s absolution also empowers us to absolve too.) — GS