Does this ever happen to you? A song or a conversation brings back a painfully vivid memory. I relive a moment from the past when I did something incredibly selfish or cruel or self-destructive. It’s so real that I literally wince. I wonder how I could have been so foolish or stupid or evil! Of course, that summons another memory of a different similarly heartless moment. And another.
#Cringeworthy. I laughed as I watched myself being drawn into a situation that could hurt other people or ruin me. I entertained terrible, unwarranted suspicions about someone I love and trust. I made an angry accusation that turned out to be completely wrong. I expressed public concern about another person when, in fact, I secretly hoped that person would fall into the trap and suffer. In mundane conversations, I shared damaging information which served no purpose other than making me look smarter or more insightful or more noble than everyone else. I did something utterly self serving but allowed others to believe it was all for the glory of God.
As humiliating as they are, serial flashbacks like these remind me of how much I need grace and why I am so dependent upon Christ. The only reason I occasionally feel like a good person is because I have such a bad memory. Most of the time, my litany of evil deeds and near-misses remains safely concealed in my sub-conscious to spare me the shame. But their number is Legion.
Contrary to the popular meme, God is not like that suspicious neighbor lurking behind a tree and waiting to pounce when I stumble. To the contrary, I stumble all the time, and the only reason my fatal character flaws are not apparent to everyone is because the Holy Spirit is always at work behind the scenes screening me, protecting me, and quenching some of the evil darts I have fired. There really is a super hero out there who protects people like me- from ourselves.
Yet that same faulty memory that enables me to feel confident about myself leaves me feeling anxious and distrustful of God. I fear that he won’t really be there for me when something bad happens next week or next year. That’s only because I have forgotten or failed to even notice all the times he’s been watching my back in the past. The door I wanted so desperately to open would have left me miserable and completely exposed: still I was disappointed that God shut that door and locked it. Unlike Garth Brooks, most of us seldom look back and thank God for unanswered prayers.
In the New Testament, confession of sins is not about self-loathing or wallowing in guilt. Rather, it’s like putting on night-vision goggles so we can spot all the hazards hidden in shadow on a spiritual battlefield. Confession not only asks God for help, but reminds me how desperately and constantly I must rely upon his goodness. It sets up altars that serve as memory stones when I pass this way again that God was here for me when I was weak. Confessing my sins reassures me that even though I disappoint myself, God will never fail. Never has. Never will.
In the classic motion picture The Matrix, Neo awakens to realize that most human beings are in a state of slumber, connected to a matrix of smart machines, and experiencing life as a synthetically generated illusion. He is offered two pills and asked to choose. The blue pill allows the subject to return to the sleep state and continue the illusion. The red pill enables him to detect reality, locate his body in the matrix, and return to real life with all its challenges and opportunities. For you and me, confession is the red pill.
The dark web within me is always poised to seduce me, sedate me, and keep me distracted while my soul dies. But this is what I’ve learned, the truth that sets me free: I can count on Christ.
Lift up the Cross!