A dear friend sent me an article written by a Catholic nun. She is telling the tale of a favorite novel of hers* and the themes that are prevalent in it – sin, redemption, forgiveness. The main character makes a grave mistake in her youth and then spends her lifetime mired in bitterness as a result. She can never forgive the person who led her into sin and it colors every other relationship in her life, including her view of God.
The book’s character begins to change soon after the fateful sin. “She began looking for evidence that other people, like herself, were not without sin. She paid more attention to gossip and she took note of all the little things around her which indicated that not even the Sisters in the convent were completely holy and unworldly…”
Because of her guilt and shame, she starts to look at others with a judging eye. She wants to comfort herself in the knowledge that others are also sinful. She points the finger at them to avoid looking at her own failure. And then she spends the rest of her life blaming and resenting the one who caused her to fall into sin.
Isn’t that what we so often do? It’s so easy to point the finger elsewhere.
They made me do it! How could I help but react the way I did, look how awful they are to me! My circumstances are such that anyone would have done what I did, I’m an innocent victim here. I just couldn’t help it.
The author sees the parallel in her own struggles:
I started to learn that unforgiveness is more than just the pain in my chest that tells me I am angry: it’s a poison that I choose to drink and it infects the way I see those I love, myself, and God. I’ve discovered that when I’m unforgiving, it’s not just towards the instigator; instead, suddenly everything is wrong with me, God, and the world. Unforgiveness is a poison I choose and it affects everything in my life, not just the isolated instances where I’m angry. -Sr. Maria Catherine Toon
Sister Maria then advocates the practice of frequent and regular confession. “Regular confession is both difficult and freeing,” she says, in that it forces oneself to regularly examine our hearts and motives. She describes the process she went through: “I started to become good at admitting my mistakes outside of the sacrament. This started to build reconciliation in my relationships before I even had to hit my knees in the confessional.”
Obviously, as a Protestant, I don’t believe confessing to an earthly priest is necessary. I believe in confessing to my High Priest, Jesus Christ:
Hebrews 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
But I do believe regular confession and repentance is necessary. It’s helpful to keep us from sliding into the blindness of blaming others, of excusing ourselves, of seeing others as more sinful than we are! This is such an area of bondage when we cannot see our own sin, but only what others have done. But when I ask God to show me my sin, He answers. He desires to gently lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4) in His kindness and mercy. He doesn’t want to leave us in that proud, arrogant state of self-righteousness. He wants us to come and humble ourselves before Him (James 4:10) and He will lift us up!
Hebrews 4:15-16 is a beautiful picture of the High Priest who receives our humble confession and then forgives us and helps us in our need:
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Lord, help me to keep short accounts and to regularly and humbly confess my sin to you, despite what anyone else has done.
*The classic Norwegian novel “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Unset