Good for the Soul

Visits to my Nana’s house were always an adventure.  After lunch, the adults spent their time “porch sitting.”   Their stories of the good old days riveted us for a while.  But eventually the stolid heat and humidity of Georgia summer and the quiet of spent storytelling drove the children indoors in search of more lively entertainment.  Nana’s house was always dark and mysterious.  Filled with curios from bygone ages and places. There was always something to explore.   As an older home, with no AC, her windows were always open.  And during the summer time, the old wood and linoleum floors were gritty to our bare feet.   When I think of summer in Georgia I think of that humid, grittiness.  A kind of pervasive, latent oppression Southerners learn to live with.

Any good Southern author knows that conveying this grittiness is a mark of regional authenticity.   The short stories of Faulkner are a good example.  They always evoke for me a feeling of grittiness.  But perhaps nothing I have read has made me feel more gritty, than the Russian novel, Crime and Punishment.

Crime and Punishment unfolds the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in St. Petersburg who murders an unscrupulous old pawnbroker for her money.  Before the killing, Raskolnikov believes the money will liberate him from poverty and change his life for the better.  Afterwards, however, he finds himself consumed with paranoia and self-loathing.  All his justifications unravel as he struggles with guilt and horror and confronts the consequences of his crime.  Dostoevsky’s work is a brutal character study in “urge to confess” and of the overwhelming power of guilt.

“The urge to confess” is a common theme in crime stories.   Guilt is powerful, controlling, and irrepressible.   We can rationalize it, conceal it, run from it, and attempt to mitigate it, but we cannot escape it.   Guilt clings with the tenacity of an ant and is a “thorn in the flesh” that no self-help strategy can eradicate.   As wise mentor once told me, “when people express guilt, don’t tell them they should not feel that way or that they are not guilty, but instruct them to confess.”   The old saying, “confession is good for the soul” is very true.  Solomon wisely instructed his sons, and successors, and us.

Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
    but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always,
    but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity. 

Proverbs 28:13-14

While confession is never easy, nor comfortable, the comfort it brings is powerful.   Confession is the only way to deal with our guilt – because it depends upon another, alone, who has the power to release us through forgiveness.  The ancient word for forgiveness, has at its root, to untie, or release.   Like the Gordian knot, only confession, repentance, and forgiveness can untie the knots that sin and guilt tie in our lives.   This is why confession is an essential part of worship.  

Just as the Psalms form the “anatomy of all parts of the soul,” instructing us in the liturgy of prayer and worship, corporate worship sets before us the pattern of life with God and with others.    Central to that pattern is the act of corporate confession and assurance of pardon.  In confession we “agree with” God about the truth of our condition, unmasked as men of unclean lips, hands, and hearts among a people of unclean lips, hands, and hearts before a Holy God.

Every person in Scripture who came face to face with God through prophetic vision or theophany, was terrified.  When Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was hidden in the cleft of the rock and only allowed to see God’s back.  When Job demanded an audience with God, God confronted him out of a EF5 tornado.   To enter God’s presence as a sinner is to invite death and terror.   Unless, there is one who can cover us and mediate for us.  

Job’s fear was that “there is no arbiter between [God and I], who might lay his hand on us both. Let him take his rod away from me, and let not dread of him terrify me.”  But the good news is that we do have a mediator in Christ.  One who can lay his hand upon us both. One who has stood in the gap.  One who has become sin for us that we might be accounted righteous in Him.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4:15-16

It is God’s kindness in Christ that invites us to confess and find forgiveness and release from the Gordian knot of guilt.   Have you learned to confess?  Is confession a regular feature of your prayer life?  Or have you tried to find every other way to rid your self of that one dark blot, that no soap or good works can wash away?  

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 17, on Facebook Live at 10:30 am as we examine Psalm 130 consider the next steps in our fellowship with God expressed through confession of our sin.