Confession is More Than Removing Guilt

Humans have this sort of innate ability to adjust to their surroundings. Well, I guess everything does. But with humans I find it interesting because there is more to the adjustment then just thousands of years of evolution. There is an intentional emotional and psychological evolution that happens that is generally a response or protection against cultural norms.

Where I noticed this is what we do with guilt. Humans for centuries have had ways to deal with this. For a while there we killed some animal to remove our guilt. We use penance. We say words. We justify our actions with beliefs about how we were created, or that we couldn’t help it or that it wasn’t actually wrong in the first place.

What is obvious is that guilt is real. We do something that we shouldn’t have done. Somehow we have this feeling that what we did shouldn’t have been done. Call it your conscience, call it the Holy Spirit, call it Natural Law. Regardless, it is there, and we don’t like it, so we try and get rid of it. Religions and psychotherapists have been trying to help us get over it since we had language.

The Christian version of confession is our attempt to deal with this natural human condition. It’s a way in which we can acknowledge the guilt and own up to how we’ve fallen short. I think confession is a good way to go about it as it acknowledges the problem is still there and hasn’t gone away. It keeps us in our place. As we aren’t just confession individual moments where we feel guilty but we are confessing the kinds of people we are. We fess up to the weakness over and over again to remind us that the strength doesn’t lie within us. We can’t just stop doing the things we confess about and everything gets better.

Staying in this place of confession as a Christian though, when held up to self-help world of dealing with guilt is a odd place to be in. Christians confess over and over again that we have sinned against God and each other and are in need of God’s grace to continue on in love and peace. The self-help world though seems to suggest that it’s not really you. You just have to try a bit harder to discover the real you, try your best and eventually this will go away. Confession is only a means to an end in that world. It’s a way to try and remove guilt for not trying hard enough. But guilt doesn’t disappear because you admit you did something wrong. Guilt can only be absorbed by grace, not by the reality of it’s existence.

I think we all have our ways in which we seek to make ourselves feel better for not living up to the people we know we should be. Confession can quickly just become an attempted quick-fix to deal with our guilty conscience. It should be more than that though. Confession should be a ritual of grace, causing us to remember who we were created to be and the grace we are always in need of to carry on in healthy relationships with each other and God.

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