What’s the one thing you’ve done that nobody else can ever know about?
The mere thought of making such a confession inspires a hard swallow and a pounding heart.
Well rest at ease, I’m not really asking anyone to make such a confession.
But if there are any who would like to, there are now quick and convenient, anonymous and even aesthetic ways to deal with those nagging sins of yours: cyberspace confessions.
There are a variety of online confession websites where you can confess the things you’ve done that nobody can ever know about.
Have some slip-ups to shake loose and can’t make it down to the parish priest? No problem. Just have them absolved by posting them online at “simplyconfess.com” “rawconfessions.com” or “postasecret.com”
You’re just a few keystrokes away from a clean slate.
Now, if you are more of the artsy type who needs to get something off your chest there’s a confession web site where you can submit a postcard-sized artistic rendering of your transgressions. Just include a statement of the issue that you need to reveal— but by all means— you must keep it anonymous.
These ownerless mail-in confessions are then posted on the site so others can read your acknowledgment and admire the way you aesthetically captured it.
A comment from a regular of the site reads: “I love this Web site. It makes me feel everything I’ve done is closer to human. I look forward to the new postings as they open up my eyes each time.”
Well that’s a voyeuristic bonus if I ever heard one!
The rest of the world can get online and appreciate the splendor of your sinful actions, and then instantly feel better about their own minor mishaps and pesky peccadilloes.
With sites like these in place, who needs a priest or a time of prayer anymore?
Why bother with an expensive therapist?
We can get all of those needs met in one anonymous, artistic, confessional and voyeuristic place.
It’s no wonder that reality television and shows like Scandal are dominating the Nielsen ratings.
We love to wallow in other people’s garbage. It entertains us. It shocks us. It makes us feel better about ourselves.
So why not bring the same benefits to confession? Quick, easy, and tasty as well—McConfession for a McCulture.
Okay. Critique is cheap.
But truth be told, confession of sins, honest repentance, and seeking atonement are a necessary part of the Christian life for they enable us to receive fully the power of resurrection that came at Easter.
But we are in a lot of trouble when it comes to confession, repentance, and atonement if our Christian beliefs don’t offer us something more tangible, more authentic, more personal, and more real than anonymous and ubiquitous confessions posted to a website.
Fortunately, 1 John does give us more.
We typically view confession as “that Catholic thing” where people go to a priest.
Or perhaps it was that one-time past activity that people associate with “praying a prayer” or “receiving Christ.”
Or maybe it is just a hyper-pious activity for the monastic and self-abasing types— confessional cod liver oil: It’s supposed to cure us, but we’re not sure why.
Regardless of our view, confession is a lost practice for many of today’s Christian.
But in today’s passage, confession is different. It’s a normal part of healthy Christian rhythms.
Confession will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness”, but not “cleanse” in the past tense, “cleanse” in the present tense— it is an ongoing activity.
Confession creates a clean relationship.
Let that perspective sink in a moment—Confession creates a clean relationship is what the Apostle John is saying.
What then is the state of a relationship without confession?
When we say something cruel or do something offensive to a spouse, a co-worker, or a friend, things are stunted, terse, or obtuse between us until we go and seek forgiveness. Relationship is awkward when there is an offense between people.
Relationship between God and God’s followers is no different when wrongs between them remain unrecognized and unreconciled.
But confession restores our relationship with God and other Christians. As John says, coming out of the darkness and into the light grants us “fellowship with one another” (v. 7).
Confession places us back on the common ground of our identity in Christ.
But we balk at such a radical concept, don’t we?
After all, everyone likes to have their stuff all together. People don’t like to be wrong. And for sure, nobody likes to admit they’re wrong even when they know they are. We’re consumed with being right and not getting outed as being wrong.
But what does such a way of life do to our relationships?
What does such a way of life do to showing others a Christ-like image?
If the perception becomes that Christians can never, and will never, confess their wrongs, their missteps, their instances of being un-Christ like, what does that mean for furthering the Kingdom of God?
Donald Miller author of the book, “Blue Like Jazz” offers an interesting perspective on confession.
A few years ago he and his friends went to a festival on their college campus, which was renowned for its drunkenness, nakedness and drug consumption of the students who attended.
They went there and set up a confession booth. But it wasn’t your typical or ordinary confession booth—this one had a twist.
The booth was not a place for festival go-ers to come and confess their festival sins; rather it was a place to come and hear the confession of the Christians who set up the booth itself.
Miller and his colleagues made recognition of, and apologized for, all of the church’s atrocities that they believed stood against the message of Jesus Christ, such as the Crusades, Televangelists, Politicized religiosity, Neglect of the poor and marginalized in our society.
The Pagan festival-goers came, fully aware of these blights upon the church. But at this confession booth, the church asked them for forgiveness.
The response of those who heard the confessions was first surprise and curiosity, but soon it moved to respect, appreciation, tears, and healing.
It was not only a great missional opportunity, but it is a great picture of the heart of confession in 1 John.
The campus confession was admitting what a disenchanted audience of nonbelievers already knew about the church: That it was sinful and imperfect, but that it was striving to do better.
Our Christian confession is similar. It is simply owning up to the reality of the ways in which we have not perfectly followed Christ, while acknowledging that we want to do better—because we do want to do better, right?
Now here’s something that will make this idea of confessing a little easier to do.
God is already aware of our sins.
God is already aware of our faults and failures.
God is already well aware of all that we need to confess to.
We haven’t fooled God, we haven’t gotten anything past God.
And because we haven’t, confession therefore, isn’t an information transfer; rather it is an act that leads to relational healing.
When you were a kid, did you ever lie awake at night believing there were monsters under your bed or in the closet?
Or do your kids have those fears today?
Well, two things are true of these nocturnal fear-mongers: They lose their power when Mom and Dad come into the room and they lose their power when the lights get turned on. Sin is the same kind of monster.
It holds power and influence over us.
It is tempting and attractive.
It comes after us in dark places when nobody else is there.
But when we tell other people about the sins we wrestle with, we are willingly letting someone else comes into the room, where the lights get turned on, and the monster loses its teeth.
That is why those post-a-confession websites are such tawdry rip-offs of the true spiritual rhythm of confession.
Cyber-confession is anonymous. Christian confession is personal.
Cyber-confession is the announcement of wrongs to an impersonal Web site. Christian confession is ownership of wrongs to a personal God and caring people.
Cyber-confession results in entertainment for others. Christian confession results in connection with others.
Cyber-confession brings forth nothing that will last. Christian confession restores right relationship with God and with others.
Just listen to a liturgical prayer of confession, one that invokes true confession and repentance, one that is authentically seeking renewal…
Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your name.
This is no dot-com entertainment. This is real Christian intimacy.
There is a false reality about which we seem too comfortable and silent.
And that reality is this: Christians who worship God—God who is our light—still carry around dim parts of their lives (vv. 5-6).
We carry dim thoughts, dim words, dim emotions, dim actions, dim omissions.
The analogy 1 John offers is a great one. Walk into a room with the lights on and try to find a dim place and it will always be the farthest distance away from the light source, or it will be in a shadow— a dim place that is hidden from the light.
When we fall short of thinking, feeling and acting in ways that reflect the perfection of God, we’re like dimness in a lit room. Far from God. Hiding from God.
It’s time that we fully step into the light of God. Amen.