confession

Not One Hint of Darkness

God is spirit (Jn 4:24). God is one (Deut 6:4). God is love (1 Jn 4:8 ). God is faithful (1 Cor 10:13). God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). God is merciful (Deut 4:31). God is gracious (2 Chr 30:9). God is compassionate (2 Chr 30:9). God is judge (Ps 50:6).

God is….these character affirmations are prevalent throughout Scripture. They are invitations to explore and understand the nature of our God. John provides us with an important “God is” statement in his first letter.

“God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

John could have simply stated there is no darkness in God. His addition of “at all” (οὐδεμία) makes his claim more emphatic. The double negative communicates impossibility. There is no way, not one chance, no possibility of darkness residing in the character of God…none.

If we have ever concluded from the pain, suffering, and horrors around us that there is darkness in God we have drawn the wrong conclusion. There are horrendous things happening every day on this globe, undeniable evil, unspeakable pain and sorrow. These realities cannot be denied and must be looked squarely in the face.

We have to wrestle with these things from a biblical and theological perspective, absolutely we must. Nevertheless, 1 John 1:5 remains true, God is pure light. This must inform all of our thinking about the darkness we see in the world.

In the context of John’s letter the divine luminosity has another practical purpose. John see’s the light of God as the pattern for Christian living. We are called to walk in the light as he is in the light.

The presence of sin/darkness makes the call to walk in the light synonymous with a life of repentance. We will most definitely find ourselves wandering around in the darkness as Christians, falling into sinful thoughts and behaviors. If we deny this, we are deceived.

The mark of the Christian is not the absence of darkness/sin, but the persistent push toward the light/repentance. The Christian is miserable in the darkness and refuses to stay there. No darkness at all, this is the Christian’s aim—full confession, transparency and exposure before the Creator.

Once More Bonhoeffer

This is the last of three posts that touch on Bonhoeffer’s thoughts about forgiveness and confession. Hope you enjoy the conclusion.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Confession and Communion (Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 118-122)

TO WHOM CONFESS?


To whom shall we make confession? According to Jesus’ promise, every christian brother can hear the confession of another. But will he understand? May he not be so far above us in his christian life that he would only turn away from us with no understanding of our personal sins?
Anybody who lives beneath the cross and who has discerned in the cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only the brother under the cross can hear a confession.
It is not experience of life but experience of the cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest christian who lives beneath the cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it also does not know that man is destroyed only be his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the christian knows this. In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The christian brother knows when i come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless myself who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the cross of Jesus Christ. It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient in brotherly confession.
In daily, earnest living with the cross of Christ the christian loses the spirit of human censoriousness on the one hand and weak indulgence on the other,and he receives the spirit of divine severity and divine love. The death of the sinner before God and life that comes out of that death through grace become for him a daily reality. So he loves the brothers with the merciful love of God that leads through the death of the sinner to the life of the child of God. Who can hear our confession? He who himself lives beneath the cross. Wherever the message concerning the crucified is a vital, living thing, there brotherly confession will also avail.
TWO DANGERS


There are two dangers that a christian community which practices confession must guard against. The first concerns the one who hears confessions. It is not a good thing for one person to be the confessor for all the others. All too easily this one person will be overburdened; thus confession will become for him an empty routine, and this will give rise to the disastrous misuse of the confessional for the exercise of spiritual domination of souls. In order that he may not succumb to this sinister danger of the confessional every person should refrain from listening to confession who does not himself practice it. Only the person who has so humbled himself can hear a brother’s confession without harm.
The second danger concerns the confessant. For the salvation of his soul let him guard against ever making a pious work of his confession. If he does so, it will become the final, most abominable, vicious and impure prostitution of the heart; his act becomes an idle, lustful babbling. Confession as a pious work is an invention of the devil. It is only God’s offer of grace, help and forgiveness that could make us dare to enter the abyss of confession. We can confess solely for the sake of the promise of absolution. Confession as a routine duty is spiritual death; confession in reliance upon the promise is life. The forgiveness of sins is the sole ground and goal of confession.
THE JOYFUL SACRAMENT


Though it is true that confession is an act in the name of Christ that is complete in itself and is exercised in the fellowship as frequently as there is desire for it, it serves the christian community especially as a preparation for the common reception of the holy communion. Reconciled to God and men, christians desire to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is the command of Jesus that none should come to the altar with a heart that is unreconciled to his brother. If this command of Jesus applies to every service of worship, indeed, to every prayer we utter, then it most certainly applies to the reception of the Lord’s supper.
The day before the Lord’s supper is administered will find the brethren of a christian fellowship together and each will beg the forgiveness of the others for the wrongs committed. Nobody who avoids this approach to his brother can go rightly prepared to the table of the Lord. All anger, strife, envy, evil gossip and unbrotherly conduct must have been settled and finished if the brethren wish to receive the grace of God together in the sacrament. But to beg a brother’s pardon is still not confession, and only the latter is subject to the express command of Jesus.
But preparation for the Lord’s supper will also awaken in the individual the desire to be completely certain that the particular sins which disturb and torment him and are known only to God are forgiven. It is this desire that the offer of brotherly confession and absolution fulfills. Where there is deep anxiety and trouble over one’s own sins, where the certainty of forgiveness is sought, there comes the invitation in the name of Jesus to come to brotherly confession. What brought upon Jesus the accusation of blasphemy, namely, that he forgave sinners, is what now takes place in the christian brotherhood in the power of the presence of Jesus Christ. One forgives the other all his sins in the name of the triune God. And there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over the sinner who repents.
Hence the time of preparation for the Lord’s supper will be filled with brotherly admonition and encouragement, with prayers, with fear, and with joy. The day of the Lord’s supper is an occasion of joy for the christian community. Reconciled in their hearts with God and the brethren, the congregation receives the gift of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and, receiving that, it receives forgiveness, new life and salvation. It is given new fellowship with God and men. The fellowship of the Lord’s supper is the superlative fulfillment of christian fellowship. As the members of the congregation are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord so will they be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and His community is complete. The life of christians together under the word has reached its perfection in the sacrament.
 

More from Bonhoeffer on Confession and Forgiveness

This post picks up where the last one left off. This entire chapter by Bonhoeffer on forgiveness is worthy of attention. I will spread the rest of the chapter out over this post and one other.  I believe you will be helped and challenged by it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Confession and Communion (Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 112-118)

BREAKING THROUGH TO COMMUNITY


In confession the break through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle  until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass and bars of iron (Ps. 107:16).
Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a christian brother, the last stronghold of self justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in the fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother. The expressed, acknowledged sin has lost all its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear the fellowship asunder. Now the fellowship bears the sin of the brother. He is no longer alone with his evil for he has cast off his sin in confession and handed it over to God. It has been taken away from him. Now he stands in the fellowship of sinners who live by the grace of God in the cross of Jesus Christ. Now he can be a sinner and still enjoy the grace of God. He can confess his sins and in this very act find fellowship for the first time. The sin concealed separated him from the fellowship, made all his apparent fellowship a sham; the sin confessed has helped him to find true fellowship with the brethren in Jesus Christ. 
Moreover, what we have said applies solely to confession between two christians. A confession of sin in the presence of all the members of the congregation is not required to restore one to fellowship with the whole congregation. I meet the whole congregation in the one brother to whom I confess my sins and who forgives my sins. In the fellowship I find with this one brother I have already found fellowship with the whole congregation. In this matter no one acts in his own name nor by his own authority, but by the commission of Jesus Christ. This commission is given to the whole congregation and the individual is called merely to exercise it for the congregation. If a christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere.
 BREAKING THROUGH TO THE CROSS


In confession occurs the break through to the cross. The root of all sin is pride, superbia. I want to be my own law, I have a right to my self, my hatred and my desires, my life and my death. The mind and flesh of man are set on fire by pride; for it is precisely in his wickedness that a man wants to be God. Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation. It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride. To stand there before a brother as a sinner is an ignominy that is almost unbearable. In the confession of concrete sins the old man dies a painful, shameful death before the eves of a brother. Because this humiliation is so hard we continually scheme to evade confessing to a brother. our eyes are so blinded that they no longer see the promise and glory in such abasement. 
It was none other that Jesus Christ Himself who suffered the scandalous, public death of a sinner in our stead. He was not ashamed to be crucified for us as an  evildoer. It is nothing else by our fellowship with Jesus Christ that leads us to the ignominious dying that comes in confession in order that we may in truth share in His cross. The cross of Jesus Christ destroys all pride. We cannot find the cross of Jesus if we shrink from going to the place where it is to be found, namely, the public death of the sinner. And we refuse to bear the cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession. In confession we break through to the true fellowship of the cross of Jesus Christ, in the confession we affirm and accept our cross. In the deep mental and physical pain of humiliation before a brother-which means, before God- we experience the cross of Jesus as our rescue and salvation. The old man dies, but it is God who has conquered him. Now we share in the resurrection of Christ and eternal life.
BREAKING THROUGH TO NEW LIFE


In confession the break through to new life occurs. Where sin is hated, admitted, and forgiven, there the break with the past is made. ‘Old things are passed away.’ But where there is a break with sin, there is conversion. Confession is conversion. ‘Behold, all things are become new’ (2 Cor 5:17). Christ has made a new beginning with us. As the first disciples left all and followed when Jesus called, so in confession the christian gives up all and follows. Confession is discipleship. Life with Jesus Christ and His community has begun. ‘He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy’ (Prov. 28:13). In confession the christian begins to forsake his sins. Their dominion is broken. From now on the christian wins victory after victory.
What happened to us in baptism is bestowed upon us anew in confession. We are delivered out of darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. That is joyful news. Confession is the renewal of the joy of baptism. ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning’ (Ps. 30:5).
BREAKING THROUGH TO CERTAINTY


In confession a man breaks through to certainty. Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to the holy God? But if we do,  we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution. And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self forgiveness and not a real forgiveness? Self forgiveness can never lead to a breach with sin; this can be accomplished only by the judging and pardoning word of God itself.
Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves by with the living God. God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person. As long as i am by myself in the confession of my sins everything remains in the dark, but in the presence of a brother the sin has to be brought into the light. But since the sin must come to light some time, it is better that it happens today between me and my brother, rather than on the last day in the piercing light of the final judgment. Our brother has been given me that even here and now Imay be made certain through him of the reality of God in His judgment and His grace. As the open confession of my  sins to a brother insures me against self deception, so too, only when it is spoken by a brother in the name of God. Mutual, brotherly confession is given to us by God in order  that we may be sure of divine forgiveness.
But it is precisely for the sake of this certainty that confession should deal with CONCRETE sins. People usually are satisfied when they make a general confession. But one experiences the utter perdition and corruption of human nature, in so far as this ever enters into experience at all, when one sees his own specific sins. Self examination on the basis of all Ten Commandments will therefore be the right preparation for confession. Otherwise it might happen that one could still be a hypocrite even in confessing to a brother and thus miss the good of the confession. Jesus dealt with people whose sins were obvious, with publicans and harlots. They knew why they needed forgiveness, and they received it as forgiveness of their specific sins. Blind bartimaeus was asked by Jesus: what do you want me to do for you? Before confession we must have a clear answer to this question. In confession we, too, receive  the forgiveness of the particular sins which are here brought to light, and by this very token the forgiveness of all our sins, known and unknown.
Does all this mean that confession to a brother is a divine law? No, confession is not a law, it is an offer of divine help for the sinner. It is possible that a person may by God’s grace break through to certainty, new life, the cross, and fellowship without benefit of confession to a brother. It is possible that a person may never know what it is to doubt his own forgiveness and despair of his own confession of sin, that he may be given everything in his own private confession to God. We have spoken here for those who cannot make this assertion. Luther himself was one of those for whom the christian life was unthinkable without mutual, brotherly confession. In the large catechism he said: ‘Therefore when I admonish you to confession I am admonishing you to be a christian. Those who, despite all their seeking and trying, cannot find the great joy of fellowship, the cross, the new life, and certainty should be shown the blessing that God offers us in mutual confession. Confession is within the liberty of the christian. Who can refuse, without suffering loss, a help that God has deemed it necessary to offer?
 

Forgiveness in Community

We have spent the majority of our time exploring forgiveness on the vertical. We have briefly viewed the implications of the vertical for the horizontal. In this post, let’s look a little more closely at two texts that draw out some important things about forgiveness in the community of faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer has a brilliant chapter about these two texts in his book, Life Together. I will give you the texts first and then turn it over to him to draw out the importance of these passages.

Text 1: John 20:21-23


“Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me,even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.'”
Text 2: James 5:13-16


“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Confession and Communion (Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community, 110-112)


He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone it may be that christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break through to fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners the pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we ARE sinners! But it is the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that it confronts us with the truth and says: you are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; He wants you alone. ‘My son, give me thine heart’  (Prov. 13.26). God has come to you to save the sinner.
Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you. You do not have to go on lying to yourself and your brothers, as if you were without sin; you can dare to be a sinner. Thank God for that; He loves the sinner but He hates sin. Christ became our brother in the flesh in order that we might believe in Him. In Him the love of God came to the sinner. Through Him men could be sinners and only so they could be helped. All sham was ended in the presence of Christ. The misery of the sinner and the mercy of God- this was the truth of the gospel in Jesus Christ. It was in this truth that His church was to live. Therefore, He gave his followers the authority to hear the confession of sin and to forgive sin in His name. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained (John 20:23). 
When He did that, Christ made the church, and in it our brother, a blessing to us. Now our brother stands in Christ’s stead. Before Him alone in the whole world I dare to be the sinner that I am; here the truth of Jesus Christ and His mercy rules. Christ became our brother in order to help us. Through Him our brother has become Christ for us in the power and authority of the commission Christ has given to him. Our brother stands before us as the sign of the truth and the grace of God. He has been given to us to help us. He hears the confession of our sins in Christ’s stead and he forgives our sins in Christ’s name. He keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to my brother to confess, I am going to God. So in the christian community when the call to brotherly confession and forgiveness goes forth it is a call to the great grace of God in the church.