Following a conversation this morning, and some unfolding events from the past few days I have been pondering the importance of confession and forgiveness to my walk of faith. I have been known to say that I need forgiveness on a daily basis, if not more often! I am not being flippant in that statement, I really mean it, but sometimes it takes a little while for me to catch up with myself and my need to confess my mistakes and to seek to put things right! That said when I become aware of my need I try to seek forgiveness, first from God, then in receiving that forgiveness and forgiving myself, and then if possible in trying to make things right with the one/s I have wronged.
Today I became aware of a need to forgive myself, and the only way that I can do that is to accept the love, acceptance and forgiveness of the God who showed the depth and power of love to me through his life, crucifixion and resurrection in the person of Jesus the Christ!
Through Christ I enter into a life that can accept that love and power because in him I have a pattern to follow. Seeking forgiveness requires me to be humble, to accept my need and to lay down my defences. If I choose to live a defended life, a life full of barriers, and excuses then I can never receive the fullness of grace, I can taste it, see it and even imagine it but I cannot receive it in all of its glorious fullness.
Self-knowledge and humility then become the doorway through which I enter into grace, they call me to love myself in such a deep way that I accept my own woundedness, and dare to lay that woundedness before God. This is not about beating myself up, not about grovelling in the dust and dirt, not about a tyrant God who punishes and executes harsh judgement. In fact it is the opposite, it is about a God of such love that s/he would leave the power and glory of heaven to be revealed in frail human flesh, to show us a oneness that we could barely hope for, and probably never dream of, and yet it is offered freely to us.
Our journey to self-knowledge is never easy, it is often humiliating and requires of us at least the beginnings of a radical honesty that dares to say; “yes I have messed up!”. Admitting failure and weakness is hard, we are often hard-wired to do all that we can to cover up our mistakes and weaknesses, to cover over our faults and flaws. In doing so we present a hard and perhaps shiny exterior to the world, but that exterior is brittle and easily broken, and so we spend a lot of time papering over the cracks in our souls, covering our flaws and wounds in a thin disguise.
It has taken me a long time to be able to look myself in the eye and accept who I am, flawed, bruised, wounded, and broken, yet loved, cherished, accepted and desired! Desired by this Christ, this Jesus who calls me his own and claims that he and the Father are one as he invites me into an improbable relationship of love, grace and power made possible through radical forgiveness.
It is this radical forgiveness that I need to accept and receive as I stumble and tumble my way through life and ministry, because I am flawed and often defended I do and say things that hurt others and myself. Forgiveness and grace set me free, and yes I believe the price has been paid once and for all through Jesus giving of himself on the cross, and yes I believe that I am forgiven once and for all time, but I need the reminders. I need reminders of both personal and corporate confession, and I need to hear the powerful words of absolution even if they are spoken by my own lips in my own voice, for they are not just for me but are a Holy promise and assurance that all will be well.
Through confession and forgiveness I draw from the deep well of grace that not only sets me free, but allows me to be a channel of life and love for others. If I allow the flow of God’s love to be blocked by my bitterness, defendedness, brokenness and pride then I stand in my ego self as a barrier to the work of the Spirit who longs to flow through me. Grace is surely the life of Christ, that Godly life within calling me towards fullness, hope and wholeness.
So I reflect that I need to receive the gift of forgiveness through the act of confession, not because I am not forgiven, but because I need to live move and have my being in the loving power of that forgiveness….
To quote the novelist Douglas Coupland from his part-memoir “Life After God” :
“My secret is that I need God—that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem to be capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love.”
I need God, I cannot walk this life of faith alone, and so I must lay myself aside, I must accept that I will and do make mistakes, I become separated from God ( that is what sin is) and I need to be restored into a full and free relationship with him/her on an ongoing basis. I need the gift of repentance ( a turning/ returning to the goodness of my source) not in order to be right, but to be real which is a stronger, more honest and less brittle life where freedom and grace abound, and I draw again from the depths of the well of love.
24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.
Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.
3-4 God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn’t deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that.
Romans 7: 24- 8: 4 (The Message)
Loving God, I am no longer my own but yours, teach me again to trust myself to you…