Confession & Forgiveness

Sin is a problem to the health of our souls. Thomas Merton puts it this way: “Sin destroys the one reality on which our true character, identity, and happiness depend: our fundamental orientation to God. we are created to will what God wills, to know what he knows, to love what he loves. Sin is the will to do what God does not will, to know what he does not know, to love what he does not love…in all these things sin proves itself to be a supreme injustice not only against God but, above all, against ourselves.” 

Merton stated the problem with sin intellectually. In Psalm 32, David expressed the problem with unconfessed sin more personally—more from the gut than from the head: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (verses 3-4).

I appreciate a story John Trent shares that illustrates the danger of unconfessed sin: “As World War II raged in Europe, the Pacific, and North Africa, there were encounters with the enemy on our home soil, too. Like the one at my Aunt Dovie’s assembly plant. She worked at Allison Engine, near Indianapolis, making spare engine parts for the famous Flying Fortress bombers. She was posted at the assembly line’s end, where they packed silver-coated pistons to be shipped to England. Something was going wrong though. When the pistons arrived in England, they were covered with pin-sized holes, rendering them useless.

“So, the plant workers were brought together and told the problem—there was a spy among them! someone was splashing acid on the pistons before they were crated. Soon FBI agents arrived to scrutinize the process. Yet new lots arriving in England still had holes. 

“Then one day my aunt left the factory lunch room and stood face-to-face with the saboteur—a salted-peanut machine outside the cafeteria. Workers were eating peanuts and returning to work without washing their hands. The salt granules created tiny holes on the pistons.”

Unconfessed sins do to our souls what salt left on unwashed hands did to those pistons. 

In their book How People Grow, Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend state succinctly what we need to do: “The formula for dealing with sin we commit has been around for a long time: confession, forgiveness, and repentance for the ‘bad stuff’ in our own souls” (p. 314).

David, again, expresses it personally: “Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5). 

Merton pointed out that sin destroys our character, identity and happiness. Confession, though, leads to forgiveness, and forgiveness leads to restoration, serenity and joy. Pope Francis stresses: “Pardon is the instrument placed into our fragile hands to attain serenity of heart.” Or, as David declares as he opens Psalm 32: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (verses 1-2).


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