The first time I confessed my sins to a pastor, it wasn’t what I had imagined. We all have that Hollywood image of what it means to go to confession: the little closet room with the sliding window, the priest saying “how long has it been since your last confession?”, etc. Mine was at seminary. I was there for two reasons – I needed to get something off my chest and hear clear words of forgiveness, and I also was curious about what this looked like in real life.
This past Sunday we confessed about confession:
What is confession?First, that we confess our sins, and second that we receive absolution, that is, forgiveness, from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven by God in heaven.
So I set up an appointment with the Seminary chaplain, a guy with a deep growling voice but an immense heart. I walked into his office that morning. He sat me down and asked “what’s up?” I told him the reason that I was there and what had been going on. He said, “we can do the confession in the hymnal, or if you’re good, I’ve heard enough, I can pronounce forgiveness to you right now.” Never one for needless pomp and circumstance, I opted to just hear the words of forgiveness. “I forgive you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” And that was that. So sliding windows, no priest in a cassock, none of the Hollywood stuff – just the stuff that I really needed to hear and believe.
Later on, I remember confessing my sin to someone else, but the emotion of the guilt and shame were still with me. “You are forgiven,” I was told, but I responded “but I don’t FEEL forgiven.” The person pronouncing the absolution kind of chuckled at me, “that doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you feel, you ARE.”
That’s a fair point to remember when we are confessing our sins. Our souls are slippery things, they like to slip away to avoid confessing wrong doing and sin, but they also like to slip away to avoid absolution. We will say “yes, but I don’t feel forgiven,” or “these words may work all of the other times, but this time is different,” or “maybe that works for them, but not for me.” But those are all Hollywood lines – just like the little closet, the sliding window, the obscured priest on the other side – they’re not real. What is real isn’t always what we expect and it isn’t always what we feel.
But we know this, we believe this, our sins are forgiven by God in heaven because of Jesus Christ. That’s all we need.