Rev. Peter W. Marty
St, Paul Lutheran Church, Davenport, Iowa
Editor/Publisher of The Christian Century
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up, and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. (James 5:13-16)
A couple decades ago, an English theologian published a book on the power of forgiveness. The title is what’s memorable to me: The Joy of Being Wrong. It’s hard to picture being wrong as intrinsically delightful in and of itself. There can’t be joy in trampling another life through offense or cruelty. What constitutes the actual joy of being wrong is confessing that wrongness to another. The admission to someone else that we have messed up is what’s liberating. To pull some dank reality out of an inner recess of the human heart and expose the musty truth to fresh air—that’s how we free up a relationship with God. That’s how we get right with our friends and lovers.
Ancient Jews knew only confession to God. Christians see value in confessing sins to one another in addition to God. But what counts ultimately is that we trust God to forgive unconditionally. We don’t confess our sins in order to be forgiven; we confess them because we are forgiven. Notice how often Jesus pronounces forgiveness to guilty people prior to them cleaning up their act or pledging to repent.
The writer of James reminds us that forgiveness doesn’t follow confession; it precedes it. “Anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven,” he writes. “Therefore [or, in light of such divine love, and with all defenses down] confess your sins …”
Prayer: O God, teach us to know, in Jesus Christ, that because you love us we can be comfortably honest in confessing our sins. Amen.