Several months ago, during an internship, I was given the assignment of “researching” the postmodern generation. In response to the assignment, I downloaded music, read sections from bestsellers, reviewed new art and took a gander at several new magazines—all at work and all, I believe, out of complete necessity.
This necessary research resulted in discovering an interesting phenomenon within our current culture—a deep hunger for honesty and transparency. An editor at Multnomah stated in an article, “We want real, we want raw, and we want the bare truth laid out in all its glory.” As a young generation of Christians, we rush toward books such as Blue Like Jazz and Traveling Mercies, which allow readers to step into writers’ souls and turn and decry the shallow depth of previous self-help books. We desire our lives to be an open confession, where we supposedly bare our souls, our sins and our fears to the entire world.
However, stepping back, I often wonder if in this our generation has turned to half-confessions, an apathy toward the depth and weight of sin and a forgetfulness of the necessity of true confession.
“I’m not going to lie to you …” is often a phrase I heard floating around the university I graduated from. One student will turn to another and say, “I’m not going to lie to you; I sign that I am present in class and leave.” The recipient of this confession would then respond with, “Wow, thanks for being honest with me …” Now, while this interchange may strike a few heart chords, there is a major problem—the sin is left untouched, and the honesty is praised. Somewhere down the line of becoming both more “real,” and at times more “relevant,” we have confused purity with transparency. We have taken Paul’s admonition in Colossians, “Do not lie to one another,” to mean a flippant admittance of a wrong, knowing the “openness” is all that will be remembered.
Our lax confessions reflect a culture unaware of the weight of sin, a myopic understanding of how heavy the blackness in our souls are and the tragic desire for honesty, and even community, over holiness. And staying strong is what C.S. Lewis refers to as the great sin— pride urging us to look “real” instead of really confessing the depths of our darkness.
Much like the Christians John of the Cross encourages us to stay away from, we “soften [our] sins when [we] make confession in order to make [ourselves] appear less imperfect.” Yes, we will flippantly state that we ditch class, but when do we honestly admit we are lusting after a professor? We will admit to cheating on a test question, but when will we admit we have a chronic problem with lying to cover our own backs? And when was the last time we asked for forgiveness in these areas?
Before we can be real, we must acknowledge sin for what it is—a deep, dark stain. The sin of our lips blackens our heart, the dark places our feet take us blacken our feet, the uselessness of our hands blacken our hands. Sin, lit by the glory of God begins to eat away at our flesh like leprosy. We are sinners; we are fallen—all of us. There is not one person who can stand without damning blackness upon their flesh. Here is the point where our generation must understand the need to fall upon our faces like Isaiah and cry out, “Away from me God. I am unworthy to be seen. I am covered in sin and shame, and part of me longs for this darkness. Longs to feed it and keep it close and dear. Away from me God, I am unworthy.”
Past honesty, past transparency, we need to bring to light the darkest places of our soul in order to strive after holiness—a slightly less popular word. But we are not holy; we all cry out in response. We cannot be perfectly holy, and these ideas will turn us legalistic. No, we are not perfect, but God longs to sanctify us and acknowledge our sin for what it is. And confessing it before not only God but our fellow brothers and sisters will begin to remove the dross that keeps us impure.
These impurities, as well as our easy confessions, keep us from the miraculous point of broken and open confession before not only God, but others. When we truly confess, blood rich and pure and perfect begins to cover our darkness, beginning at our head and spreading to cover every inch of who we are; blood that is counter-intuitively beautiful. Blood that makes us acceptable to stand in the presence of God. We are covered and reconciled to God, filled with Him, penetrated and cleansed beyond just the flesh—but the very soul. This is not ordinary blood. This is not the typical lamb or goat offering the Jews made in the temples years ago. Those were mere check-ups, cleansing for a few days—only needing to be cleaned again. No, this is the shed blood of God. Let me repeat that in case this did not sink in. This is the shed blood of God. Eternal, unchanging, holy, perfect God
As we begin to move to honest, life-changing confession, we need to begin to reveal ourselves in the presence of our fellow believers. Richard Foster states, “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.” This does not mean that we should create a MySpace account to post our sins. That is the mentality that gave us a flippant approach to confession and sin in the first place. It does mean we need to find people we trust and respect enough to pray for us, to hold us accountable, to know the sins we struggle with on our own.
I encourage this generation to become not only real, but pure. To be not just honest people, but confessors, allowing fellow believers to bear with us, not just see us as the sinners we are. To go to someone trusted and fall on your knees, admitting the brokenness that doesn’t seem to heal, and allow that person to administer the forgiveness of God.
We want to be real, but the clearest end to pretense comes when we nakedly confess our sins to one another, acknowledging the killing weight of sin and then together, lay it at the feet of Christ.