Today in Bible class we took a detour from our study of John’s Gospel and discussed the practice of Private Confession & Absolution. It happened quite innocently, actually. After reciting our weekly portion of the Catechism, I was just making a few comments about it and then there were questions, more comments, more questions, and by the time we were done it was time to go.
Some of my members were having a hard time grasping the value of Private Confession. It’s not that they have never heard me speak about it before. We have an announcement about its availability each week in the bulletin. But still they struggle. Roughly, the thinking goes like this: why can’t I just tell God about all of my sins and dark secrets in the privacy of my bedroom and be forgiven? Well, that’s fine, but how do you know God forgives you? How can you be certain? Does a little voice sound in your head after you confess? Is your certainty based on the fact that you feel better after doing so? Eventually I think they saw my point.
Later, as I was driving to the other church, I began thinking more about this. Why is it that people have no problem confessing every dastardly deed, every nasty little secret to counselors and therapists, but are too afraid to tell it to the pastor? Counselors and therapists have their place, don’t get me wrong. They offer valuable services in managing behavior and addictions. But you can’t get forgiveness there. You don’t leave the counselor’s office with the knowledge that no matter how badly you have acted, God still loves you and forgives you for Christ’s sake.
I think that people in the pews do not really know what a pastor is for or how to use one. If I had a broken arm, I wouldn’t just sit in my room and pray for healing. I would do that, but I would also go to the doctor to get that healing. If I need my taxes done, I don’t just pray for it and expect it to get done by itself. I go to an accountant who takes care of it for me. But for some reason we think that the solution to guilt is simply to pray. Don’t bother seeking out a pastor to speak God’s Word of forgiveness, just pray for it. That does not seem right in my mind.
Another comment that was made in Bible class was that there are just some things that people do not want the pastor to know about them. But what if we treated our doctors this way? What if we didn’t tell him that we had a heart condition, or that there was a serious pain down in our abdomen? Unless we tell them what is wrong, they can’t really help us. If we want to get well, if we want the doctor to “fix” us, then we don’t hold anything back from him.
These were just a few thoughts running through my mind. Back to the point above concerning the certainty of forgiveness, I think this is a valid point. In Private Confession & Absolution, there is no need to wonder if you are forgiven or not. The Word says it all: “I forgive you all your sins.” As valid in heaven also as if Christ our dear Lord were dealing with us himself.