I often do not think of confessing sin as an inherent part of ministry. It is a part of my Christian life, certainly. And while acknowledging that I am a sinner in need of redemption is a part of acknowledging the truth of who God is and what He has done, the actual act of confessing sin is never something I ever really considered as a witness unto itself.
I suspect that’s because for me, a long time Christian, confessing sin isn’t radical. It’s pretty ordinary—for me, anyway. But not to the rest of the world.
I’ve been thinking about this ever since this last week, when I was in the break room eating lunch and having a conversation with my colleague. At the time, my prayer app was open on my phone and the screen was visible – I saw her glance down at it a few times during our conversation. When she left and I looked at the phone, I saw that the screen revealed the phrase: “Confession of Sin” and a prompt to begin the prayer.
And it occurred to me that, for her—a non-believer—such a concept must be extravagantly weird.
Much of our modern culture thinks in terms of “right” and “wrong,” of course, and most non-believers I know follow or believe in some sort of ethical system. But buying into the concept of “sin” as a whole disconcerts them, for what I think are a few distinct reasons:
Buying into sin means acknowledging that people are not inherently good and decent, that they are in fact wretched and broken and that their wretchedness and brokenness leads them to do awful things. It means acknowledging that there is good and evil in the world, and that we have offended the good by choosing the evil in it. It means acknowledging that there is indeed an arbiter of judgment above and beyond our own moral authority, and it is according to His decision that we are punished or granted mercy.
That’s a lot.
If I had to guess, I’d say my coworker looks at me and thinks I’m a pretty good and kind human; we get along well, and she’s called me “sweet.” She likes me. And I imagine this was just so fundamentally strange to her: here I am on my lunch break, getting ready to ask my invisible God that I believe in to absolve me of wrongs I’ve done and am grateful and relieved that He will, because otherwise I’m doomed.
It’s wild! And that’s what makes it a great ministry.
Because here’s the thing: I don’t think we’ve normalized the confession of sin nearly enough. In fact, I imagine most non-believers association confession with a) Catholics and b) prominent Christians who screw up big-time and whose “I have confessed my sin to God and asked for His forgiveness” sounds a lot from the podium like “look, I dealt with this, now leave me alone, okay?” And that’s not good.
Because what I hope my co-worker sees when she sees that “confession of sins” prompt on my phone is that I am acutely aware, in the everyday, that I am flawed and making mistakes. I hope what she sees is that my understanding of God’s forgiveness fuels everything I do, and gives me the freedom to feel joy and hope and wonder in spite of knowing exactly what the human heart is like and what it can do. I hope what she sees is a normal believer confessing a normal day’s sin, instead of that one prominent Christian making a performative confession on a podium after his infidelity got splashed over a bunch of newspapers. I hope she sees that acknowledging sin is a daily and unremarkable act for the believer, but one that literally shifts my entire perspective, keeps me grounded, keeps me grateful.
And most of all, I hope she sees and thinks, “That’s just….really weird. What is that all about?”
And I hope she asks. Because I’d love to tell her.