Saturday, 30 November 2013

Bonhoeffer on Confession

In our day we are constantly trying to rid ourselves of sin and guilt, either by restitution to make it better, medication to take away the guilty feelings or redefinition so that we have no shame in the first place. However, in Life Together, Deitrich Boenhoeffer defines sin, or rather the knowledge of sin as a surprisingly liberating thing assuming it leads to confession before God. He says [note that when he wrote - 1930s, gender neutral language was not in vogue]:
Anybody who loves beneath the Cross and who has in the Cross of Jesus discerned the wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find that there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anyone who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he also knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only a brother under the Cross can hear a confession.

It is not experience of life, but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus. The greatest psychological insight, ability and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is. Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of men. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this. In the presence of the psychiatrist I can only be a sick man: in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner. The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him, here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who yearns for God's forgiveness and wants to confess. The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. It is not lack of psychological knowledge but lack of love for the crucified Jesus Christ that makes us so poor and inefficient at brotherly confession.

No comments: