April 17

Science:Religion::?

The Helix Nebula

I woke up at 2:00 this morning thinking about analogies. My brain is funny that way. Specifically, I thought about the relationship between science and religion.

I have a friend who would probably describe it this way:

Science:Religion::Nonfiction:Fiction

To him, science is real and religion is made up. Yet fiction does capture and express important ideas. Why else do we still enjoy Shakespeare? And even today, who can read The Grapes of Wrath and not be moved? With a nod to my friend, fiction can also promote negative ideas. Consider, for example, the global impact of certain people’s interpretation of Atlas Shrugged!

And yet there’s more to it than that. Science provides facts, but not morality. When it does provide morality, it is frequently unpalatable–utilitarianism and Social Darwinism, for example. The latter argues that if the point of existence is survival of the species, then only the strongest should survive, a view used to justify the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity. The former argues that humans are inherently replaceable, one is the same as another, and are thus disposable. One Australian ethicist argues not only that abortion should be legal throughout pregnancy, but that children should be allowed to be killed even after birth! It seems to me that science is a better source for facts than it is for morality.

So perhaps the analogy should look this way:

Science:Religion::Dictionary:Literature

This still doesn’t capture the full picture, however. Science measures what exists as matter and energy in the physical (corporeal) world, and theorizes based on that and only that. It does tell a story, though that story is based in a conservatively historical perspective: events happened in this order, with no apparent underlying theme.

Religion looks at the corporeal world, and beyond it to the noncorporeal world that we encounter in glimpses, seeking links between the two. (Yes, even eminently pragmatic Buddhism believes in the noncorporeal.) Religious truths are generally Ultimate Truths that are difficult to express in words. So perhaps we might look at it this way:

Science:Religion::Prose:Poetry

This seems appropriate in the sense that science tells us things we can (or at least some people can) readily understand, while religion tends more toward imagery. But there’s one aspect that is still missing. Religion brings many of us comfort and meaning. Admittedly this can, in extreme forms, become pretty ugly, justifying prejudice, hatred, and violence. But it can also bring service, justice, and peace. So here’s yet another way to look at it:

Sceince:Religion::Nutrition:Cuisine

Nutrition gives you everything you need to survive. I’ve been told if I ate bran muffins, beans, and kale, I could live forever. Or maybe it would just seem like forever. What would life be without fried chicken, cheese, and strawberry pie? (Or bengan bharta, tom kha kai, and papusas?) They may not be biologically necessary, but life is pretty dismal without them. Cuisine gives us comfort and identity. It gives us a place to gather and pause together. It brings joy and hope to a landscape littered with bran muffin wrappers and empty water bottles.

For me, this highlights the primary shortcoming of science in the absence of religion: it lacks humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe the universe was created for my own needs and desires. Let me put it another way: science explains the creation of the Helix nebula and allows us to see it. But it’s not science that causes us to perceive it as beautiful.

April 16

Thoughts on the Resurrection

Sometimes skeptics ask me if I believe in the literal Resurrection– that Jesus’ body actually came back to life on the third day after he was executed. Here’s the honest truth: I’m autistic, and I have trouble believing things I haven’t seen. I used to look at the Resurrection as figurative, symbolic of the idea that death is not the end, and that the Spirit of Christ is still among us even after his death. (Why did the people who had traveled with Jesus for three years fail to recognize him at the tomb, John 20:14, and on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:15-16, for example?)

Lately, though, I’m inclined to take the Resurrection more literally. Why? Let me tell you a story…

About ten years ago, when we were raising goats and making cheese, we had a goat named Wind. She was one of the first two goats we bought, and she was a real character. But because of her breeding (part Nigerian), she tended to have kids that were too big for her. The first year, she threw a kid we named Luna, who was born with her front legs all curled up. She started life walking on her elbows. We splinted her, and her legs straightened out, and she grew up to be the strongest goat in the yard.

Wind with her fist kid, Luna, before splinting.
Luna in splints.

The second year, Wind got toxemia. Her legs swelled up to where she couldn’t even stand. We made a sling to keep her from having to lie on the ground all the time, but it was clear she wasn’t doing well. As her due date approached, in consultation with our vet, we decided to induce labor so she could (hopefully) deliver her kids and get healthy again. She went into labor, but she didn’t dilate. The contractions weakened her, and we finally decided we had to take stronger measures. About midnight one night, I began massaging her cervix according to directions my wife found on the internet. By 4:00 am my fingers were exhausted, but her cervix had finally dilated enough for the first kid to come out. It was a boy, and he was born alive and breathing, but died within minutes. This was our first loss, and it hurt–especially before dawn after several sleepless nights.

Wind in a sling.

The second kid was born soon after, a girl, but she wasn’t breathing. Something came over me, and I somehow knew “This one will live.” I rubbed her down, swung her around by her feet to clear her lungs, and then breathed into her nose and mouth.

She began breathing.

Brisa was born not breathing on April 6, 2009.

We “bumped” Wind to see if she had any more kids in her, but didn’t feel any. Wind wasn’t producing milk, so we put one of the other recent mothers in the milking stand so the baby could nurse and get colostrum. Then we went to bed.

The next night, Wind developed a high fever. The vet came out and discovered that she did indeed have one more kid in her, but it was dead and had gone septic. She removed the dead kid– our second loss– and treated Wind for infection. We tended Wind night and day, but she was just too weak to recover. As her body temperature dropped, I lay down next to her with a blanket over us both, but there was nothing to be done. At about 3:00 am, we called the vet and told her, “We’re losing her!” Ten minutes later, we called the vet and told her to go back t sleep. Wind was gone, having died in our arms.

But her one kid, the one born not breathing, survived. We named her Brisa (“little wind”). She grew up to be the best milker we ever had, producing twice as much as our next best milker. At eight years old, she’s still going strong, and is now living at Red Acre Farm, where I’m told she delivered two healthy kids this year. (Luna is also there with her.)

Brisa as a doeling. She become our best milker.

What does this have to do with the Resurrection?

Any goat farmer will tell you that a kid not breathing isn’t going to survive. But Brisa did.

One day it occurred to me: If God can do that through my hands, who am I to say what he can’t do?

I still have trouble believing in what I haven’t seen. But I’m no longer going to say it didn’t happen.

 

April 16

Book Excerpt: An Easter Sermon Gets Hijacked by the Spirit

This is an excerpt from the book Steve’s Grace by D. J. Mitchell.

“Christ is risen!” I begin.  “Imagine the sorrow his mother must have felt, going to the graveside to mourn her son, whom she watched die just three days before.  But instead of a grave and a memory, she finds an empty tomb and the question, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead?’  What a shock that must have been!”

So begins my Easter sermon.  I perform it for my family on Good Friday, two days before I will give it to the congregation.  They seem to love it. Cindy and Zephyr both proclaim it the best one yet, and even Susan seems impressed.

That doesn’t keep me from being nervous Easter morning.  I focus on each step of the service so I don’t obsess about the moment I will stand before the congregation and preach.

After the hymn, I read from the Gospel of Luke.

Then the moment comes.  I stand before the congregation, spread my hands and arms upward, and begin.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.

Then I pause.  The next line won’t come out.  I know what I’m supposed to say, but I can’t say it.

I’m not expecting what happens next.

“Christ is risen!” I repeat.  “He who was dead now lives.  Christ is risen in me!”

I continue in a softer voice.

“He is risen in every one of us who was once dead through sin, yet now we live through the Grace of God and the Sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ!  We have been redeemed, that we may escape the death penalty for our sins and live in Grace!”

“Do we fall short of what God wants us to do?” I ask.  “Let’s be honest.  I fall short far too often.  How about you?”

I raise my hand.  About half the congregation raises theirs, too.

“Do we try to play God in our own lives, and the lives of other people?” I ask.  “I do.”

I raise my hand.  More hands go up.

“Are we sinners?” I ask.

I open my hands, inviting an answer as I repeat, “Are we?”

“Yes!” they reply.

“Yes,” I agree.  “But we found new life through Jesus Christ.  Amen?”

“Amen!” they reply.

“Did you ever have an experience when something strange was happening in your life and you couldn’t figure out why?  Then later, you looked back and realized it was God?”

I pause, and see heads nodding.

“That’s what happened to the disciples of Jesus,” I continue.  “They were walking on the road to Emmaus, and a man joined them and talked to them.  And it was only after they had walked for some time that they realized that man was Jesus.

“That’s a little odd, don’t you think?” I ask.  “They spent three years traveling with Jesus.  He was their teacher.  They saw Him after the Resurrection.  They saw the holes in His hands and feet.  Yet here is a man they don’t recognize, and it turns out to be Jesus?

“Maybe he was in disguise,” I suggest.

Some people chuckle.

“Or maybe,” I continue, “Jesus appeared in a guise they didn’t recognize at first as being Him.

“Has this ever happened to you?” I ask.  “Something in your life happens, and it seems so painful or wrong that it doesn’t even occur to you that it could be God working in your life?  But later you realize that’s exactly what it was?

“It happened to me,” I say.  “I was comfortable in an ungodly life, but God shook it up for me.  At the time, it didn’t occur to me that this could be God working in my life.  I mean, I got into a situation where I did some bad things and almost lost my family over it.  I should have gone to prison.  How could that be God?

“And it wasn’t,” I say.  “I did those things, not God.  Just like the man on the road to Emmaus who was not Jesus.  But he was.  They saw the Risen Christ in a stranger.  And I can look back now and see the hand of God even in that most despicable moment of my life.  That’s what it took for God to get my attention.  I had to fully live up to my capacity for sin in order to realize I needed God.  Because how can I ask for redemption if I don’t know I need it?

“I am a sinner,” I say.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.  How many of you are willing to say that with me?”

“I am a sinner,” I repeat.  “I was raised from the dead by Jesus Christ.”

About half of the congregation says it with me.

“Let’s say it again,” I suggest.

This time, everyone joins in.

“Christ is risen!” I proclaim.  “His tomb is empty!”

Then, in a softer voice, I add, “And so is ours.

Steve’s Grace is available here.

April 9

Jerusalem and the Kingdom of God

The synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke) portray Jesus’ ministry as an inexorable journey of Jesus to Jerusalem where he enters the city in triumph on Palm Sunday. “Hosanna!” the people shout. Their king, the Messiah, has arrived, bringing with him great expectations. Yet, as we know, actual events were not what the people expected. Jesus did not take the throne, nor did he inaugurate a new political structure based in justice and peace. Instead, he was arrested and executed as a common criminal. We can only imagine the disappointment of his followers on Good Friday. Not only were their expectations disappointed, but the man they looked to (yes, they saw him as a human being) died in disgrace. Their hopes for their future and their confidence in this man both lay in tatters before the Cross.

Palm Sunday is thus a day of hope, and yet also a day of impending despair. Through its lens, our hopes for the imminent Kingdom appear to be misplaced.

And yet, to this story of temporal disappointment, John adds an important perspective that offers hope.

The Gospel of John is clearly different from the other three. He focuses not on Jesus’ temporal ministry, but on the spiritual nature of that ministry. Instead of a birth narrative, he tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). He emphasizes the eternal presence of Jesus.

John tells us,

“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1:10-11)

In the very next chapter, Chapter 2, John tells us that “Jesus went up to Jerusalem” where he cleansed the temple (John 2:14ff). Yet it is not until Chapter 12 that Jesus enters Jerusalem as King (John 12:12ff). Clearly this diverges from the accounts of the synoptic Gospels. But if we concern ourselves with the historical issue of chronology (Did Jesus go to Jerusalem before Palm Sunday or not?), we miss the point. John is telling us something deeper than names, dates, and historical facts: Though we as humans perceive Jesus’ ministry as linear, though we perceive his entry into Jerusalem as a triumphal and climactic event, he was already there, just as he was already among us before his birth. But we couldn’t recognize him.

Why does this matter? Because it says something important about the Kingdom of God as well. The synoptic Gospels portray Jesus preaching that “the Kingdom of God has come near” (e.g. Mark 1:15). Other translations use the words “at hand” or “nigh.” The implication is that the Kingdom is imminent. We can reach out and touch it. And yet we can’t see it. Clearly the Kingdom is not the driving force in this broken world of ours. Paul expected the Kingdom to be established before his death (e.g. 1 Thess 4:15). And people have been waiting expectantly for it for two millennia.

We’re still waiting.

But John gives us another perspective. He tells Pilate,

My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here… You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice. (John 18:36-37)

John uses the word “kingdom” very infrequently, choosing instead the language of “abiding” and “being.”

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:18-21)

“You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:3-5)

And yet John’s vision is not of a group of disciples who sit around, content to abide in Jesus:

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:11-12)

For John, Jesus is the King, and belief in Jesus brings us into the Kingdom. Yet there is an expectation that being in the Kingdom will motivate and empower us to do the works that Jesus did. He leaves it for the synoptic Gospels to describe those works in detail. The point is, in a very real sense, for John, the Kingdom is now.

We, the readers, are human. We cheer as Jesus enters Jerusalem, waving our palm fronds, anticipating the inauguration of the Kingdom. Our hopes are dashed on Good Friday, and renewed on Easter. We look forward to that day in the future when the Kingdom is fulfilled.

And yet, like Jesus himself, it is already here.

April 2

Bones

There are bones everywhere. Can you see them?

I see the bones of a 17-year-old girl who overdosed last week in Massachusetts. I see the bones of the lonely man who picked up a gun– and the bones of his victims. I see the bones of the suicides, and the mentally ill. I see the bones of Ammon Bundy and Mark Baumer. I see the bones of those who could not afford health care, and still can’t.

I see the bones of men and women who fought for our leaders– but for what?

I see the bones of Michael Sharp, and of Patrice Lamumba.

We are surrounded by bones. Can you see them?

I see the bones of Lazarus spread across a valley. “I am the Resurrection,” Jesus said– and Lazarus breathed again.

How long will we be a people of death?

“I am the life,” said Jesus.

When will we listen?

My God is a God of life. He stretches out his arm to us, and we slap it away.

When will we learn that greed is death, selfishness is death, and isolation is death? Let those who have ears listen! But we do not listen. The cries are too loud–in the cities, in the rural places, in the nations who plead with us for justice.

A thousand channels is not freedom. A thousand restaurants is not prosperity. The best doctor is not health. A broken dream is not life. The body is not the soul.

There are bones everywhere. When will we preach the breath of life?

April 2

Who Wrote the Laws of Physics?

This post is for a friend of mine who is an atheist, who believes in science, and who is currently suffering. He is resistant to the idea of God. My purpose in writing is to suggest some thoughts that may encourage speculation beyond science. Let me be clear: I believe in science. I accept that evolution is real, since the scientific evidence seems to suggest it. I find anti-evolutionist arguments occasionally thought provoking, but rarely convincing.

On the other hand, I don’t believe that science is the last word. It explains our physical world–for the most part. It surely has gaps in it that may or may not be filled some day. But it fails to explain why some of the amazing aspects of creation came into being. And it fails to explain anything beyond the physical world.

Let me start with an example: how is it that the material on which life depends is “coincidentally” the only material I am aware of that has the property of being lighter as a solid than as a liquid at temperatures that support life (as we know it). That material is, of course, water, and this property allows complex ecosystems to survive in temperatures at which water freezes. If it didn’t do this, lakes would freeze from the bottom up, killing much of what lived in their waters. A partial list of other materials with this property are silicon, gallium, germanium, bismuth, plutonium, and sand, which do not in any way lend this property to the support of life as we know it.

Is consciousness really just a series of chemical reactions in the brain? How, then, do we explain the experience many of have had of a dog or cat sensing our mood changes, even from another room? (We once had a goat that had this ability, too.)

How do we explain people who can read another person’s thoughts, and those who sometimes know the future?

Science itself admits that it can’t explain some of what it sees. A team once did a long-term study of nuns in an attempt to discover why they didn’t get Alzheimer’s Disease with the same frequency as the general population. Over the course of many years, they discovered (through autopsies) that the nuns did in fact get Alzheimer’s with the same frequency, or at least their brains showed the physical effects of deterioration. Yet they didn’t manifest symptoms. The only explanation they could find was the effect of constant prayer, which of course they could neither define nor measure in a scientific way.

Moreover, the majority of double-blind studies on intercessory prayer have shown that it improves healing. A fascinating article on the NIH website suggests:

Although the very consideration of such a possibility may appear scientifically bizarre, it cannot be denied that, across the planet, people pray for health and for relief of symptoms in times of sickness. Healing through prayer, healing through religious rituals, healing at places of pilgrimage and healing through related forms of intervention are well-established traditions in many religions.

It continues:

Cha et al.[32] found that the women who had been prayed for had nearly twice as high a pregnancy rate as those who had not been prayed for (50 vs. 26%; P <0.005). Furthermore, the women who had been prayed for showed a higher implantation rate than those who had not been prayed for (16.3 vs. 8%; P <0.001). Finally, the benefits of prayer were independent of clinical or laboratory providers and clinical variables. Thus, this study showed that distant prayer facilitates implantation and pregnancy…

Lesniak[33] found that the prayer group animals had a greater reduction in wound size and a greater improvement in hematological parameters than the control animals. This study is important because it was conducted in a nonhuman species; therefore, the likelihood of a placebo effect was removed.

The authors raise some important issues on the study of prayer within scientific context, some of which have a theological nature (i.e. does it matter which God is prayed to; does God have limitations?). They conclude that a satisfactory scientific study is virtually impossible because of the variety of religions, assumptions, and theological questions. Nevertheless, they do not discount the idea that prayer is beneficial.

And how do we explain noncorporeal entities? In my own life, I’ve encountered two ghosts, dozens of earth spirits (I call them fairies), and innumerable dark spirits that I refer to as demons. My wife tells of encountering a skinwalker. At present, there is no means in science to explain (or even study) these, because so far as I know there is no way to empirically measure them. And yet my experience, even as an infant when I didn’t yet know what such things were, is that they exist.

It seems to me that we exist in a physical world, and yet not only in a physical world. We potentially have access to a realm beyond the physical which is as yet immeasurable through physical science. Yet our post-enlightenment culture discourages us from taking seriously anything that can’t be explained through science and logic. Is that logical? There are enough experiences and enough questions to suggest that it isn’t. By no means do we need to discard science. We don’t discard accounting just because it fails to address the issues of humanity, and neither do most of us suggest that such issues don’t exist because accounting can’t address them. We don’t discard music or art just because they fail to explain science, nor do we deny science on that basis. And we shouldn’t discard our search for knowledge of the physical world. But neither should we presume that the physical world is all we have just because that’s all science can explain.

March 26

Written On Our Hearts

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

I was reflecting on Matthew 25 today, and something struck me: When the king addresses those on his right hand, commending them for feeding him, those on his right hand give an interesting response:

‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

They don’t say, “Yes, Lord, I did as you commanded.” They don’t say, “Yes, Lord, that was a demonstration of my faith.” They don’t say, “Yes, Lord, I did good works expecting your reward.”

No, they ask, “When did I do that?”

If these people didn’t do it to please Jesus, or to get into Heaven, why did they do it? One could argue that they did it because it was right. But I think there’s a more important reason that we can find elsewhere in the Bible.

 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:8-10

We were born again in Christ precisely to do these things. Or, put another way:

They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts… Romans 2:15a

And again:

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their hearts,
    and I will write them on their minds…” Hebrews 10:16

Those on his left do these things because grace causes God’s law to be written on our hearts. We’re not looking for wiggle room. We’re following God’s law because it is the inevitable response to grace.

What can we say, then, when we claim to have received God’s grace but we don’t do as Jesus commanded?

I know my response: When I don’t do as Jesus commanded, I haven’t fully accepted God’s grace. And I want to fully accept it.

Matthew 25 seems to be a benchmark for our grace. It would be easy to run around doing works to prove that we’ve received grace, but that’s not the point. God knows our hearts, and he knows when we’re lying. The point is that when we fully accept God’s grace, we do these things automatically. There’s no thought to reward or glory.

There’s another paradox in the passage: Jesus came to save the world, and yet he rebukes (and condemns those who haven;t done as he commanded:

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. Matthew 25:45-46

There is no expectation here that everyone will be saved. Not everyone has the will to be a Christian.

Now I’m going to make a radical suggestion– radical because we don;t want to hear it, not because it departs from the message of the Bible:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 7:21

Contrary to what I’ve sometimes been told, just professing Jesus is not enough. If we fully accept God’s grace, his law will be written on our hearts and we will behave accordingly. We’ll confess our sins, repent and renounce them. And we will serve the Lord and no one else.

March 19

An Invitation

I have a confession to make: I only recently became a Christian. It happened on August 11, 2016, to be exact.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been reading the Bible for years. I did my best to follow the teachings of Jesus. I professed Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.

But there was still something missing.

I didn’t know this until last August. My family had been plagued by demons for several years, and in the course of our deliverance, I discovered two things were missing from my faith. One seems obvious now: I had not yet accepted forgiveness for my past sins, some of which I thought were unforgivable.

The other was less obvious: I was still a sinner, and I failed to confess my current sins.

I should rephrase that. I am still a sinner. I continually fall short of what God wants for me. I suffer from sloth, fear, and doubt. Occasionally I fall into greed and gluttony. And selfishness is a regular companion. What’s more, I act on these defects of character with alarming frequency.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Whether I can, in this life, be cleansed of all unrighteousness is a matter for debate that I will not go into here. My point is, it hasn’t happened yet. And confession is the means by which I bring my sin before God and ask for his forgiveness through Jesus Christ.

Having unconfessed sins separates me from God. It also provides a gateway for demons, those evil spirits whose torment I would in the future like to avoid.

[C]onfess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. (James 5:16)

Often I find it necessary to confess my sins directly to God, in order to do so in a timely manner. However, I find it much more beneficial to confess in the presence of another Christian. Shared confession, like shared prayer, is powerful. And, so far as I know, each person I have chosen to share my confession with has accepted it with respect and confidentiality. The relationship between sincere believers is also powerful.

As I encounter other Christians in the world, I am often amazed that confession is so little talked about. Most admit to being sinners, yet to hear them talk, it is as if they never sin. They seem to see no need for confession. Maybe they don’t sin. I’m not here to judge, though John’s letter strongly suggests that they may be overlooking something.

Some tell me that their sins are forgiven– as indeed they are, but only after they have been confessed.

Some look at me blankly, as if the idea of sin never occurred to them.

So here is my invitation to you:

Consider the three passages below, honestly asking yourself if your life reflects them as fully as you believe the Bible intends.

[T]he righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:37-40)

For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:9)

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? (James 2:19-20)

If the answer is yes, ask yourself again. If it is still yes, congratulations. You’re a better Christian than I am.

But if, as I suspect is true with most of us if we get honest, the answer is that we fall short, I invite you to find a suitable person and confess your sins. Because that’s part of the deal God made with us, part of the New Covenant. And it’s also a way to become closer to God.

I’ve tried it both ways. Living in confession is better.

 

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