“Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest. My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:13-20)
So you screwed up. It could be the first and only time you’ve committed that particular crime against morality and your soul, or it could be the hundred thousandth time you’ve revisited that pet sin that seems to always “cling so closely.” You feel like a failure, ashamed, rotten. You feel like everyone can see your guilt written on your face, hear it in your voice. Your heart is bound by a
strong chain that seems to squeeze tighter and tighter, especially whenever someone offers you some sort of praise or acclamation. You want to scream from the rooftop how wretched you are, and at the same time you hope no one ever finds you out. You are in hell.
As long as you’re down here in hell, you might as well explore a little bit. Is there anything at all in this feeling that gives you a sense of fulfillment or joy? Was whatever you did, or said, or thought worth the consequences you are feeling now? What are the reverberations of your actions; do they produce anything true, good, or beautiful in the world? Are you satisfied with yourself? Most likely, the feelings you experience in sin are not anything like you want. Even the desire that led you to whatever it was you’ve done was likely dis-ordered in the first place. You are in a state of panic, unquiet, dis-ease. And you want desperately to get out.
In some Christian traditions, a title given to a parish pastor or priest is “curate,” from a Latin term which literally means “curer of souls.” You see, sin is a sickness. We tend to consider sin a moral failing, a bad decision, produced by a weak will to do good. And sin can certainly be that at times. Yet if we’re honest with ourselves, often sin is born of unconsciousness; we don’t actively choose to be bad. In fact, it is with the absence of choice that we often feel like we fall into sin. Sometimes it feels like we can scarcely help ourselves.
That’s because we can’t help ourselves. Sin is a sickness of the soul. And in order to “get well,” we need medication, we need a regimen. There’s a reason one of the sweetest monikers for Jesus is the “Great Physician.” Jesus is the curer of souls, and he has enabled us, all of us (not pastors only!) to share in the work of caring for the souls of our brothers and sisters. The first step in the process is admitting that we’re sick. Confession is us going before God, and before one another, with the sins we’ve committed. This list of sins is actually a list of symptoms. The sickness is Sin itself. The cure that is Grace comes through the confession, and is received by Faith. It takes root in the soul and offers a healing for the sickness that it finds there. The treatment includes hearing those words of comfort “you are forgiven;” the medicine is bread and wine.
Confession to a trusted brother or sister is the best healing we can find. I know it’s awkward, embarrassing, and scary to do so. But this is the plan for recovery. And the emotional pain of the process is worth the healing.
Cody Nygard, Associate Pastor