Confession—uncovering sin to destroy it
Does confession still have a role in Christian Science? Issues of interest to both Christian Scientists and new readers.
The confession of sins is an important part of worship in the Old Testament. Moses the lawgiver tells his followers, for example, "When a man or woman shall commit any sin that men commit, to do a trespass against the Lord, and that person be guilty; then they shall confess their sin which they have done: and he shall recompense his trespass. ..." Num. 5:6, 7. The laws given to Moses by God, the cornerstone of which were the Ten Commandments, permitted no deviation. These laws established the obligations that the children of Israel owed to their God and to their fellowman. When these rules were obeyed, they brought joy, peace, prosperity, and health both to individuals and to the nation as a whole. When they were disobeyed, individual and national suffering was the result until the sin was recognized as sin and stopped. Centuries later the wisdom of Proverbs assured the Israelites, "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy." Prov. 28:13.
With the advent of Jesus of Nazareth, mankind's need for uncovering sin and forsaking it did not diminish. Christ Jesus was the Exemplar of man's true immortal and sinless nature. His teachings and example demonstrated more clearly than ever before that sin is a mortal error and not a power. But Jesus' work never relieved his followers of their own individual responsibility to recognize sin as error and turn from it. As the Gospel of Mark points out, Jesus' disciples "preached that men should repent." Mark 6:12. After the ascension the importance of confession continued to be emphasized. One of the last books of the Bible to be written says: "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." I John 1:8, 9.
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Do the teachings of Christian Science make facing up to sin now obsolete? Not at all! The significance of confession, as the recognition and repentance of sin, will never change for Christians. In her first address in The Mother Church, Mrs. Eddy said: "Examine yourselves, and see what, and how much, sin claims of you; and how much of this claim you admit as valid, or comply with. The knowledge of evil that brings on repentance is the most hopeful stage of mortal mentality. Even a mild mistake must be seen as a mistake, in order to be corrected; how much more, then, should one's sins be seen and repented of, before they can be reduced to their native nothingness!" Miscellaneous Writings, p. 109.
There is no sinful element in the divine perfection, and God expresses this perfection through His spiritual creation, man. But don't we find ample evidence every day of sin in the world? This sin is the illusory creation of mortal mind, of that gross ignorance of God which Jesus demolished with all that he said and did. To believe that man is capable of sin would be to believe that our Maker sins, since God is our Father and man expresses His nature. But God does not know sin or create it! And any belief that man, the expression of God, is a sinner is the mortal illusion of sin propagating itself. Since the claims of sin—to be necessary, desirable, unavoidable, and so on—are utterly false, we have the God-given ability to recognize them as such and to stop seeing any good in evil.
We can accomplish this, however, only as we accept full responsibility for our own actions and govern ourselves according to God's law. Whenever this unmasking of sin occurs in human consciousness and we see even in a degree that all true substance and attraction lie in Spirit rather than matter, this is evidence of Christ in us. Far from attaching sin to us or heightening it, the Christ, the spiritual idea of manhood, saves us from sin by exposing and destroying it and filling our lives with ever-increasing spiritual freedom and power to heal. The recognition of sin as sin is the first step in this spiritual awakening. Once we have seen through the illusion of error, we have divine authority to stop being influenced by it.
The many religions in the world have different interpretations of repentance and confession. In Christian Science these efforts usually begin with self-examination.
The many religions in the world have different interpretations of what confession should entail. In Christian Science, "the knowledge of evil that brings on repentance" is usually expressed in unspoken self-examination. It might at times be shared with family, friends, or another Christian Scientist, but this is always voluntary, never required, and there should be some holy purpose for doing so. If the confession is shared, the ethics of Christian Science require that such a communication be held in the strictest confidence.
Further, the Christian Scientist hearing another's deepest concerns is also morally obligated not to attach the sin or error to the individual confessing it but to see it as a lie about man's true, sinless nature. This impersonalization of evil in no way frees sin from its necessary self-punishment. Sin must always be seen as a false belief rather than a reality in order for it to be destroyed.
There are various types of confession, some very commonly practiced, that fail to break the belief in sin and therefore play no role in the actual healing of sin. Merely admitting that we have sinned, without any real remorse or simply to avoid punishment, doesn't meet the divine standard for healing. The wrongdoer must be convinced that what he did was wrong, or he will still be suffering under the illusion that evil is real. "Getting the problem off your chest" by burdening someone else may quiet guilt or remorse in the short run, but does it really do anything to the sin that caused that guilt? Living in the past, constantly going over old errors, should also be avoided. Shakespeare warned in Othello, "To mourn a mischief that is past and gone / Is the next way to draw new mischief on." Othello, Act I, scene 3. Bitter self-condemnation and self-hatred don't play any healing role either. They shut out the Christ, the spiritual idea of manhood, which makes reform possible. Two of the most devastating errors plaguing mankind are the beliefs of original sin and of collective guilt, both of which would chain one to sin in spite of his best efforts. These two views of man utterly deny the individuality and spirituality of man as revealed by Christ Jesus and actually magnify sin. How, then, can they be of any possible help in healing?
Actually, confession is a beginning rather than an end in itself, and it doesn't produce a bed of roses for the person going through it. In Science and Health, the Christian Science textbook, Mrs. Eddy explains: "Sorrow for wrong-doing is but one step towards reform and the very easiest step. The next and great step required by wisdom is the test of our sincerity,—namely, reformation. To this end we are placed under the stress of circumstances. Temptation bids us repeat the offence, and woe comes in return for what is done. So it will ever be, till we learn that there is no discount in the law of justice and that we must pay 'the uttermost farthing.'" Science and Health, p. 5.
The trials involved in probation are far more productive and rewarding than the false peace of sin that may ultimate in even more severe suffering. Trials give us new opportunities to do right and to leave our mistakes behind, as did the prodigal son in Jesus' parable. The prodigal's suffering and repentance, met by his father's absolute love and forgiveness, taught him that he really had never lost his privileges of sonship. As we take advantage of every opportunity that reformation gives us to deny sin and prove God's grace, we will find our uninterrupted sonship with God too. The destruction of sin, made evident in probation and spiritual growth, brings full forgiveness and cessation of suffering.
We find, then, that confession, rightly viewed as the uncovering of sin to destroy it, is an important first step in healing. It represents a declaration of independence, a recognition and rejection of error and an admission that something can and must be done to correct it. The spiritual awakening that the uncovering of sin involves reveals our perfect selfhood in Christ, which neither fears sin nor indulges it. Sin is not and never has been the genuine condition of our being. That is why seeing sin for what it is and forsaking it have an indispensable healing role to play.