by Steven Norris
Traditionally, the season of Lent is a time of reflection, confession, and repentance. It is a time to contemplate the idea of conversion and ask ourselves: what needs to be pruned in me in order to make room for the new growth that God desires to bring in my life? Sadly, these concepts of confession, repentance, and pruning often carry with them a negative or punitive connotation. How else might we view them in order to embrace a generative, life-giving spirituality as we approach Easter?
Let’s begin with confession. Maybe I’ve seen a few too many police shows on television, but when I hear “confession,” I immediately think of a police interrogation, complete with table, chairs, and a two-way mirror. Often, a set of partners is playing the “good cop, bad cop” game. They are trying to pressure a suspect to confess to a crime that has been committed. How often do we view confession of our sins in a similar manner?
The truth is that confession is nothing more than choosing to look at ourselves — our lives, thoughts, decisions, and actions — with a truthful eye. It is a decision to stop believing the “spin” of self-justification and taking responsibility for our part in the mess of our lives. Confession is simply agreeing with God about the truth of who we are and what we’ve done.
A few years ago, I participated in a dementia simulation with one of our local healthcare agencies. Part of that simulation included wearing goggles that distorted my perception of my surroundings. It was almost impossible to do basic tasks when I could not see clearly the things that were right in front of me. In the same way, confession is about taking off the glasses of manipulation, maneuvering, and misdirection in order to see ourselves clearly.
Confession, however, isn’t the end of the story. Biblically speaking, confession should lead us to repentance. When our view of repentance involves lengthy guilt trips and “beating ourselves up” over sin, it is rarely healthy and life-giving. Instead, maybe we could reframe our understanding of repentance as a “realignment of life that moves us towards God in light of confession” (Rich Villodas).
Rather than bashing or condemning ourselves, we need to view repentance as an invitation to enter into the world of God’s new creation. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God is renewing our world from the ground up. The picture of scripture is of a world that functions as it was intended to from the beginning — all creatures moving and resonating in harmony with one another. In this new world, there is no oppression or exploitation, and everything is properly ordered.
The good news is that we don’t have to wait until we die to experience this new world. Jesus’ first sermon was this: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This new world has already begun and is emerging around us. Repentance is our opportunity to choose to live in it today. What are we waiting for?