…and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. Revelation 5:8
The Cat in the Hat is a children’s book written and illustrated by Theodor Geisel under the pen name Dr. Seuss and first published in 1957. The story centers on a tall anthropomorphic cat, who wears a red and white-striped hat and a red bow tie. The Cat shows up at the house of Sally and her brother one rainy day when their mother is away. Ignoring repeated objections from the children’s fish, the Cat shows the children a few of his tricks in an attempt to entertain them. In the process, he and his companions, Thing One and Thing Two wreck the house.
As the mother returns and is seen about to enter the house the fish says these words.
This mess is so big
And so deep and so tall,
We can not pick it up.
There is no way at all!
That is the truth of truths when it comes to my life. I consistently make a mess of my life that I can’t deal with. All you have to do is glance at the headlines to realize that something is dreadfully wrong with this world.
When a newspaper posed the question, ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ the Catholic thinker G. K. Chesterton reputedly wrote a brief letter in response:
That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus. And the discipline of confession is the process that helps us all understand that the change the world needs begins in our own souls. And that bothers us.
What Sin Does To Our Souls
When we live in patterns that are estranged from God it withers us, it exhausts us, and it parches our souls. The reason we are so spiritually thirsty is that we are drinking from man-made wells. The Bible tells us about a Creator-God that uses his wisdom and intelligence to make a creation that is bursting with beauty, delight, possibility, harmony, goodness, and justice—in a word: Shalom.
As the Jewish people introduced God to the world they told us that God is anti-sin, not because He doesn’t want us to have fun, but because God is for shalom.
God is against greed, for example, not because He makes a world full of beautiful things then decides that He doesn’t want me to enjoy any of them. God is against greed because he has made a world of staggering beauty and placed me in it and wants me to be grateful and appreciative of the beauty of it. And God is wise enough to know that greed is an addiction and hunger that will eat me alive like a malignancy.
God is anti-greed because God is pro shalom.
Leo Tolstoy tells the story of a greedy man named, Pahom, who was obsessed with amassing more and more land. One day he learned of a wonderful and unusual opportunity to get more land. For only 1,000 rubles he could have the entire area that he could walk around in a day, but he had to make it back to the starting point by the sunset or he would lose everything that he invested.
He arose early and set out. He walked on and on thinking that he could get just a little more land if he kept straining forward for the prize he sought, but he went so far that he realized he must walk very fast if he was going to get back to the starting point and claim the land. As the sun set lower in the sky, he quickened his pace. He began to run. He came within sight of the finishing goal and exerted his last energies plunging over the finish line, falling to the ground, dead.
His servant took a spade and dug a grave. He made it just long enough and just wide enough to match Pahom’s body and buried him. Here’s the title Tolstoy gave his story: “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” He ends this short story with this line: “Six feet from his head to his heels was all that man needed”.
Sin wears us out and does us in every time.
What Grace Does to Our Souls
Confession may be good for the soul, but we don’t like it. We will let malevolent voices convince us there is no need to play that game. We limp towards honest and open confession to God, but He runs to embrace us, heal us, love us and restore us like a father waiting for a returning son. We stutter, stammer, and falter to name what is wrong with our souls, but God trumpets his mercy to us, shouts in celebration about his forgiveness like the widow who has found her last lost penny.
God captures our prayers of confession as if precious drops of libation and then in the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed “Father…take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done” Jesus drank the cup to the dark dregs. And with the bile of our sin and brokenness on his parched tongue, he cried out the next day on the cross ‘It is finished!”
He did that so God can embrace, heal and restore us. Jesus felt the scorn of men and the wrath of God so that we can hear a heavenly voice say, “‘Well done, good and faithful servant…Enter into the joy of your lord.’”
Ancient Practices of Christian Confession:
- Confess regularly
I’ve found the consistent practice of confessing my sin in private prayer and before I partake of communion to help me create repetitive soul-memory.
- Confess particularly
I don’t sin in generalities. I sin in specifics. It is easy to hide the textures, colors, and nastiness of my sin in a general and bland declaration that I am a sinner. I confess as particular as my infraction.
- Confess joyfully
The joy comes in the restoration of a right relationship with the Father who ran to embrace me even with the stench of my pig-sty-sin all over my clothes. Joy comes from anticipating all of heaven rejoices when one sinner is restored of all sins large and small. Restoration on earth always means a party in heaven.
Of course, there is a hateful voice who has much invested in keeping my sin to myself. He knows the longer I keep silent about the mess piling up in my life the harder it is to come clean before the God who loves me.
There is a painting in which Faust is playing chess with the Devil. Faust has only a few pieces left on the board and seems to be check-mated. The expression on his face foretells his doom. The Devil, who seems to be very much in control, has a sneer of glee.
Through the years people would come to the gallery where the picture was displayed and gaze and ponder the hopelessness of the situation. As they would leave, most left with the sense that the artist had captured the essence of their own situation.
Then one day, a great chess master came into the gallery. He stood for hours focused on the painting and specifically the chessboard. Day after day, he would return to study the portrait. Finally, with a shout that disturbed everyone in the gallery, “It’s a lie! You still have a move.”
Tell God what is bothering you. That’s your best move.
I love your writing-
Extremely well written and edifying, Joe. Terrific contribution to our thoughts on confession and righteousness.
There is truth in this.