To understand why confession is such an extraordinary spiritual discipline, we have to get the plot right. We tend to think the storyline of confession goes like this:
- I do something stupid, sinful, hurtful, foolish.
- I feel guilty and/or ashamed. I feel like I need to get something off my chest.
- So I confess my sin to God.
- I'm now forgiven (again!), but I still feel burdened.
- I confess to a fellow Christian.
- My soul feels light once again.
When we live in this plotline, we naturally hear things like, "Confession is good for the soul." And indeed when we confess to both God and others, our souls do feel light once again.
So confession is good for the soul, yes, but not in the way we think. That's because the real story arc is different than we imagine. The problem with the storyline above is that it's all about me. The story starts with me and ends with me. But the Me of this story is confused. It doesn't understand the story in which it thinks it's the star. It mistakenly thinks of God as the supporting actor, and the church as the supporting cast—there mostly to solve the star's problem.
To get a better handle on confession, we need to hear from another storyteller. This story doesn't start with, "In the beginning, I sinned." It starts, "In the beginning, God …." And without going into lot of detail, continues, "God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The plot begins with God in Christ doing something for us long before we were aware of our sin. Long before we were guilty or ashamed. Long before we set out on a journey to stop feeling so uncomfortable.1