I tend to have a scrupulous soul. I find it easy to slide into self-accusation, even self-condemnation. I’ve joked that I’m a recovering perfectionist. Sometimes my recovery isn’t going so well.
Are my shortcomings and offenses real? Of course. But are mercy and grace real? Even more so. I was reflecting recently on a practice that has come to have much more meaning for me as an Anglican priest than it did when I was a Baptist pastor. I’m talking about the practice of confession.
Confession is learning to tell the truth about myself. It’s learning to view my life in the light of God’s presence. What is the truth of my situation right now? What is reality? How might I fully face that reality and move forward choosing life rather than death, fullness rather than emptiness, joy rather than excitement, love rather than self-seeking.
There is a truth I face in confession. I have fallen short. I have crossed the line. I have failed in faithfulness. But this is never the final or ultimate truth any more than Genesis 3 is a greater truth than Genesis 1-2. Creation is good but fallen. A focus on fallenness fails to recover our real origin. Original beauty precedes original sin.
But I have a tendency to focus first on my own fallenness. I’m scrupulous to a fault. And that scrupulosity has a way of keeping me bogged down in my faults rather than leading me into true repentance—and therefore into transformation.
Does my heavenly Father want me to wallow in my failures? Did the prodigal father want his returning prodigal son to wallow in the failures he brought back with him? The father didn’t even let the son finish his prepared speech. The father initiated love toward him. The father threw a party.
I hear in the back of my mind, “But would the father have thrown a party a second time if the prodigal son ran away and again returned? How about a third or fourth time? Or countless times after that?” I can’t imagine a human father who would do that.
On the other hand, didn’t the Lord do this over and over with his people, Israel? Didn’t he keep inviting them back in love and grace?
The Father wants good for me more than I want good for myself. That is actually a greater truth than “I keep fumbling and falling.” The Father’s love is measurelessly greater than my selfishness. The Father’s encouragement is exponentially greater than my discouragement. The Father’s wisdom is infinitely greater than my foolishness.
There is never a moment when the Father isn’t celebrating his children’s true repentance. False repentance grieves him, even angers him, because he knows how empty a counterfeit it is. My false repentance fools only myself. And this grieves God, who wants the good of true repentance for me.
God isn’t inviting me to focus on my fallenness. He’s inviting me to acknowledge it in the presence of his love, which is greater than all of it. And that’s very good news.