22 February 2008

Comfort from Anonymous Confession?

In response to my homily posted for the midweek Evening Prayer service of Lent 2, someone named "Anonymous" commented that a person can relieve the stress of their sins by confessing anonymously and online. As soon as I posted my response, I figured that it might be worthy of a full-fledged post.

Recently, I had the opportunity to deal with the phenomenon of online confessions in Bible class, a couple of different times even. I had come across stories heralding the comeback of the confessional, that is, confessing one's sins (not the booth! :-), and in each story the phenomena of online confessionals and shopping mall confessionals (with an on-duty priest, as I recall) were mentioned.

While I certainly applaud the comeback and ascent of confessing sins--after all, the whole life of a Christian is one of repentance!--I also puzzle over the misguided notion that merely confessing sins--whether online behind the anonymity of a user name and password, or writing them on a piece of paper and throwing it into the fire, etc., etc.--is enough. That seems too much like feeling sick, having the symptoms of the flu, and merely saying to myself, "I have the flu." Merely getting to that point still hasn't given me the true healing and restored health that I need!

Only the Absolution can do that, where sins are concerned. Absolution is the real medicine, the real "stress reliever." Here's how the Apology of the Augsburg Confession says it: "We also keep confession, especially because of absolution, which is the Word of God that the power of the keys proclaims to individuals by divine authority" (Apology XII:99, emphasis added).

At any rate, here is my response to the comment left on that earlier post. The anonymous commenter mentioned the relief of stress that comes with confessing one's sins and then gave an (unsolicited) advertisement for a blog site (not recommended here) designed for anonymously confessing sins online. Here's my response to the notion of online confessions:

There are three major problems with confessing sins "anonymously" and online:

1. The sins are far from anonymous - God already knows them, and He knows that *you* committed them. They are already very personal by nature.

2. When one confesses one's sins online, one may hide one's own identity behind the mask of an electronic device, namely the name of "Anonymous," however, the whole world can see what you did (and *you* will still know that *you* did it, despite the electronic mask of anonymity).

BTW, isn't there a disconnect between boldly putting one's sins out in the open, online, for the whole world to see, and the supposed fear of trusting one's own pastor/priest, whom God has graciously given, to care for one's soul?

And 3) confessing one's sins "anonymously" and online avoids the real treasure of Confession and Absolution: the Absolution! Yes, the mere act of confessing may be somewhat therapeutic (getting things off one's chest, and all that), but it cannot remove the sin; it cannot console and comfort the conscience. It does not automatically grant the comfort of the Absolution, that is, forgiveness, given by God in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, and spoken by the lips of your pastor/priest.

To seek the comfort of confession based merely on the act of confessing - and merely for the sake of getting things off one's chest - is not enough! Give me the spoken words of Christ's Absolution any day. After all, as the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (XII:39) says, "We also include Absolution when we speak of faith, because 'faith comes from hearing,' as St. Paul says in Romans 10:17. When the Gospel is heard and the Absolution is heard, the conscience is encouraged and receives comfort."

Now that truly relieves the stress of our sins!


stress said...

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Anonymous said...

A Roman Catholic Priest is not allowed to "hear" confessions online
nor give online absolution.

Therefore, any site you hear about
which have jumped up lately
showing the need in my own heart
for people to confess sins to someone, claiming a priest
is 'at the wheel' are not Roman
Catholic Priests, or those Catholic Churches in union with us.

You must confess face to face or
behind the screen "in the booth"
for the priest to be able to absolve
Plus, he might feel the need to offer some counsel to you as well
which is not done well online.
Just for the Record