“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16a, NIV 1984).
I was sitting in traffic court with a friend. As she and I were waiting her turn, we listened to those summoned before the judge. We heard their pleas of “not guilty” or “guilty with clarification.” The excuses proffered by one person after another called to mind the contrast of the hymn that states “Just as I am, without one plea.” To the judge, one particular traffic violator gave reason upon reason for his wrongdoing in traffic – his extenuating circumstances, why he had another person’s driver’s license, why he still could not find and pay a lawyer after the court gave him an extension of his hearing, why he wanted to serve time only on weekends, why the police officer was mistaken and so forth. The judge listened patiently but gave the man no margin. When his explanations were exhausted, he was summarily escorted out the court by two sheriffs, not even being allowed to pick up his coat on the bench before departure to jail. My friend and I quietly remarked on the judge’s patience followed by a clear and swift decision.
When confronted with our own wrongdoing, how do we respond? We may try to rationalize it, blame others or circumstances, or link it back to our upbringing or even to our genetic inheritance. We may think the matter was no big deal, that it was overplayed by someone else. We may not even be troubled by the wrongdoing. Furthermore, we may turn the tables and declare that injustice was in fact done to us. Not quite giving up, we may bargain for lighter/softer consequences or lesser punishment. We may even hope that someone else will bail us out, offer the solution or get us off the hook. In full pride, we fight being vulnerable, being wrong, being found out and exposed, especially when surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses,” whether in the home, workplace or a courtroom. We are quite reluctant to say, “I was wrong.”
I reflected that if this young man had been troubled by his situation and had shared with a trusted friend his problems, his unemployment and his need for transport, if he had owned up to the problem, he might have avoided the charges he now faced. Or if a friend had pulled him aside and inquired about his life and invested in his life, perhaps the chain of wrongdoing would have been broken. As the psalmist said, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin” (Psalm 38:18, NIV 1984).
I also thought how our pride keeps us from vulnerability before the Lord, keeps us from being contrite and confessional in prayer, keeps us from sharing our failures with trusted friends; and how our unwillingness to accept with humility the Lord’s discipline leads to further sin and suffering.
Lastly, I thought about our responsibility to one another: when a brother (or sister) sins, we are to correct, rebuke, encourage (2 Timothy 4:2) - and to forgive (Luke 17:3). We are to pray for one another that we may be healed.
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24, NIV 1984).Clydette Powell MD