Who am I?
At one moment, I appear to be such a fine and dandy person. I would love being my friend! But then there are those other times… There are moments when I horrify myself. I would run in fear from anyone with such evil, violent impulses and inclinations, but alas, I can’t run away from myself. What options do I have in the face of such selfishness and corruption and sin?
I would say that, in general, the world presents two options for dealing with our more base thoughts and actions: suppression or expression.
SUPPRESSION: Restrain the unwanted impulse, and keep it at bay. Freudian psychoanalysts have formulated large lists of ways that we can defend ourselves from ourselves. (To use silly, outdated Freudian terms, the Ego must defend itself from conflict between the morality-driven Superego and desire-driven Id). When I am impatiently riding on the taxi-bus, and suddenly want to hurl my water-bottle at the greedy driver’s head, I can try many ways to suppress this angry impulse. I can deny that I have the thought. I can direct my angry energy toward something else—punch a wall, for example. I can find a distraction or fantasize about more pleasant things. I can rationalize my impulse, creating a web of reasons why wanting to crush the driver’s head is not anger but rather…justice. I can try to tell myself to stop being angry.
The point is that rather than look my violent and angry impulse square in the face, I have the option to avoid and suppress it. The goal here is to get rid of unacceptable thoughts and behaviors and to exhibit more acceptable ones.
EXPRESSION: But why be so neurotic? Is it really healthy to spend so much time suppressing thoughts and actions? A suppressor might look like an easy-going, innocent, normal bottle of Coke, but in reality he has been so internally shaken that the slightest break in his defenses will cause a horrifying, uncontrollable explosion—the thoughts and emotions he fear so much spewing everywhere. So there is no need to deny them; embrace the legitimacy of your “sinful” thoughts. It’s fine to hate the tax-bus driver. Maybe even yell at him. Or if you’d rather, you can just say horrible things about him with the person next to you. Just lighten up. Everyone has anger and lust and greed. The point is don’t beat yourself up, and just try not to hurt anyone in the process. Be yourself. Express yourself.
Which to choose: rigid suppression or free expression? Personally, both leave an icky taste in my mouth, but I think the gospel presents a wonderful third option.
CONFESSION: No need to suppress. I have tried and failed to protect myself from myself. No need to express. There is a freedom that is freer than having my impulses and desires lead me around by the nose. When faced with my own sinfulness, the solution is to confess. It’s like waking up from a nightmare.
Acknowledge the reality; don’t hide it. Acknowledge the horror of the reality; don’t accept it. Don’t feign cleanliness; you know there’s dirt. Don’t love the dirt; you were made for better than dirt. Seek the deep cleansing that comes through confession.
It is at the lowest point of brutally honest humiliation—”Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of sin and death!”—where we can truly hear and believe the brutally bought gospel proclamation—”There is therefore now no condemnation…” (Romans 7:24, 8:1)
What a gift it is that we can honestly confess! God will not turn us away for coming to the light. On the contrary, that is where we find Him. And what a gift it is that Christians can honestly confess with one another! A community built upon grace will not turn away the humble confessor. No anger or lust or greed or lonliness or doubt is too dark to be overcome by the light of gospel grace. The community of confession will survive. The community can only be destroyed by the diseases of suppression and expression which have no power to bring about healing.
“But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed…” (James 1:16)