Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ulterior Apologies

"Confess your faults one to another..." (James 5:16)

“Confession is good for the soul,” says the old aphorism. This is always true if the confession is made to God. But if the confession benefits my soul while at the same time wounding another’s, it would seem to me to be quite selfish and self-serving.

Not only do we see examples of this in day-to-day personal encounters, it can often be seen in so-called, “confess your faults” services in churches. Sentences that begin, “I confess to having had bad feelings toward so-and-so, because...” are always a dead give away that grievances that might seem petty otherwise are now going to be “shared” in a way that will make them seem more important, while at the same time lending an aura of humility to the confessor. I have heard everything from mere perceived personal slights to sexual inadequacies of a mate aired—things that could have and should have been taken care of privately. After all, is the confession about our feelings or someone else’s failures?

I will have to say, I have seen this tendency more often in women than in men, which is not to say it is a gender-sensitive trait. It is not. But perhaps because we women are generally more adept at sharing our feelings, we are, for the same reason, more in danger of sharing them too often and too indiscriminately.

An apology should not be taken lightly, whether one is the giver or receiver; but you will be hard pressed, I think, to find a directive from God to confess or apologize for having bad feelings toward another. We are told to confess our “faults,” not our feelings. And notice the verse instructs us to make it a one-on-one (“one to another”) conversation, not a public proclamation. In any case, unless the Holy Spirit is the initiator, it is possible to create more bad feelings than we eliminate. Remember, God is the only One who can—or has—promised, “[T]heir sins and iniquities will I remember no more.”

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