Thursday, April 09, 2009

Confessing Anonymously

The only thing most of us know about going to confession is what we see in the movies. Lutherans aren't real used to it. One of the things we see in the movies is the confessional booth. The person is supposedly anonymous; the priest cannot see who is confessing. (Of course, he may recognize the voice, but we're supposed to not notice that.)

Lutherans don't have confessional booths. Lutherans confess to the pastor who is sitting right there next to them, who can see who comes and goes, who can hear their voices. There is no anonymity.

Sometimes private confession is offered at conferences. At Higher Things conferences in the past, private confession was offered. I talked to some kids who really love that, and look forward to it. They love hearing the absolution spoken in the face of their out-loud confession of the sin that troubles them. Interestingly, though, some of those kids told me that they'd never confess to their own pastor -- he knows them. They want to confess at the conference, to a stranger, to someone they don't have to face next week, every Sunday, at every youth-group event for the rest of the year. They said things like, "Oh, what would Pastor think of me if he knew what I confessed??!!"

Something is missed when we confess anonymously. It is truly a blessed thing when we go to the pastor, exposing to him our most troublesome sins and our deepest regrets, and he forgives. He has heard the specifics of the pollution of our souls, and yet he continues to treat us just as nicely and warmly as he treats everyone else. He doesn't remember the sin we have confessed. He doesn't remind us. He doesn't change his attitude toward us. Everything is as if he never knew the sin. That's because it is forgiven; it is put away, as far as the east is from the west.

Sometimes a person continues to struggle with the same sin, and continues to go to the pastor, confessing how he cannot free himself from his sin, regretting his sin, wanting help and rescue, but still caught in that struggle of which Paul speaks in Romans 7. There is a lovely comfort that is found in NOT being anonymous. When the pastor hears the same sin confessed repeatedly, and still forgives, it is a sweet and lovely picture of the Savior who KNOWS our sin better than we do ourselves, and still yearns for us, still saves, still forgives unceasingly, still pours out Himself.

Why would anybody want anonymity in the confessional when instead they could have the comfort of forgiveness from one who knows them (really knows them with all their warts and blemishes) and still accepts them and loves them in spite of the sin?


  1. Thanks Susan. . .this is something I've been mulling on for years, especially out here where the only pastor remotely handy is, well, you can guess who.

  2. I don't know what to tell you, Mrs Pastor's Wife. On the one hand, I know well how important it is for the pastor's wife to have a father-confessor who is not her husband. (And I don't just mean that I know it from my own experience, but also from what other pastors' families have gone through when they needed spiritual care, or when the pastor's wife needed pastoral care but her husband for some reason could not minister to her at that particular time.) And yet, if there is nowhere else to go, confessing to your pastor/husband is a good thing. For some families, it works superbly, and they cannot see any reason for the wife to go to a different father-confessor. (I suspect the distances where you live are larger than I can fathom, given the more densely-populated areas where I've lived. So probably it wouldn't work for you to go with Larry when he goes to confession? Especially with munchkins...)