Have you ever tried hiding something from people? Something that you were really ashamed of? Can you remember the anxiety that brought on? The strain it put on your relationships? The way it made you feel like a fraud? Maybe what I’m describing sounds like your world today. It’s the air you breathe, or rather, the air you sip shallowly with clenched jaw and tense shoulders.
Not long ago I met Gail and we got to talking. Within a few minutes Gail had casually told me the pertinent details you would expect small talk to bring out. Her name, where she’s from, what brought her to this place, and, oh yeah, that she’s a meth addict. Eight years sober. It might strike you as odd or even awkward that this came up, but I find this kind of thing to be remarkably common. The addict knows a very important truth about life. Transparency is the devil’s worst enemy. And the sinner’s closest friend.
Think about it. By telling me right away of her addiction Gail could relax and be herself. She knew the day would never come when she would worry ‘What would he think if he only knew?’ or ‘What will he do when he finds out?’ I found out in minute 2 of our relationship. If I wasn’t cool hanging around a recovering addict, so be it.
By announcing her past in this way, Gail was protecting herself. Yes, protecting herself from what I might say/do one day but more than that, she was protecting herself from…herself. It is human nature to downplay sin. We have far too much confidence in our own ability to resist temptation, until it’s too late. An addict cannot afford to play with fire. One slip up and she could lose everything. There is no such thing as a former addict or alcoholic. Gail’s addiction is not simply a problem to be masked or managed. Like it or not it’s a part of who she is. And it’s a part that must be resisted, denied, and redeemed every single day. An addict who can’t talk about himself as an addict will soon be using again.
Whenever an addict declares their brokenness to me like this, something else happens. While it no doubt allows the addict to avoid letting an elephant into the room, I find that I am disarmed as well. The facade of polite conversation is abruptly set aside and we can be honest with each other. Neither of us is nearly as put together as we look.
One would think the church, a group of people who describe themselves as sinners deserving of eternal damnation, would be the one place folks are honest about their brokenness. Sadly, that is often not the case. Week after week we put on a Sunday smile and play the game. Our sins, when we bother to confess them at all, are sterilized for public consumption or scripted to the point of losing all efficacy, power, and meaning. We rush through confession to get to the climax; the sermon, at which point the pastor will reassure us why we are right and they are wrong. Yes, we’re sinners, we will give God that much. But come on! At least we aren’t like those sinners! (Lk. 18:9-14).
We do not learn this behavior from scripture. For millennia God’s people have been warned of the prideful nature within and have been given practices and promises to safeguard against it. One of the most powerful safeguards is one that, sadly, we Evangelicals all too easily neglect. Confession. James commands us, “Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (Jas. 5:16 NRSV, emphasis mine).
It is absolutely necessary to confess your sin to the Lord, but why do you suppose James tells us to confess to other people? Put simply, it’s because James knows you. He knows you are an addict. You are addicted to a drug called ego. It feels real good feeding the addiction but pretty soon, as you’re coming down, a deep shame sets in. The nagging voice of inadequacy starts squawking. Some people try to bury that voice into their subconscious. Others become all the more self-confident on the outside, trying to convince themselves (and others) they really are what they wished they were. Jesus offers a better way. Jesus offers to take that annoying little voice of inadequacy onto the cross to be crucified there. He doesn’t take it away altogether. Like Gail your addiction to sin is not simply a problem to be masked or managed. Like it or not, it’s a part of who you are. Only Jesus has the power to take the ugliest thing about you and use it to adorn the streets of his kingdom. But the Bible says you have to repent – talk about your addiction – if you are ever to be free from it. An addict who cannot talk about himself as an addict will soon be using again. A Christian who cannot talk about her sin is still a slave to it.
C.S. Lewis has an amazing analogy of this in The Great Divorce. The book is the story of a bus that travels between heaven and hell allowing passengers from hell the chance to take up residence in heaven instead. Ironically most choose to return on the bus to hell. The cost of heaven is the death of the ego. And most people will not or cannot pay that price. In the story one of the ghostly people from hell is plagued by a talking red lizard who lives on his shoulder. The lizard represents the power of lust, like an addiction to pornography.
A mighty angel approached the man and asked, “Would you like me to make the lizard quiet?”
“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.
“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.
“Oh—ah—look out! You’re burning me. Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.
“Don’t you want him killed?”
“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”
“It’s the only way,” said the Angel …. “Shall I kill it?”
“Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”
“May I kill it?”
“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. Some other day, perhaps.”
“There is no other day ….”
“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”
“It is not so.”
“Why, you’re hurting me now.”
“I never said I wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”
[Suddenly] the Lizard began chattering loudly: “Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again ….”
“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.
“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”
“Then I may?”
“Blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”
Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.
Then I saw, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the Ghost materialize into a
man, not much smaller than the Angel.
At the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Suddenly I stared back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold.
The man, now free from his torment, climbed upon the stallion that had been his sin and rode into the glowing sunrise towards the Savior.
Confession is the courageous act of shining light onto things you would most like to keep in the dark. God never said it wouldn’t hurt. But it’s the only way to know freedom now and life in world to come. A world in which everything and everyone exists to serve and glorify the King. A world free from evil, sin, and yes, secrets.
 White, B. (2011, October 31). C. S. Lewis on Killing the “Red Lizard” of Sin. Retrieved May 10, 2016, from http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2011/october/3103111.html