John has given up sugar for Lent and, once in a while, Joshua will ask, “Why did John give up sugar?” John’s response has been, “Because I can.” (Joshua is still puzzled!) That comment came to mind while I was listening to a talk on Confession and the question was posed, “Why does God forgive us?” The simple answer is, because He can. Because He loves us. Because that is who He is and no matter how much or how little we’ve sinned, He wants to forgive us. He longs to do so and bring healing and wholeness to us once again.
God is in the business of salvation. Salvation is the healing of our souls. Unlike Luther’s idea that we are snow-covered dung, we are truly healed and God seeks to remove as much scarring as we’ll let Him until we are whole, complete, and beautiful just as He intended us to be.
I once met a young man who had every bad thing that had happened to him tattooed onto his body—hypodermic needles, alcohol, a prison number, a friend’s suicide method—all there to remind him of the pain of his life. I was completely taken aback that someone would want to engrave all those reminders onto their very flesh. Yet, quite often we’re like that. We try so hard to remind God of the sins He’s forgiven us by showing Him the scars and telling Him again how we’ve messed up instead of letting Him heal them completely.
Guilt over sin is what God uses to bring us to repentance so that our relationship with Him and with others can be restored. Once we have confessed that sin and received forgiveness, it’s gone forever, never to be brought up again. Shame, however, is of the evil one. Shame comes at us again and again with the accusation, “You are a worthless failure! How could anyone love you? If they knew, really knew, what you are, they would despise you.” That is the moment when we must “speak truth” to that voice of evil and choose God’s healing.
This is particularly true when we have already confessed that sin to a priest and received absolution (John 20:22-23). Scripture says that God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). Those sins are gone forever, removed from us as far as the east is removed from the west (Ps. 103:12). They will never be brought up again by the only One who has a right to do so.
As part of the sacrament of Confession we are given a penance; a way to heal the scar left by the sin. Like an infected wound that has been cleaned out, the sin is gone, but it leaves a scar. If we apply the penance, the scar will heal. Unless, of course, we keep picking off the scab, which is what we do when we keep reminding ourselves (and God) of that sin. Each time we pick off the scab, the healing process is slowed down. Eventually, even if the wound finally heals over, there’s a mark and we look at that and say, “Ah! Remember that!”
Whatever sins we have taken to Confession and humbly said our penance for, even if we think It’s too light (after all, what penance could possibly “fit the crime” anyway?), is forgiven and forgotten by God. We need to do the same, because, after all, we can.