I was a man alone, enveloped by strangers who didn’t know my present, let alone my past. They spoke, relating stories of rebellion that garnered the occasional grunt of disgust or even raucous laughter from the group. Professionals they were, who dealt with the dirty lives of people who had wallowed in one mud pit or another. I listened, the rubbernecking side of me staring into the tales of wrecked lives in macabre delight.
Until a man began to tell a story he might have ripped from my own biography. I no longer saw or smelled or tasted or felt; I became nothing but ear, for all I could do was hear. The sordid details of his story were kissing cousins to my own. I knew the plot, the characters, the crisis, and especially the diabolical dénouement.
The longer I listened, the closer to the surface boiled the lava of anger within me. For though he was doubtlessly telling the story with factual accuracy, he was not telling it right. For he told it not as a subjective participant in the drama, but as an objective observer of human affairs. He got it too right, too accurate, and because of that, this man whom I knew not, I hated. For he had stolen my confession, purged it in the fires of fact, and spoken the purified truth.
Never are we more Hollywood than when we admit wrongdoing. Our confession is scripted, edited, practiced. Move over Brad Pitt; I’ve got this role down pat, for it’s my version of me. We choose our words with precision, for they will condemn us, and we prefer to have a say in that condemnation. We take ownership of our admission, deciding what to leave in, what to leave out. We might be confessing sins, but, damnit, they’re our sins and we want it done right.
Thus, as I sat in that room, overhearing not the story of my sin, and yet still the story of my sin, I became angry. For implicit in that man’s story was a condemnation of me. I lost control over the confession. It was raw, bare, naked, no longer draped in the raiment of words I would have scripted oh so carefully. For I may be a thief and a drunkard, a murderer and an adulterer, and I may be ready to admit to that in my scripted confession, but don’t you dare accuse me of being such.
Behold, the power of self-justification, that even in the midst of confession, so long as we remain in control, the narcissist within lives on.
That day was a graphic reminder for me, that I cannot rely on the purity of my confession. It is too deeply stained to do me any good. If I want forgiveness, it must come from a source unpolluted by selfishness, where every action is driven by agape.
I believe there is a God who looks past our flawed confessions. He knows absolute truth has no residency within those who are congenital liars. He speaks the truth. And it is his truth that matters—the truth that ever and always welcomes the wounded, embraces the pariah, and saves the sinner from himself.