>One of the interesting things about leading a life consecrated to this incredible mystery called Jesus Christ is the possibility of attaining deep joyous peace in this life, in the middle of all the bustle and activity of life.
In Hebrews 10 there is a most interesting comparison between the work of the “earthly” priest and the Heavenly one, that is Jesus. One of the points that attracts my attention is in verse 11 “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”
Do I not also do this? Do I not also again and again return to God with the same confession? The same litanies, the same laundry list of sins? But, if I truly believe that “where these [sins] have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.” (v 18) If I truly believe that “by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy,” (v. 14) and “since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” (vv. 19-22)
If these two things are true, and they are, then once I truly confess my sin(s) – the Blood of Jesus covers that. There is nothing else that needs to be done. I confess it, Jesus covers it. Done.
But why do I return to it? Multiple reasons. First, I do not really believe in it. Secondly, I think that repeating the sin requires that I re-repent. Thirdly, I am unwilling to give up the sin.
The lack of belief is quite true. I constantly forget that I am to live in hope by faith. This is akin to the disciples falling asleep while Jesus keeps praying. I just cannot keep my eyes open long enough. The issue of sleepiness will be dealt with some other time.
The second point is more directly related to the Epistle to the Hebrews – if I accept that a sacrifice done once 2,000 years ago has no ‘expiration date’ then I have to understand that my sin committed 2,000 years after the sacrifice is also without ‘exp. date’. I mean by this that the sacrifice of Jesus collapses our normal understanding of cause-effect and the flow of time. When God died on the Cross, it was like all of space-time being sucked into a black hole. The very fabric of Creation was ripped apart, like the veil at the Temple. This means that sin, any sin at any time, is brought to that moment. It is as if sin flies there, or is attracted like iron filings to a magnet. My sin today is cleared back on Cavalry.
Grasp that thought for a second and it will become clear why it is not necessary to ask forgiveness for a sin twice.
Still, I may be unwilling to stop sinning, the pleasure it gives me is such that it creates what in psychology we call ‘projection bias’ – this is a way we project into the future the very same feelings which we have now – coupled with ’empathy gap’ which means an incapacity to empathize with our future selves. Together these brain tricks almost guarantee that we are so deeply stuck in our current emotional patterns that we are unable to truly respond to the moment, we are unable to be free.
This is the prison of sin: it keeps us in a closed loop of limited responses, limited experiences, and limited life. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (vv. 26-27)
Does this mean I must never ask for forgiveness for a sin I already have been absolved of? Au contraire! The process of returning to repent over a recurring sin can be understood as a way to uncover the deeper roots of the sin, a way that God shines a light deeper into my heart so I may see more clearly all the complex set of relationships and energies that coordinate to make me sin. I will keep going over and over these patterns until I am able to surrender each and everyone to God.
Notice that the writer of Hebrews says there is “no sacrifice for sins is left”. It is done. You are cleansed. yet you keep going back over and over, repeating the sin, repeating the guilt in your mind. This is a form of existential neurosis!
And what is neurosis? How can we identify it? Here’s a short list of some of the symptoms – see if you suffer from more than one of them: anxiety, sadness, acedia (depression), wrath, easy irritability, scrupulosity (over-vigilance or over-zealous concern with rules), impulsivity, compulsivity, sloth, confusion, incapacity to stop unpleasant or disturbing thoughts, obsession, negativity, cynicism….
Jung had a couple of things to say about neurosis. “I have frequently seen people become neurotic when they content themselves with inadequate or wrong answers to the questions of life.” (Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections) It is not that we do not ask questions. It is rather that we are content with the first or second answer. But we have to keep going. How many answers do we need to get before we get the Truth? Seven? No! 70 times seven!
Here’s a hint: what is the root cause of imprisonment in this very tiny cell which we call life, this limited space where we live and move and have our being? (Limited because we keep repeating the same few actions, the same few words, the same few, so few, thoughts. Hardly a new idea crosses our minds. hardly a new and creative act. We must pray “Lord put a new song in my mouth!”) How are we held here? Here’s Jung again “[Contemporary man] is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by ‘powers’ that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food – and, above all, a large array of neuroses.” (Jung, Man and his Symbols)
Remember: “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Eph. 6:12)
Temptation and confession of sins are a great opportunity! Use them well. Stop and think “Here is the same temptation again, and there I go again to commit the same sin.” But is it the same one? Or is it a new, deeper facet of the sin? And how deep does this sin go anyway?! Keep looking, keep asking – refrain from sinning and live with the burning and discomfort and the pain, this deep existential agony which is the fundamental fiction of our lives (think about it).
One more thing, allow the mind-heart to be changed by filling it with godly thoughts. In fact allow no thoughts into your mind which are not the Voice of God. Try this exercise: when you feel the temptation coming along, try to hear it as God’s Voice calling you to a place of purgation, of cleansing. And this does not have to be something to do with sin directly. For example, if you are given to bouts of profound loneliness bordering on depression, try to imagine this loneliness as God calling you to be alone with Him and to experience a small part of Jesus’ Passion, in this case the difficult prayer at the Mount of Olives or perhaps the loneliness of the Eloi cry.
In this scenario, it is not so much that we cannot confess and repent of repeated sin, but rather that we allow God to use the repetition to take us deeper and further, allow the fire of the Holy Spirit to burn away more dross.
Come to the altar boldly. Carry as much of your sin as you can, and leave it there. You may need to make a few more trips to bring it all – how many? Not 7 but 70 x 7…