when i was a child, catholic-bashers made fun of the roman catholic church by saying that catholics could do anything they wanted so long as they went to confession afterwards and received absolution. fortunately, i don't hear that sort of talk much any more, but every sunday in churches of my sort the same thing happens: we read a corporate confession together and then an absolution for all of us, clergy included, is pronounced from the pulpit. as i sat there after the confession last sunday i wondered, "what good did that confession do, if afterward we continue to live just as we did before the confession?"
it seems that confession is useless unless that which follows confession is an attempt to stop doing those things that we asked forgiveness for doing. this is the problem with "original sin." it leads to a fatalism that supports the idea that, as creatures who are compelled to sin continually, there is no way of correcting our faults. therefore, we must rely on God's mercy and seek forgiveness rather than work to change ourselves, to be less sinful. but if we are incapable of amending our ways in any significant way, what is the point of confession? jesus said to the woman who was brought to him by his enemies after she had been caught in an act of adultery, "go and sin no more." in other words, change your ways. her accusers fled in the face of jesus' reminder that only those who are sinless have the authority to cast the first stone. jesus asked where those who condemned had gone and said that he, too, would not condemn her.
so, here is the answer. we have the power to learn from our mistakes. it is not sufficient to admit them and ask for forgiveness. the forgiveness comes not from the mercy of God but from our own attempts to lose ourselves in the process of becoming more than we were before. we must forgive ourselves and make amends to those we have harmed, so that they, too, can forgive us. confession is the realization that we have erred; forgiveness is an action that attempts to correct the error.
may we not depend on God to forgive us. it is that still small voice inside us, "that of God," that leads us to the realization that confession is needed, and that same voice leads us to actions that propel us to "go and sin no more." shalom.