James 3:9-12: With the tongue we praise our
Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of
the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh
water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives,
or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Psalm 30:6-8: When I felt secure, I said,
"I will never be shaken." O LORD, when you favored me, you made my mountain
stand firm; but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I called; to the
Lord I cried for mercy.
Psalm 17:2-5: May my vindication come from you;
may your eyes see what is right. Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though
you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. As for the
deeds of men-- by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent.
My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
The genre of the confession is age-old in Western
literature. Its two greatest practitioners, Augustine and Rousseau, remind us that
as a form of self-representation, it has two radically different assumptions concerning
human nature and experience. Both Augustine and Rousseau share the belief that to
confess is to uncover truth, but they differ in the source of that truth and in the way in
which it is uncovered. For Augustine, the truth that is uncovered in the soul is the
work of God on the human person. The person enters the realm of memory in order to
receive enlightenment, and that enlightenment ultimately shines forth from Christ the
Logos. As we recount the past, we recall what has happened and learn how God has been
speaking into those events. For Rousseau, the human self is its greatest own
expression, and its experience is at the heart of personal freedom. Indeed, the
truth found there is found in the expression of the self alone. The focus
is personal creativity rather than God's creation.
Confession, then, is the revelation of our identity.
Or at least we hope so. By confessing our experience we attest to the worth that is
there. We count our talents and our faults as highly meaningful. Confession is
a kind of hermeneutical gesture; it is an interpretive move. By owning up to what we
have done, we seek to know truly who we are. We also seek to let others know what we
have found, and perhaps to speak with a direct voice to the reader, to establish a
communing of souls. It longs to understand but also to be understood. In this sense,
the Christian perspective is more expansive than the expressivism of someone like
Rousseau. It tells us why that human expression is valuable, it gives a frame to
the search for meaning, and it imparts a direction to the journey. It also allows
for our own difficulty in explicating our desires, wishes, and motives. For
confession as self-understanding may be less than perfect. The Psalter, for
example, is full of human confessions of guilt, anger, self-assurance, gratefulness,
bitterness, joy, and worship. In each one, we are reminded that our pilgrimage in
all its full-orbed ease and difficulty is the stuff of prayer and the stuff of art.
In them, no emotion is unacceptable, as it is spoken (or sung) before God. Our
confession is assured, for we are perfectly understood by God.
* * * * *
Central Insight: Confession
as a genre is both a revelation of and an exploration of identity.
Suggestions for Application:
Explain how a particular confession is seeking to explore the identity of the writer.
If possible, explain whether this confession is Augustinian or Rousseauesque in