Two occasions recently have prompted me to think about the place of bringing our faults and shortcomings to God – our ‘sin’ in traditional Christian parlance, our ‘dastardliness’ as the writer Ann Morisy puts it.  Recently a student essay I was reading commented on that in certain types of churches, times of confession and repentance have almost entirely disappeared from worship gatherings, except where a set liturgy requires it.  We launch straight into praise (which is arguably where we should start) but never quite move from there to other forms of prayer.  I wonder what are the implications of this for church life?  I’m challenged by that verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14-16 ‘If my people who bear my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will heal their land’.  Certainly from history it does seem as though real, deep-rooted revival and cultural change starts from a period of collective ‘humbling and praying’.  So however much we pray for revival or renewal, it seems essential that there be some form of repentance.  However, I’m also challenged by a second conversation, this time with a local vicar who noted the prevalence of mental illness and low self-esteem in the population both within and outside church, and the potential damage  that can be caused by laying further burdens of confession upon people whose wellbeing may already be quite fragile.  This suggests the need to develop new material to help people with confession and repentance but in such a way as does not lead to further interior damage.  For myself, as someone who has had periods of low self-esteem and mild depression, I’ve found the idea of ‘sin’ in a general sense (a general falling short of God’s standards in the material world, and quite apart from any specific ‘sins’) strangely comforting.  If I am marred by sin in a general sense, it becomes easier for me to confront the fact that it is not within my power to be that perfect, searingly intelligent, rapier-witted, emotionally mature person that I would like to be.  Indeed, in purely human terms, that perfect person is an illusion, partly of my own making.  If I suffer, if I struggle to keep myself together or achieve all I want to achieve in life, this is nothing less than the perennial conditions of human beings.  Indeed, the major ‘sin’ here is to create the illusion that I am what I am not – a question of pride and lack of humility.  And if (whilst I can address specific sins in my life) this more general ‘falling short’ is out of my own power to deal with, that somehow takes the pressure off me to do it all, and leaves me reliant on God to overcome what I cannot.

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