Bring Your Worst Fears to Reality and be Free: Part Four

Doctrine, Wisdom, and Example)

Thus far I have appealed to the mind and to the heart for why the addict needs to bring his secret shame to light through confession. I have shared how my own self-delusions prevented me from confessing for a time and how I was saved after I finally broke through them.

My testimony would be incomplete, however, if I did not bring up what the words of scripture have said upon the matter. It is not only good philosophy and psychology to confess, it is good religion.

And it shall be, when he shall be guilty in one of these things, that he shall confess that he hath sinned in that thing: - Leviticus 5:5

He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. - Proverbs 28:13

And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God...we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: - Daniel 3:3-5

In Leviticus, the book of the law, the Israelites were commanded to confess. It was one of the key steps towards forgiveness, and it was meant to be understood that cleansing would not occur until this ritual had been observed. Thus, by doctrine itself we are shown that we must confess.

Then, in the book of Proverbs we are told that he who does not confess shall not prosper. The book of Proverbs is not a statue of law like Leviticus. It is a collection of wisdoms observed from Solomon’s life experience. Thus, by the words of wise counsel we are again told that we must confess.

And finally, in the book of Daniel, we see the prophet in a moment of personal spiritual practice. Daniel is not performing a formal ritual or giving an address to others, he is being compelled by his own conscience in a personal act. Something in his heart just tells him that he needs to be “confessing my sin and the sin of my people” (verse 20). Thus, by the example of righteous people we also see that we must confess.

By doctrine, by wisdom, and by example, the scriptures make clear that the sinner who wishes to be clean must make their confession.

“But,” one might say, “couldn’t this only mean confession to God? Do the scriptures really say that I have to bring imperfect human beings into the matter? I’ll just work things out with God and that should be enough.” Well, let’s see if the scriptures do have anything to say on that matter.

Confession to Others)

Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judæa, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. - Matthew 3:5-6

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. - James 5:16

Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. - Acts 19:18

Here we have three verses that speak to the need for confession to others is addition to God. The passage in Matthew definitely seems to be suggesting that those who were baptized of John the Baptist were making known to him exactly what wrongs they were having washed away by his baptism. The passages in James and Acts make even more explicit the fact that the early saints were confessing “one to another,” and doing so “openly.”

In my personal experience, the need to confess to another human soul is due to our misconception that our faults make us incapable of being loved by another person. We need to break that illusion, and the only way to do so is to confess to another and see how they respond. Some of the most powerful moments of my life have been sitting in a twelve-step group where I have shared the deepest, most vulnerable parts of myself, and then had my brothers look me in the eye and say “Abe, me too. I’ve been right there myself and I want you to know that I still love you. You may still be in the ugly parts of your journey, but I absolutely respect you for taking this step in the right direction.”

Yes, these are messages that we need to hear from God directly, and at special moments He does say them directly to us. But in my experience, He usually reminds me of these messages through His living angels, the brothers and sisters all around me. When I find a safe place, among godly people, and I make my confession to them, then they are flooded with the love of God and speak to me the words that He gives them.

The Promises of Christ)

We have looked at the words and examples of prophets and apostles, both in the Old Testament and in the New. We have considered my personal experiences as well. But what of the words of Christ, himself? What promises has he made to those who come forward and make confession?

Whosoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whosoever shall lose his life shall preserve it. - Luke 17:33

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. - Ezekiel 36:26

No doubt these verses have several applications, but one of them is most certainly to this matter of confession. I have already mentioned how the addict tries to hide his shame because he is trying to preserve his sham life. Christ assures us that the preservation of the old will ironically end in its destruction. The only way forward is to give up the old life. Once we shine a light on the secret, then the secret life dies, replaced with one of authenticity. Lose your life of fearful self-management and give birth to a new one of faithful surrender. The stony heart comes out and one of flesh takes its place.

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. - Luke 9:23 

What a fitting description for the addict who overcomes his fears and rationalizations and embraces confession! To do this he must overcome his every basic nature, the pattern he has lived his whole life by, the very reasoning of his own mind. He must “deny himself,” take up the cross of the thing he dreads most, confession, and follow Jesus into that crucible.

Paul communicated this same idea to the Galatians when he wrote “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me:” (Galatians 2:20). Denying ourselves and taking up our cross leads to being “crucified with Christ.” Many the addict has said that he felt like making his confession would kill himself. That sounds like hyperbole until you consider it in this spiritual sense. They were actually right; it would kill them. The carnal them! But in that crucifixion, they discovered Christ living within them. Through and in and of him, they were saved.

For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. - Matthew 11:30

I mentioned in my last post that as terrible as the consequences of confession might seem, they end up being miraculously less than what we expect. First, because almost every addict finds that the world and nature are kinder and more forgiving than they had given them credit for. Their sins had made them cynical, and they had then projected that cynicism onto the world. And secondly, because even when a burden does come, it is tremendously alleviated by the sense of new life within.

And this is exactly what Christ promises us in this verse from Matthew. His yoke and his burden may have some weight, but they are easy and light, certainly far more so than the iron shackles we’ve been dragging around thus far!

***

In the end, I did not make the decision to confess because I was convinced of the promises in these scriptures. I had heard them, and at times they did stir something within me, but I was far beyond faith when I finally gave in to the truth. I did not unveil my shame because I expected salvation, I did it because I was finally willing to accept damnation.

But, as it turns out, these verses make no requirement for the disciple to have the right expectations when he makes his confession. I found out for myself that you can take this step for virtually none of the right reasons, and mercy will still swoop down and make its claim upon you. It was only in hindsight, after I had already had the reality of these promises come true in my life, that I read these verses and realized that I had engaged in a contract with God without ever realizing it. In hindsight I can testify with all my heart that these promises are true. They were true for me, right down to the smallest detail, and they will be true for you!

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 47:11-12

11 And Joseph placed his father and his brethren, and gave them a possession in the land of Egypt, in the best of the land, in the land of Rameses, as Pharaoh had commanded. 

12 And Joseph nourished his father, and his brethren, and all his father’s household, with bread, according to their families.

At first these verses might not seem very significant. Everything that Joseph said would happen, and that Pharaoh confirmed would happen, that was what happened.

However, we live in a world defined by broken promises. Whether due to lying intent or unforeseen challenges in the way, all the time we are told that something will happen and then let down. People who were supposed to always be there for us are absent, a steady employer has to let us go, or a lifelong mentor loses their own way.

Thus, I think it is actually very significant that the record explicitly shows that what Joseph promised, that was what was delivered, to the letter. He had pledged a parent-like nourishment for his family, and that was what he gave to them. He was true and dependable, and he was able to be so because he was built upon the foundation of his every-faithful God.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 46:4

4 I will go down with thee into Egypt; and I will also surely bring thee up again: and Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.

After God’s declaration that Israel will finally become a great nation in Egypt, it might be easy to overlook the two additional promises given next, but they are both significant and touching in their own ways.

For the first one, Jacob may not realize how important it is that God commits not only to “go down with thee into Egypt,” but also to “surely bring thee up again.” Jacob may not know, but God does, that while in Egypt the Israelites will become enslaved. They will become a great nation, but one that is subservient to another.

The Israelites will be great distressed in that time, and they will plead for deliverance. Then how meaningful will this seemingly innocuous pledge to “bring thee up again” become? As the Israelites in bondage review their records, they will realize that God was promising to deliver them since even before the need for deliverance existed. The promise was for them far more than for Jacob.

The following promise is most definitely for Jacob, though, which is that “Joseph shall put his hand upon thine eyes.” This expression means “to close the eyes of one who has died.” God is promising to Jacob that what the other sons have reported is true. Joseph really is alive, and Jacob is going to spend the rest of his life with him, for Joseph will outlive him.

Many parents that have had to bury a child express what a strange twist of the natural order it is to outlive the next generation. We may want to live a long life, but not at the cost of burying our own children. Jacob had to mourn the death of his child once before, but now he is being reassured that the natural order is being restored, and the returned child will continue past himself. This is a very tender promise from God, one that shows His keen understanding of the human heart.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 46:1-3

1 And Israel took his journey with all that he had, and came to Beer-sheba, and offered sacrifices unto the God of his father Isaac.

2 And God spake unto Israel in the visions of the night, and said, Jacob, Jacob. And he said, Here am I.

3 And he said, I am God, the God of thy father: fear not to go down into Egypt; for I will there make of thee a great nation:

Jacob has determined to go down to Egypt, but this is a big decision, and before actually following through he goes to Beer-sheba to commune with the Lord. Beer-sheba has shown up a few times in the biblical record before. It was where Abraham made a solemn oath of peace with the king of the Philistines, and the same place where Isaac made a similar pledge. More relevant to Jacob, though, Beer-sheba was the land that he left when escaping the wrath of Esau, suggesting that this was where he was raised.

While in this historical and spiritual place, Jacob has yet another special connection with God, instruction given through a “vision of the night.” God reassures Jacob that he should go down to Egypt, and dwell among the people there. God even promises that in Egypt He will finally fulfill his promise of growing a great nation out of the Israelites. This has been promised since back with Abraham, and now the family is finally coming to the place and situation in which it will occur.

And now we see that there was a special wisdom in how long it has taken for God to deliver this promise. It might have seemed strange that after such a grand commitment Abraham had only one covenant child, and that child also only had one covenant child. In essence, Abraham’s same situation was extended down two generations to Jacob, with no growth whatsoever.

But what if the family had seen explosive growth during those two generations? If that had happened, it seems less likely to me that Pharaoh would have been so willing to receive such a large party into his domain. By keeping the family small, they could be easily integrated into Egypt’s bounty, and once there they could grow unhindered.

When God made his promise to Abraham, He was always going to follow through on it, but He needed to orchestrate things so that the nation would come forth in the exact way that it needed to. With great care and control He led this fledgling household, preserving them as they were until this moment of great fulfillment.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 43:6-10

6 And Israel said, Wherefore dealt ye so ill with me, as to tell the man whether ye had yet a brother?

7 And they said, The man asked us straitly of our state, and of our kindred, saying, Is your father yet alive? have ye another brother? and we told him according to the tenor of these words: could we certainly know that he would say, Bring your brother down?

8 And Judah said unto Israel his father, Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go; that we may live, and not die, both we, and thou, and also our little ones.

9 I will be surety for him; of my hand shalt thou require him: if I bring him not unto thee, and set him before thee, then let me bear the blame for ever:

10 For except we had lingered, surely now we had returned this second time.

Jacob complains that they ever told the Egyptians about Benjamin. It seems a strange thing to have disclosed, but the sons maintain that the line of inquiry had driven directly to that matter. Very bad luck it might seem to Jacob, but really there was no luck involved in it at all. Joseph knew exactly what he was getting at and intentionally directed the conversation there.

At this point Jacob’s complaints might simply be an attempt postpone the inevitable. I imagine he already knows that he is sending Benjamin with them, but he wants to express his frustration a bit more before doing so.

Now Judah turns to impassioned promises, much like Reuben did earlier. He will be responsible for the lad, and he will answer for anything bad that happens to him. The very same as Reuben has already pledged.

Judah and Reuben. The eldest and youngest of Leah, two blood brothers of Simeon, who still languishes in the Egyptian prison. Reuben who diverted his brothers’ intention to kill Joseph, and Judah who I have suspicions did the same. Thus, both of these men seem to have a track record of brotherly protection, the ones that Jacob could trust most to make good on their promise. And here, in this moment, their brotherly care is twofold. They are pledging protection of one brother, in order that they might rescue a second.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 35:9-12

9 And God appeared unto Jacob again, when he came out of Padan-aram, and blessed him.

10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.

11 And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;

12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.

Now that Jacob had come to this consecrated land God appeared to him again. This time it appears that God’s identity was not a mystery to Jacob, such as at the time of his night-time wrestle. God is here in clarity and power, for he is here to reaffirm His solemn oaths to Jacob.

Jacob is reminded that he is not to be called Jacob, but Israel, and that he is to sire a nation of kings, and that his children will inherit this land that surrounds him. This reminder of divine promise is very similar to the process that God took Abraham through. God knows that the nature of our hearts is for faith to wane and doubt to creep in, and so He takes special effort to revitalize and reinvigorate us. Were we perfect, God would only need to speak once, and we would always believe, but we are not perfect, and God gracefully accounts for it.

Unlike with Abraham, though, the promises given are already beginning to be fulfilled. All of Abraham’s life he had only one son born into divine promise, and Isaac only had one son of promise as well. Neither of these men had the beginnings of a great nation before their eyes, they just had to trust that it would come at some future date. Jacob, however, now has eleven sons, and soon twelve. There have been three generations of trunk, but now Jacob is seeing the stem splitting into many branches. The reality of God’s promise was at last beginning to manifest.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 22:15-18

15 And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time,

16 And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:

17 That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;

18 And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice.

One thing that stood out to me in this study was how many times God reaffirmed His promises to Abraham. This reaffirmation, though, coming after Abraham has passed the ultimate test of his obedience, is the last time. Before this moment every affirmation was only an offer from God, contingent upon Abraham’s continued faithfulness. Here, at last, the promise is made sure. There will be no more proving.

This is the goal that Peter speaks of in 2 Peter 1:10, where our calling and election are made sure. It is a long and difficult road to attain that surety, though. It is not a cheap gift, and so it cannot be earned cheaply. It is something to give one’s whole life in pursuit of.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:22-24

22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest: 

23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.

24 And Abraham said, I will swear.

We like to assume that good conduct can be taken for granted. All people should already be decent human beings who don’t lie and cheat and steal from one another. We shouldn’t require a special pledge from someone that they won’t stab us in the back one day. Everything that Abimelech is asking Abraham to pledge are things that ought to go without saying.

We might even feel offended if someone felt it necessary to ask us for such a promise. We genuinely believe that we will always conduct ourselves towards others in an honorable way. And yet…we don’t. We stab each other in the back all the time. Even the people we are closest to: neighbors, family, even our own spouse, we betray their trust as soon as it is in our interest to do so. The willful harm we inflict on others is so ubiquitous that a common control question during a polygraph is “have you ever hurt someone that you care about?” The truthful answer is always “yes.”

To be frank, most of us are well-mannered and respectful only because it serves us well to be so. The fear of incurring anger, social shame, and criminal justice are what primarily deter us from inflicting harm. But once we have to choose between another or ourselves, our natural instinct is always to side with our own interest. Of course men and women can overcome this common selfish tendency, but only by deliberate effort.

So I believe this question from Abimelech was actually very sincere. It is a testament to the quality of their relationship that Abimelech felt he could cut past the façade and the formality and hold this question with Abraham in earnestness. Honestly and truly, will you deal honorably with me and my family, even when it isn’t to your own advantage? And Abraham sincerely replies, “yes.”

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 21:1-3

1 And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken.

2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.

The author of this passage wanted to make it extremely clear that God had made good on His promises. Look at the phrases “as he had said,” “as he had spoken,” and “at the time of which God had spoken.” God had come through completely, and this is an important difference between God and man: God not only keep His promises, He keeps them in every detail of how, when, and where.

Abraham and Sarah’s patience had been tested by this promise. It was years between when God first announced they would have son and the day that it actually occurred. But when God finally gave a specific timeframe for the birth to occur it happened “at the time of which God had spoken.”

Many times we might struggle to believe in God’s promises when it seems long since the time that they should have been fulfilled. Many times God gives us encouragement far in advance of the realization, and it requires great patience to see the journey through to the end. But as soon as God does give specific details of His promises, they will all be met to the letter.

Scriptural Analysis- Genesis 15:7-10, 17-18

7 And he said unto him, I am the Lord that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

8 And he said, Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?

9 And he said unto him, Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon.

10 And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not.

17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.

18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

I found this passage enchanting to read, but confounding to understand. Abram seeks for some sort of sign that God’s promises will be fulfilled, and as an answer he is led through a strange ritual. Abram splits each creature in two, except for the birds, and lays their halves next to each other. Then, after a moment of darkness and foretelling that we’ll examine tomorrow, God responds with a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing between each half of the animals. Accompanying this sight are the words of God, reiterating the promise that He will give all this land to Abram. A captivating image, to be sure, but what to make of it?

Other scholars have given an interpretation of these scenes that I find very compelling. They suggest that dividing the animals in two and having the furnace and lamp pass between them is a way of God making a solemn pledge. It is as if He is saying “so may my body be cleaved in two if I do not keep this word.” Consider how this idea is echoed by the statements of God in Jeremiah 34:18. Or it could be seen as “I will do whatever it takes to fulfill this promise, even to the breaking of my body.” Of course that notion is later reflected in Jesus Christ coming and literally letting his body be broken to keep the promises that God had made to all of mankind.

And there is also the symbolism of the smoke and the flame that God sends between the severed pieces. What was immediately called to my mind was the pillar of fire and the cloud that guided Israel through the wilderness.

In any case, it seems that these verses are meant to describe a solemn ritual, with a solemn commitment made by God. These aren’t just words anymore, He is binding Himself to the fulfillment of them. But, given the seriousness of the situation, God frankly admits that Abram that his children will face all manner of affliction before and after receiving the fulfillment of these promises. We’ll dive into that tomorrow.