Confessions: Clean Away From Me
My soul’s house is too meager for you to visit; enlarge it. It is falling down; rebuild it. Inside it are things that would disgust you to see: I confess this, and I know it. But who’s going to clean it? Or rather, to whom else am I going to shout, “Clean away from me, Master, the hidden things that are my own, and spare your slave from the hidden things coming from others!”?
I believe, and because I believe, Master, I speak; you know it, Master. Didn’t I openly divulge to you my offenses, my God, confronting myself, and didn’t you acquit my heart’s guilt? I won’t contest the matter in court with you, who are the truth, and I don’t want to mislead my own mind and let my wrongdoing commit perjury against itself. So I won’t contest the matter with you in court, because if you, Master, are witness to my wrongdoings—who can make that stand up? —Saint Augustine, Confessions 1.6
The Psalmist asked of the Lord, “If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?” (Ps 130:3) No one. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). And we have sinned, many times, yet the Lord does not remember them. In Scripture “remembering” is not a cerebral activity. It is acting upon the thought or knowledge. For example, throwing a party for a friend’s birthday biblically constitutes “remembering” their birthday. For the psalmist remembering God meant “praising God” (Ps 45:17). God “remembered” Noah by sending the wind to blow over the earth (Gen 8:1). Remembering is doing something about what has been remembered. When it comes to our sin, it’s not that God has forgotten our sins and cannot recall them, but rather, it is that, in His mercy, he does not act in retribution after we have sought forgiveness. As the Psalmist says, “But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.” (Ps 130:4)
Augustine recognizes that when we try to defend our sinful actions, we only dig our holes deeper. We “commit perjury against [ourselves].” We mislead our own minds. God has perfectly seen and understood our crimes. All there is to do is confess, that God may not remember our sin, but remember His promise: I am the Lord your God… showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments… the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” (Ex 20:5-6, 34:6-7)
Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
the guilt of my sin.
Lord, I confess my sins, remember Your promise.
Note: These are my daily reflections as I go through Saint Agustine's Confessions. Unless otherwise noted, I am using Sarah Ruden's translation of the original text, and the NIV.