This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible: We have a confession to make

The language of confession is both under- and overused at present, in different ways. On the one hand, in church settings most of us practice confession in a corporate manner, speaking in unison our transgressions and our need for forgiveness, possibly without thinking too hard about what it all means.

Meghan Florian

Why do we confess together? What does it mean to be accountable as a community?

Likewise, perhaps we shy away from more specific, quiet confessions, to a neighbor whom we’ve wronged and with whom we wish to be reconciled, or to a spiritual leader who might help us know the forgiveness we receive from God in response to our confessions.

On the other hand, confession gets bandied about in popular culture, with confessional posts on social media alternately scorned or lauded for their authenticity.

Perhaps, then, it’s not that we’ve lost the practice of confession so much as twisted its meaning and purpose. What’s the difference between a spiritual practice of confession and merely spilling your guts?

In Daniel 9, a prayer of confession is addressed directly to God. Daniel prays on behalf of the people. It is less about authenticity than it is about covenant — and about love. Rather than a cathartic airing of dirty laundry, the confessor names shortcomings within the context of relationship to God, with reference to promises made and promises broken, and the shame thereof.

This is about God and God’s people, not personal piety. Confession is about who we are as a people, our failure to be a community worthy of bearing God’s name. And so, from this place of desolation, Daniel’s pleading confession rings out: “Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, listen and act and do not delay! For your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people bear your name!”

Confession is about God, not individuals. Confession is about being a community that bears God’s name. Keeping this in mind is important for cultivating healthy practices of confession, both spiritually and mentally, free from the burden of silence as well as from coerciveness and shame.

In Daniel 10, Daniel receives a vision. Having fallen into a trance-like state, he trembles as God’s messenger wakes him and commands him to stand. As is so often the case with messengers from God, the visitor greets Daniel with calming words: “Do not fear.” God has heard Daniel’s words, and this messenger, with a face like lightning and eyes like flames, comes in response to his humble desire to grow in understanding.

The vision and visitor unsettle Daniel — understandably, given the flaming eyes and other striking features. He is rendered speechless, his strength gone, until the messenger touches his lips and he regains speech at least, if not movement — enough to express his amazement as well as his weakness. With another touch, the messenger responds to him, shoring up his strength, restoring him to movement as well as voice.

God’s messenger brings a vision, but also speech and a physical presence. The interactive, responsive nature of this passage contrasts with other more ethereal imaginings of vision and prophecy. The messenger offers a kind touch and speaks words of comfort, in addition to delivering the message entrusted to him. He is a messenger of God but appears in human form.

The vision of the end of days is one with violence and upheaval, of anguish but also deliverance, and the promise of resurrection. The messenger brings word of the resurrection of human bodies. Daniel’s vision doesn’t answer every question, but it does proclaim a new promise of life.

Meghan Florian, of Durham, N.C., teaches writing at William Peace University. She is a member of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship.

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