Accusations are powerful.
In the Garden of Eden, the dragon accuses Eve of naivety for following God’s commandments:
You certainly will not die; for God knows that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be as gods who know good and evil. —Gen. 3:4–5
In John’s apocalypse, this dragon is called “the accuser of our brethren” (Rev. 12:10). One of the devil’s most useful tools in his struggle against God’s good creation is accusation. When we sin, we find ourselves in a place of loneliness, discontent, despair, and suffering. We are crippled and brought to a lowly place, unable to escape by our own, solitary efforts.
But in the life of the Church, we have a weapon against accusations and a way back from sin: the mystery of Confession. Through Confession, we are able to begin our journey back to Paradise. We are able to run home, embraced in the arms of our Father.
In the P.T. Anderson film Punch-Drunk Love, Barry Egan (Adam Sandler) is very much alone, discontent, despondent, and suffering. Having been subjected to a lifetime of verbal abuse from his own family, Barry is alone with his thoughts and anxieties. He has no one with which to share his life. He eventually succumbs to temptation in an effort to find a supporting, personal connection—something he’s never experienced before. But his counterfeit ‘connection’ leads to an out-of-control series of consequences (as sin often does). Even when we sin in ‘secret,’ the effects are far-reaching. Right when Barry finds a person willing to love him as he truly is, he is unable to confide in her. From the very beginning, he is lying in order to cover over his past sin.
Eventually, Barry’s mistakes catch up with him, hurting his girlfriend in the process. In an outburst of honesty and transparency, he confesses everything to his one, true love, and then confronts his mistakes head-on. She forgives Barry completely, and essentially tells him: ‘Go and sin no more.’
When we confess to a priest, he likewise offers both consolation and healing:
May our Lord and God Jesus Christ, through the grace and bounties of His love towards mankind, forgive thee, my child, all thy transgressions. And I, His unworthy priest, through the power given unto me by Him do forgive and absolve thee from all thy sins, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Accuser would have us believe we can never be free from our past mistakes. Just as Barry was chased down by his sin, we too can be overwhelmed by past sins if we neglect Confession. But once confessed, these sins are rendered naught in the eyes of God. They are forever forgiven, and the Accuser’s attacks are without teeth. Even in times of weakness or vulnerability, we must remind ourselves of the freedom and forgiveness in Christ through Confession.
The devil has a way of reminding us of our past mistakes. Barry’s accusers repeatedly call him ‘pervert’ throughout the film. But if we have gone before God in Confession, these accusations are baseless. We are forgiven and made clean through the tears of repentance.
In some churches, preachers will ask their congregation: ‘Are you sure that if you died today you would go to heaven?’ This sort of accusation is the work of the devil, not ministers of the good news. The Gospel message shouldn’t neglect the importance of Confession, nor should it lead God’s people into both despair and crippling fear.
When we are feeling ‘run down’ by our past sins, we should take them before God in Confession. And once we have confessed, we should leave them behind, knowing that God in his mercy has done the same.
And then he will lovingly tell us: ‘Go and sin no more.’