“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” – Proverbs 28:13
“We are regretful if there are people who may feel offended.” That’s often what passes for an apology today. The more public the person or the bigger the company, the more they need to be beaten, bruised, and cajoled to drag out some crude caricature of remorse. In a way, it makes sense. The more power and responsibility you hold, the more you depend on people’s trust.
It’s not befitting for a leader to continually lament his shortcomings, or be tripping over himself in his eagerness to walk back a decision he’s just made. The desire to appease through apology, (and therefore accepting imaginary blame), is nearly as bad as an obstinate delusion of perfection.
We see in this proverb that, whether on a large or small scale, we all feel a hesitation to confess from selfish motivations. The impulse begins as a child. Concealing your purloined cookie enables you to avoid punishment and enjoy gooey chocolate. But appearances are deceiving. What is concealed is eventually revealed, and your sum total will be a loss of trust.
We want others to be perfect, but recognizing that’s not possible, our greater desire is honesty from people when they fail. Martin Luther began his ninety-five theses with this priority: “When our Lord Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. They begin, continue, and end their life of faith here on earth with repentance.”
The impulse of self-protection turns to destruction in the end. It’s like trying to conceal a wound instead of receiving treatment. It will fester and spread and make itself known, but when you confess, you bring the problem to the light. You are healed and strengthened, to say nothing of those around you.
This proverb’s solution is twofold: confess and forsake. It is nearly impossible to do the second without the first, but there are a tiresome lot of people who do the first without the second, which can sometimes make those around them wish they had never troubled the air with confessing to begin with. We should not expect confession and immediate life change to be synonymous. It’s more like confession acts as the oil in the engine of life change. Genuine confession comes from a deeper source than selfish regret. It will produce results over time.
That source of confession is the grace of God. He abundantly pardons (Is 55:7). His grace in Jesus exceeds our worst and most repeated failures. But we have to ask for it. Then, once you know the depth of God’s grace, which permeates as deep down as you are willing to look (and deeper), you’ll have the power and freedom to live differently. And you will see the same from other people. There are, I suppose, rare cases of particularly proud and jaded people who have closed their hearts to all forgiveness. But on the whole, confession obtains mercy, which leads to joy and success.