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We Have Sinned

We Have Sinned

This week as the story of yet another prominent Christian who had fallen passed through my news feeds, a young man who was pleading guilty to 18 counts related to sex with minors, I was led again to Daniel 9 and Daniel’s prayer of repentance.

We argue about the impact of prayer and what God does with our prayers a great deal. Does prayer change God? But there is a much more important question, in my view: Does prayer change us? Whatever it does, I think it reflects how we are thinking.

The Bible is quite hard on its main characters, never giving them a break. Their faults are put on display for all to see. Even the heroes of the Bible are presented with flaws. Daniel is one of those that is presented at all times in a positive light. There are those who believe he is the one referenced in Ezekiel 14:14, where he’s in a list with Noah and Job, both of whom are described as righteous.

But when Daniel begins to pray, he uses the third person plural: “We”

We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have incurred guilt, and we have rebelled by turning aside from your commands and decisions.

Daniel 9:5 (my translation and emphasis)

I think Daniel had something there about a response to sin.

You see, our tendency is to blame others. Other people in other traditions, using other forms of church governance, believing other doctrines, and just generally being different from me/us (the righteous one/ones) fell into grave sin. They should correct their traditions, fix their church governance, clean up their doctrinal statements, and become more like us!

For decades, Protestants have spent their time looking down on Roman Catholics because they had pedophiles in the ranks. We Protestants, being wise enough to allow marriage in the ministry, obviously wouldn’t have such a problem.

They have sinned. We’re OK.

But the fact is that we have sinned, and the more news comes out, the more glaringly obvious it is that we are all falling short.

We have sinned:

  • By looking at the sin of others and assuming we ourselves are immune
  • By ignoring what Jesus said about not lording it over one another and making hierarchies
  • By considering some people to be above accountability because they are anointed leaders
  • By failing to be accountable to one another
  • By turning aside less important people, claiming their word should not stand against the word of the holier, the more educated, the richer, the more powerful, or the more respected
  • By shifting the blame from perpetrators to the victims
  • By thinking our witness for Jesus could be made better by covering up than by confessing
  • By seeing the least of these as least, rather than as God’s children, pearls of great price
  • By thinking that we can ever criticize and judge from the outside
  • By believing, contrary to Romans 13, that our behavior is only church business, and refusing to report crimes to the appropriate authorities
  • By feeling all holy inside when someone’s sin is exposed and we realize (or imagine) that their sin is not one that attracts us.

If the church is to be a witness we need to be an honest and genuine witness to who we are. God knows who we really are. In a self-righteous prayer, we do not deceive God. We just deceive ourselves. We help ourselves believe that we are exempt.

It is in feeling that we are exempt, better-than, holier-than, more Spirit-filled, more Christ-like, more like a real church, and less subject to temptation that we prepare for a fall. Our fall, my fall, may not come via sexual temptation. But if I become superior and arrogant, if I fail to realize who I am, my fall will surely come.

May God have mercy on us all.

Daniel 9: Confession and Repentance

Daniel 9: Confession and Repentance

The Adult Bible Studies Sunday School curriculum was on the subject of confession and repentance with the primary passage being Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9. This is an interesting and powerful prayer to read and deserves more attention than it gets. They secondarily referred to Psalm 51, which is also an important prayer of confession, and is much better known that Daniel 9. (I wrote a meditation on Psalm 51 here, but didn’t get to it in my Sunday School class.)

One important difference between the two passages is that Daniel 9 is a corporate prayer of repentance, while Psalm 51 is individual. Each has individual elements and corporate elements, but the emphasis is far different. This is why Psalm 51 applies to the sin of David with Bathsheba so well. Daniel, on the other hand, is meditating on the fact that Judah has not been restored.

Daniel is treated as righteous in the Bible. While we assume that he is human, and thus had faults and failings, none are presented. This is notable, since the Bible, unlike many other official histories, does not hesitate to present faults. Much of our historical material about Israel, while based on official chronicles (at least according to the text), are actually written by critics of the various regimes. Yet Daniel is presented positively.

Here, however, Daniel is not afraid of the word “we.” He identifies with his people Israel (or Judah) has failed. He repents for all, and doing so identifies himself with all. There is a fine line here that we need to watch. By taking on the failings of everyone in a group, we can became paralyzed by shame and simple disgust. At the same time, recognizing that we are part of a group that has done certain things is critical. It becomes the foundation of changing the group.

Some want to emphasize the individual aspect of confession and repentance. Others think largely in corporate terms. In a church that has done wrong, treated members badly, provided a poor witness to the community, turned its back on those in need or who are suffering, it’s important for those who pray to confess what the church has done. You may have done everything you could, but at corporate confession time, it’s a matter of the group. I think the answer to corporate vs. personal is flexible and varied. The person in the right who says “let’s” rather than “you should” can be the catalyst of real change in a group or even in a nation.

Here’s a diagram I used in class. Well, actually, I drew with a marker on a white board, and did much worse than this, but whatever!

The scriptures I would apply are 1 John 4:7 & 20. Of course, as always, I recommend reading the entire passage. We try to prioritize loving God over loving one another, but John ties them together, and I think Jesus does as well when he says the second commandment is like the first. You won’t fulfill one without the other.

A good prayer of individual confession and repentance should draw you upward toward God. If it results in wallowing in guilt, you aren’t really getting it. If your prayer of confession distances you from others, you may have a problem.

How corporate should it be? That depends on what is needed. As long as we keep the lines even, drawing closer to others also means drawing closer to God. “Everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God, but the unloving know nothing of God, for God is love” (1 John 1:7-8). You can also test that love for one another by asking whether it draws you and the one you love upward as well.

This is only a short test, and it’s a bit like a pithy one-liner. Yes, you can get off track. But I think it helps. My hope is to keep the lines of even length and yet shorten the distance. Closer to God and closer to others. That should be my goal in life, and especially in confession and repentance. If love fulfills the law (Romans 13:10), then the chief confession is going to be my lack of love, and my repentance will be a turning toward the other points on this triangle.

Try it! It might help!


Here are some books on prayer and forgiveness.