The iPhone as a confessional?
By Sylvia Renz
In early February 2011 a news item made headlines: Confessions by iPhone.
The Catholic Church in the United States had approved a confession application for smartphones. For only $2 (US$1.99, to be exact) an application called “Confession” leads believers step by step through the confession of their sins, even adjusting automatically to age, gender, and marital status. A user first needs to check off which of the Ten Commandments he or she has broken. Specific confessions can be texted, as stated on the manufacturer’s Web site. In response the program makes suggestions as to which prayers can be used for restitution. Sinners not so well versed in Scripture can even download Bible texts, together with the corresponding prayers.
According to the developer’s Web page (www.littleiapps.com), the application was developed by a Catholic priest and has been the first iPhone app to receive an imprimatur (that is, the official approval by the Catholic Church), which was given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhodes of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The app should help Catholic Christians lose their fear of confessions, said Patrick Leinen, cofounder of Little iApps. But anyone who thinks that a priest is no longer needed to forgive sins is wrong. “This app is an aid intended to help a person prepare for the sacrament of confession. It is not intended to function as a replacement for confession!”
Aha! So there is no “drive-by confession,” the confession in the subway or doctor’s waiting room. And whoever does not have a smartphone has to continue, as before, to rack their brains to remember all the sins they have committed, until they are confessing them at their next church visit. The cost of forgiveness required by the priest is probably more than $2—measured in time, toil, and self-denial. A huge effort for the ego te absolvo.*
Ostensibly we Adventists have it easier: We do not need a confession app, not even a priest who prescribes 20 special prayers and then absolves us from our guilt. We have this promise in the Word of God: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). This confession can be done anytime and anywhere. We do not need a smartphone or other modern technology, nor do we need a confessional or a priest. Our prayers are carried directly to God’s throne in the Most Holy Place by the Holy Spirit (Heb. 6:19). This probably happens faster than the speed of light.
And yet for many of God’s children it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to accept forgiveness by faith. We often say: “I cannot forgive myself.” Perhaps it is hard for us to believe in forgiveness, because we don’t feel it. The burden of guilt weighs heavily on our shoulders and sits like a ton of bricks on our chest so that we can no longer breathe or walk upright. But our feelings of guilt do not tell the truth. They contradict the fact that God has indeed forgiven, even though we have no human being to audibly express this forgiveness, nor have we paid any money, made a pilgrimage, or knelt for hours on a hard floor—as a tangible “receipt” of His forgiveness.
Now it’s our job to dismiss the self-accusations and allegations, which Satan, the merciless accuser, whispers into our ears: “You’ve done it again! You’ll never learn! No, this time God cannot forgive you. You will never overcome. You’re a failure.”
If we believe the veracity of what Paul wrote in the letter to the Romans, we can ward off Satan’s fiery arrows. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (Rom. 8:31-34).
And if that does not help yet, then perhaps we should remember Jesus’ conversation with Peter. “How often must I forgive my brother?” asked Peter, and he thought that seven times would be more than enough (see Matt. 18:21). Jesus, however, multiplied the seven with 70—not giving us permission to be unforgiving after the 491st time, but showing us that we should always be willing to forgive others. If Jesus requires this of sinful people, how much more would this apply to our heavenly Father, who is love personified?
In those agonizing moments that guilt and shame seem to suffocate me, I tell myself that I should not treat myself worse than I would treat my best friend. Would I forgive her? Of course! Even if she made the same mistake again and again and regretted it? Oh, yes! So why should I be so merciless toward myself, even torture myself because I’m not quite as “good” as I would like to be?
The Power of Grace
At this point someone might get the idea that we could blissfully carry on sinning, because God’s mercy is never-ending, and He will always forgive when we ask for forgiveness.
However, anyone who asks for forgiveness in the form of a formula—like inserting a coin into a vending machine and out pops the desired product—has not yet understood what guilt is. Guilt causes damage, pain, worry, and grief. It not only hurts my fellow human beings—it hurts me. Even worse, God’s name is trampled underfoot when His children bring shame upon Him.
And yet He is still willing to forgive. He has paid the price for our debt. God’s grace is free, but not cheap. Quite the opposite: the loving heart of God paid the greatest conceivable price and made the ultimate sacrifice. He surrendered His Son to His enemies (Rom. 5:8-10). This is how much He values us! Not just humanity as a whole, but each individual—because Jesus would have died for a single person, including you and me.
Unfortunately this is often head knowledge—we know it all. Does it reach into our hearts? When it does, we can lift our heads again and take a deep breath: We are saved; we are free! n
*?Ego te absolvo means “I absolve you,” and is spoken by a Catholic priest following a confession.
Sylvia Renz works for the German Voice of Prophecy in Alsbach-H?hnlein, Germany. She is an accomplished author and has published numerous books for children and adults.