You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (James 2.8, NRSV)
Forgiveness is the answer to the child’s dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again. (Dag Hammarskjold)
We have discussed the necessary and fundamentally significant act of forgiveness – or, at least, the genuine beginning(s) of working toward full and free forgiveness – of others, so often left out or skimmed over in many 12-Step recovery programs. Now, however, we move on to the other side of our list.
Remember, as important and ultimately, blessedly beneficial as it is to forgive … we also need to be forgiven, and that with the intention of making amends, if possible. This involves real “down in the trenches” kind of love, in this time, in this world. Specifically, it involves the love of others at least as much we love ourselves, to wit, the second great commandment given by the Lord Jesus. As the 19th century American Episcopal priest and theologian, William P. DuBose, explained:
We are not to love God instead of our neighbor, or heaven instead of earth, but to love God in our neighbor, and make heaven out of earth. If we have not loved the visible, how shall we love the invisible? If we have not been faithful in the earthly, we will not be so in the heavenly… Human life grows up, or is built up, from the ground; it needs to get the proper good of all of its stages in order to have its complete and perfect good in the end.
The past – our past – is certainly one of the “stages” of life from which we need to “get the proper good.” And getting “the proper good” certainly entails loving our sisters, brothers, neighbors at least enough (and ideally more) to admit our sins against them, the harm we have caused, and make amends – i.e. right the wrong(s) – as much as reasonably possible, with the help of God.
After all, as holy Scripture teaches and DuBose pointed out, how can we genuinely love and be fully reconciled with God, who is invisible, if we do not authentically love and make the effort to be reconciled with those we have wronged, who are visible?
To return to an earlier analogy, this is part of cleaning our mirrors, but there is also another deeply spiritual and psychological benefit in listing those whom we have wronged with the intention of making amends. You see, if we do not, then those faults and offenses (sometimes grievous) are always present within us.
This is something I know from personal experience, but also the story of Zacchaeus immediately comes to mind. The story is one of the best known and most popular of the Gospels. Zacchaeus was a mendacious, despised tax collector in the employment of the imperial Roman authority, and filled with greed, he had accumulated great wealth (as so many tax collectors) by his fraudulent practices in and around the city of Jericho. But then someone very unique, very special, and very powerful came along.
“Jesus came to the city of Jericho and was passing through it.” Of course, Zacchaeus had heard of this Jesus of Nazareth, and for some reason he desperately wanted to see him. It may only be speculation, but one might say that, greedy and fraudulent as he had been, there was something good stirring inside his soul … perhaps some conviction of sin with the attendant desire to be forgiven. I believe the whole of the story warrants this assumption.
Jesus spies Zacchaeus up in the tree he had to climb in order to see over the crowds. And so Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your house today.” And as the story goes, Zacchaeus scrambled down the tree, more than happy to have Jesus stay in his house as an honored guest. Of course, naturally, this upset the crowd of people who knew Zacchaeus all-too-well. Was the Lord Jesus just that ignorant? No, of course not, the people knew this. So, did he simply not care that Zacchaeus was essentially an outrageous, disreputable thief in the employment of an oppressive empire? No, I don’t believe that was the case either.
Ah, but it was left for Zacchaeus to answer instead of Jesus, who was willing (if he had not already) to forgive the man. Nevertheless, it is the mendacious tax collector who speaks directly to the Lord but, in effect of course, to the entire crowd. And what does he say? “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” What, in effect, was Zacchaeus saying? To what was he committing himself?
Every tax collector kept records, so first and foremost we may reasonably assume Zacchaeus committed himself to closely examining his records and making a list of all those whom he had cheated, which naturally includes the idea or procuring their forgiveness. More than this, however, Zacchaeus goes beyond planning to make amends by proffering “four times as much” in restitution of what he has stolen, and half of his ill-gotten wealth to the poor. You see, this is why we may say something was already stirring in his heart and why he wanted to see Jesus.
And how does Jesus respond? He responds by saying, “Today salvation has come to this house…” Amen. As the Congregational minister, Washington Gladden, told his congregation, “God’s atoning love seeks to reconcile all people unto himself. You simply cannot be in harmony with him while you are at enmity with your neighbor… O beloved, is it not clear that if we desire to be the children of God in heaven, we cannot have any enemies?” Having to carry the burden of our sins against others is too much, too heavy. We cannot but lay them down.
To rid ourselves of this poison in our hearts, minds and souls, “we recognize and accept that God has commanded us to … make amends for the sins we have committed against others, to the most reasonable extent possible … prayerfully and carefully … listing those we have wronged and harmed, with the genuine intention of making amends those people.” This is the “flip-side” of our Eighth Step in the Twelve Steps Along the Road of Redemption, right?
Some may even now be anticipating difficulties in completing this step – impediments, impossibilities or whatnot – but let’s wait to address that in the next step, shall we? Until then, God’s gracious blessings as we continue travelling this most sacred path…
Down through the years, I have met and spoken with (or heard from) individuals who have been so deeply hurt, so unimaginably wounded, that it was practically impossible for them to simply forgive the offender(s) and forget the offenses, abuses, exploitations and whatnot in one “fell-swoop,” so to speak. And I was pondering this extraordinarily difficult problem as we have now incorporated it into to Step Eight in our Twelve Steps Along the Road of Redemption.
At the end of our last article, we stated that where deep and grievous wounds and horrific sin is concerned, “we simply begin by listing … those who have wronged or harmed us … prayerfully and carefully, with the real intention to … forgive, however long and arduous the process…,” concluding that “at this point – this very difficult point – this is enough.” Touché. But then the question came to mind, “Is there possibly some sort of ‘stepping stone’ that might help at this stage in the journey?”
This question was quickly followed by another, the origin of which I dare not speculate; however, I found myself asking, “Is there any difference between forgiveness and pardon?” This query was immediately followed by the obvious, “Even if there is some difference, how might that help individuals struggling so painfully with scars and wounds and bruises from their past … injuries for which they bear no guilt but were (and are), in fact, purely victim?”
When listing those who have wronged or harmed us, and for many people, taking into consideration the extraordinarily difficult, practically impossible imperative to forgive one or some of those individuals, can any differentiation help them along? Can we here possibly offer something of a “stepping stone?” Well, to be perfectly honest, I am not sure; however, I would like to offer my idea, nevertheless, in the prayerful hope that it does help at least some. But first indulge me in defining our terms. (As boring as it may seem, it is necessary, so…)
To “pardon,” in the verbal sense, means “to forgive or excuse (a person, error, or offense); release (an offender) from the legal consequences of an offense of conviction, and often implicitly from blame.” And although synonymous with “forgive,” it seems to have a more juridical/legal sense in meaning as we can ascertain from its etymology.
The word “pardon” comes from the late 13th century Old French “pardon,” which in turn derives from the earlier Vulgar Latin “perdonare” that was, by 11th – 13th centuries, used in an explicitly ecclesiastical/judicial sense meaning “passing over an offense without punishment.” By the late 14th century the word in Anglo-French came to mean the “release from penalty or obligation.” Is this not rather juridical in emphasis? Keep this in mind as we now turn to “forgive.”
To “forgive,” in common parlance, simply means “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone (for an offense, flaw, or mistake).” The etymology of this word comes from the Old English “forgiefan,” which is a combination of “for,” which meant “completely,” and “giefan,” which meant “give.” Now, the Old English word was used as we do in the modern sense, but also in other senses as well, such as: “to give up” or “to give in marriage.”
This is noteworthy as at this point we may ask, is any differentiation between “forgive” and “pardon” real or simply imagined? May I submit that there is some real difference, especially when taking into consideration the etymology and usage of both words, and that this can possibly be used as a “stepping stone” for someone who is struggling toward full and free forgiveness of both offender(s) and offense(s).
Note first the more juridical usage of “pardon.” Of course, naturally, the offender is involved, yet the focus seem to be (to whatever degree) more upon the offense or crime. On the other hand, in the word and usage “forgive,” while it certainly includes offense(s), the focus seems to be (again to whatever degree) more upon the individual. Now add to this differentiation the possibility of individuation – that is, the idea of separating or distinguishing “items or individuals,” or in our case, offender and offense(s).
Is this possible? Can someone, the victim, separate the perpetrator from the crime(s)? Is individuation possible in this case? I humbly submit that it is possible, if we return to one of the specific Old English usages of “forgive,” or specifically “forgiefan.” In other words, could we not use “forgive” in the sense of “giving up,” or “forth-giving,” the offender to God? And, moreover, do this without offering perdonare, that is, merely “passing over the offense?”
How many times have I heard someone say, in so many words, “Every time I try to address the issue, I always see his (or her) face… I hear his (or her) voice. It’s like I just can’t get away from him (or her).” Might it be possible for the individual to forgive the offender as one sinful human being, as much as is reasonably possible and with the help of God, thus removing to some real degree the individual, personified dam blocking the fresh, clean, cool waters of healing the victim so desperately needs?
At this point, I must note also that many folks I have heard and/or spoken with seem to believe that forgiving the offender, abuser or perpetrator, is tantamount to excusing their offense(s), their hideous act(s) of wickedness. Nothing could be further from the truth. In forgiving, as we have described it above as “forth-giving” the offender to God, is an άctus grάtia, or act of grace, on the individual’s part. It is not an άctus remίssio, or act of remission as in “the remission of sins.”
Still, is even this much possible as a “stepping stone” within Step Eight along the Road of Redemption? Well, as one having been “saved by grace through faith in Christ,” and having walked the steps the individual has already walked, it is possible, though certainly not at all easy. However, very pertinent to forgiveness of the horrific offender are the scriptural truths that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” thus there “is none righteous; no, not one.”
Yet in spite of this, and even though we may cringe at the thought where certain people are concerned, “God … desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” This is the foundation for the forgiveness of the individual, personified sinner as an άctus grάtia on our part. And again one must realize that s/he is not pardoning the act(s) of wickedness; rather, for the time being at least, one is leaving this – the άctus judiciάlis – in the hands of God, who “sits enthroned forever, (and) has established his throne for judgment … with righteousness … with equity.” And so shall “judge (one) according to (his/her) deeds.”
Thus in this “interlude” I have attempted to answer my question, and in so doing have hopefully (and prayerfully) helped at least someone. To begin with forgiving without pardoning is, after all, to begin and may very well help both clear the way for personal healing as well as render the necessary chore of filling out the “other side” of the list less difficult; after all, whatever we ourselves have endured, somewhere along the line we have also offended and wronged others.
 The Oxford American College Dictionary, 992
 The Oxford American College Dictionary, 526
 Cf. Jennifer Bothamley, Dictionary of Theories, 275
 Derived from Leo Stelten, Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin, Passim; Note: Double checked by two online sources
 Ibid, Passim; Note: Double checked by two online sources
 Cf. Eph. 2.8
 Rom. 3.23, RSV
 Rom. 3.10, RSV; Cf. also Ecc. 7.20
 I Tim. 3.4, NRSV
 Ibid, 294
 Ps. 9.7-8, RSV alt.
 Sir. 16.12b, ESV alt.
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11.25, RSV)
To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (C. S. Lewis)
All along, at every step in this series, we have enhanced, or amplified, the wording of the more traditional twelve steps in twelve step recovery programs in order to show just how deeply and profoundly they relate to our redemption and reconciliation with God. Here at Step Eight, however, we will do more than simply amplify; we will actually emend the Step that classically reads, “We made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”
While this is absolutely, fundamentally necessary in “cleaning our mirrors,” it leaves out another equally important need at this point. In fact it jumps over, or ignores, an obligation given by the Lord Jesus himself and in so doing (in my humble opinion) makes the completion on Step Eight all the more difficult for psychological and spiritual reasons. You see, while we certainly desire to obtain the forgiveness of others and make amends if possible, forgiveness of others on our part is the font of our own forgiveness.
Consequently, our emendation of Step Eight will be as follows:
We recognized and accepted that God has commanded us to both forgive those who have wronged, or sinned, against us, and to make amends for the sins we have committed against others, to the most reasonable extent possible; thus, we prayerfully and carefully began by listing both those who had wronged or harmed us as well as those we had wronged and harmed, (with the genuine intention of making amends those people.)
And this is, obviously, something we dare not do sloppily with a slaphappy attitude. This will require much prayer and meditation, with the attendant help of God and, most likely, others whom we can trust to counsel, guide, direct, and encourage.
In teaching his disciples how to pray, in what we refer to as “the Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus includes, “Forgive us for the wrong things we have done, the way we forgive those who have done wrong things to us…” and he then explains this by telling them, “If you forgive others for the wrong things they have done, then your Father in heaven will forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you for the wrong things you have done”
An excellent elucidation of this is found in the Wisdom of ben Sirach, which explicitly warns, “If you forgive someone who has wronged you, your sins will be forgiven when you pray. You cannot expect the Lord to pardon you while you are holding a grudge against someone else. You yourself are a sinner, and if you won’t forgive another person, you have no right to pray that the Lord will forgive your sins. If you cannot get rid of your anger, you have no hope of forgiveness—you are only a human being.”
If we must forgive others as prerequisite to God forgiving us, then also we must forgive others as prerequisite to others forgiving us. The same principle applies horizontally as well as vertically. And note importantly, too, the connection ben Sirach makes between healing and forgiveness, which stands to reason, really. How can one genuinely and profitably begin to atone and make amends for his/her own sins against others when s/he is filled with the poison of anger, animosity, bitterness and the like? Or truly begin to heal while filled with such poison?
The late 19th/early 20th century Congregational minister and social activist, Washington Gladden, rightly explained to his congregation:
To be forgiven is to be brought into harmony with God, to be one with him in thought and wish and will. But God’s atoning love seeks to reconcile all people unto himself; and his forgiveness embraces all his children. You simply cannot be in harmony with him while you are at enmity with your neighbor… O beloved, is it not clear that if we desire to be the children of God in heaven, we cannot have any enemies?
To say that this is not easy would be an extremely gross understatement, especially for so many who have been so deeply harmed and horribly wounded in life. In fact, it may very well be that, without special divine intervention, forgiving some particular individual instantaneously is impossible. Forgiveness may be, and often is, an excruciating and long process, given the particulars of whatever is ultimately to be pardoned. What then? Should we expect God to withhold forgiveness of our sins and wrongdoings in the meantime?
I certainly do not believe this to be the case at all. God is infinitely loving, kind, patient and, yes, empathetic. And I purposely use the word “empathetic” because the author of the Epistle (or Letter) to the Hebrews reminds us that “because He Himself [in His humanity] has suffered in being tempted (tested and tried), He is able [immediately] to run to the cry of (and assist, relieve) those who are being tempted and tested and tried [and who therefore are being exposed to suffering].” Thus, the Lord truly does understand and empathize.
So what do we do, then? Well, at this stage, Step Eight, we simply begin by listing both those who have wronged or harmed us, as well as those we have wronged and harmed, prayerfully and carefully, with the real intention to both forgive, however long and arduous the process, and to make amends to those whose forgiveness we seek and need. At this point ~ this very difficult point ~ this is enough. If we cannot presently forgive some individual(s), fully and freely, then our serious and prayerful intention to progress toward that goal with the help of God is enough.
Otherwise, of course, we do forgive each and everyone we legitimately can forgive fully and freely, and we do so now, without hesitation, putting whatever hurt or wrong behind us … like water flowing under the bridge out into the sea of forgetfulness, and we move on.
 Mt. 6.12, WE/NT
 Mt. 6.14-15, WE/NT
 Sir. 28.2-5, GNT
 Washington Gladden, Present Day Theology, Third Edition, 191
 Heb. 2.18, AMP
Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Mt. 7. 7-8, NRSV)
Purge me from every sinful blot;
My idols all be cast aside:
Cleanse me from every evil thought,
From all the filth of self and pride.
The hatred of the carnal mind
Out of my flesh at once remove:
Give me a tender heart, resigned,
And pure, and full of faith and love.
(Bl. John Wesley of England)
So here we are now, with the mirror of our souls turned towards God, Windex® and clean rags in hand, looking at the nasty coating that covers much of the glass and realizing, as we have said, that in and of ourselves we cannot scrub hard enough and long enough to perfectly clean the mirror, much less keep it clean. We have come to realize that, while there is plenty of work for us to do, there are simply some things we cannot do in and of ourselves, apart from God. Point in fact, there are some things that, ultimately, only God can do, so … what now?
At first glance, Step Seven in traditional twelve-step recovery programs seems simple enough: “We humbly asked God (or our Higher Power) to remove our shortcomings.” However, there is decidedly more significance here than one might imagine, because it becomes and is the necessary culmination – the “rounding out,” you might say – of Step Six. Moreover, it points very clearly to the truth of our being human, created in the image and likeness of God.
Consequently, once again for our purposes, let us first amend Step Seven to read:
More than being prepared, and more than merely wishing and wanting, we asked God to remove our faults, failures, and deficiencies, bearing in mind the fundamental principle that “you have not because you ask not;” thus, we asked, believing that God would, in fact, do what we could not do in and of ourselves.
In the introductory article to this series, “Twelve Steps Along the Road of Redemption,” the subtitle is, “The Theology Behind 12-Step Recovery Programs,” and here at this point that theology is (or ought to be and hopefully will be) very clear. You see, God created humans as spiritual beings with reasoning capabilities and free-will. As the 20th century Russian theologian, Vladimir Lossky, explains, “… union with God is not the result of an organic or unconscious process: it is accomplished in persons by the co-operation of the Holy Spirit and our freedom.”
This is really the theological undergirding for the whole path of redemption, but we can (and should) see this especially in Step Seven. Make no mistake, salvation comes from God and is made possible by God alone, by grace through faith in Christ. However, this does not negate or contradict the fundamental truth that redemption and reconciliation with God necessarily involves our cooperation.
This is why Moses could say, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live..” And likewise his successor in leadership, Joshua, “… choose this day whom you will serve…” We also see this in the story of Blind Bartimaeus when Jesus asks him, “‘What do you want me to do for you?’” Of course, Bartimaeus answered, “‘Let me see again.’”
Bartimaeus knew his condition very well. Bartimaeus knew he could not cure himself or, to return to the earlier analogy, he could not “clean his mirror.” Bartimaeus knew the only one who could was coming down the road … was present. Obviously, he deeply desired to see and very likely this is something Bartimaeus had thought about every day. Yet for all of that, he could have simply sat on the side of the road, wishing and waiting, without uttering a word.
Bartimaeus could have sat there hoping Jesus would turn aside from the road and simply do for him what he could not do for himself, but what would have been the result of his silence? The answer to this may be mere speculation, but Bartimaeus did not simply sit and wait. He cried out for help… He asked. Or, rather, to be technical about it all, Jesus asked him and then Bartimaeus made his request known. It amounts to the same, though, as it does for us.
Thankfully, our Lord Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given you,” meaning that which is good. As Craig Keener points out, in what should be obvious, Jesus is speaking to those who “seek for the good of his kingdom and their basic needs … people who share kingdom values,” that is, the ideals and principles of God. It is asking the almighty and everlasting One to draw up alongside us, grab the cleaner and rags, so to speak, and begin the work of whole and complete purification that is beyond us.
We ask, or make our desire known, explicit, thus completing or “rounding out” Step Six. And God responds. Yes, the Lord responds lovingly, graciously, willingly in cleaning the mirror of our souls … but only with our cooperation, as we shall see as we continue our Twelve Steps Along the Road of Redemption.
 A Catechism of the Christian Doctrine of the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, 8th ed., 1.10
 V. Lossky, Mystical Theology, 216 as quoted by Norman Russell, Fellow Workers With God, 152-153
 Cf. Eph. 2.8
 Dt. 30.19, ESV
 Jos. 24.15b, ESV
 Cf. Mk. 10.46-52
 C. Keener, IVP New Testament Commentary Series, vol. 1: Mathew, 160
Your minds, then, must be sober and ready for action; put all your hope in the grace brought to you by the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Pt. 1.13, NJB)
Success depends upon previous preparation, and without such preparation there is sure to be failure. (Confucius)
You have an opportunity now to discover a deeper spirituality. New possibilities await you. Consider your own life. Notice God’s love drawing you carefully, almost imperceptibly, to the unique … degree of the Christian life. You stand on a stepping stone, the starting place on the road to ideal spirituality (and) you may begin living on this level now, before you die, as well as for eternity. (From The Cloud of Unknowing, Anonymous)
In my own journal, I recently wrote, “Have I turned the mirror of my soul toward You? Do I reflect Your light in my life and work? Are You able to shine in and through me and my writing? Or is the glass of my spirit too coated with dust and grim? Or, worse, have I not completely turned the mirror of my soul toward You, Radiance of All?” I laid my journal aside to spend some time in deep reflection and prayer.
I was inspired to write this by St. Gregory of Nyssa, who compares the soul to a mirror either turned toward God, reflecting his effulgence, or turned away to reflect the transient things of this world, while accumulating a lot of gunk and grime in the process. Our first parents, according to Christian belief (and the other Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam), turned the mirrors of their souls away from God, and humanity has largely been doing the same ever since.
We can, of course, turn the mirrors of our souls back toward God, and this is really what steps One through Five has involved, but now we come to the point of actually cleaning the mirror, with the fundamentally necessary help of the almighty and everlasting Spirit of Life, Light and Truth. To put it in, perhaps, somewhat crass terms, it is time to get out the Windex® and clean rags for some good, hard scrubbing.
In traditional twelve-step recovery programs, participants at this point declare, “We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.” Excellent, but again for our purposes, we will say, “We were prepared and deeply desired to have God wash us and cleanse us – mind, body and soul – and to make us whole and holy, so that people might no longer see us so much as God living in and through us, to the praise and glory of the Lord.”
What does this mean, though, to be prepared and deeply desire? Well, God created humanity as reasoning, free moral agents, with the ability to observe, investigate, analyze, and draw conclusions about life and the world around us. We also possess the ability to do the same inwardly, spiritually. And so in contemplative prayer and meditation, we scrutinize our “mirror,” our soul, and come to an important conclusion.
As we see the gunk and grime plastered on the glass, and we consider both our own innate limitations and also how fundamentally important God has been in every step along the path of redemption, we realize that even with “Windex® and clean rags” in hand, so to speak, we simply cannot, in and of ourselves, scrub hard enough or long enough to perfectly clean our mirror, much less keep it clean… And this leads (ideally, hopefully) to genuine humility. (And we should emphasize genuine humility as opposed to despair!)
If I have a plumbing or electrical problem in my home, then there is very little I can do to fix the problem(s). I am not an electrician or a plumber, so I need the help of someone experienced in these trades. And, naturally, I have to admit this to myself and be prepared to ask for help and, of course, desire that help. Otherwise, my home is sure to be ruined, or at least badly damaged. In contemplation, you see, I humbly (out of sheer necessity) recognize my own limitations.
Examples abound. I am not a medical doctor nor an airplane pilot. I am not an agriculturalist nor a marine biologist. I am not an anesthesiologist nor a welder. There is, in fact, far more in life that I am not than I am, and this is simple recognition of truth. The same is the case in Step Six except, perhaps, in a broader and much deeper sense. We recognize we are not God, and while God asks and expects our cooperation, there are some things ultimately only God can do.
From the soil of the humble recognition of our condition and our own innate limitations springs forth preparation and desire. As we look closely at the mirror, now turned toward God in heavenly effulgence, the dust and dirt are quite evident; however, there is something else equally important that we also notice. And it is that truth, so fundamental to the nature of humanity, which gives us hope while preserving us from despair.
You see, contrary to the unfortunate teaching of some minority of Christians, the mirror – our mirror – was never so stained and soiled as to completely cover all of the glass. Consequently, as we look even now, we can see something of the light of God reflected in our souls. We can begin to apprehend what we might yet be – an impressive, wonderfully made mirror – and that only serves to deepen our desire.
And so we take the next step in our journey, and we ask…
 Cf. Sr. Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation, 31-33
 Cf. Gen. 2.15 – 3.24; Qur’an 7.11-27
 Note: It is not my purpose here to cast aspersions upon fellow Christians; however, in Western Christianity particularly, and in some parts of the Western world more than in others, Christianity has followed along the theological lines of St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc., especially where the depravity of humanity is concerned, to such an extent that it is important to make the distinction.
But you are merciful to all because you can do all things; you overlook people’s sin in order to bring them to repentance; for all existing things are dear to you and you hate nothing that you have created — why else would you have created it? How could any thing have continued in existence, had it not been your will? How could it have endured unless called into being by you? You spare all things because they are yours, O Lord, who love all that lives; for your imperishable breath is in every one of them. (Wis. 11.23 – 12.1, REB)
What are human beings, that you think of them; mere mortals, that you care for them? Yet you made them inferior only to the gods; you crowned them with glory and honor. You appointed them rulers over everything you made; you placed them over all creation. (Ps. 8.4-6, GNT)
… the divine image is present not simply in one or two … aspects of human identity but in all of them. They are many facets of the splendid jewel that each person can become. God invites us to remove the dirt hiding these facets and polish them until they shine with the beauty God bestows on each of us. (Sister Nonna Verna Harrison)
Step Five ended with warning. Step Six will begin with encouragement, which is why this particular step is being divided into two separate parts. In making confession and preparing ourselves to make significant changes within our lives, with the necessary help of God, we also need to realize first and foremost that this is good, healthy and positive movement further and further into the divinely abundant, beautiful life the Eternal One always intended for us from the very beginning. It is decidedly not berating or beating oneself up, nor is it — and this is very important — falsely accusing oneself with the attendant desire to change where change may not be necessary.
And this is also why it is important to have someone wise and mature, loving and completely trustworthy to whom we unburden our souls. Of course, ultimately, we ask the Spirit of God to superintend; after all, it is the Spirit who necessarily guides and directs us every step along the way, or path, of redemption. Yet still, the Spirit of Wisdom will often (perhaps most often?) speak in and through our confessor(s). You see, this is a safeguard not only to ensure that we are plumbing the depths of our soul in admitting our faults, failings, shortcomings and wrong-doings; it is also the reins by which we are pulled back from false, or unnecessary, self-condemnation.
This is fundamentally imperative for some (many?) folks to understand. There are those who, tragically, grew up in abusive homes, for example – whether physical, verbal, psychological, spiritual or all of the above — and they may very well be prone to quickly and completely condemn themselves, the whole of their lives, past and present. Consequently, they may very well believe that, if it is possible even for almighty God, everything needs to be forgiven, amended, changed and whatnot. Along with genuine, authentic faults and wrongs, they see nothing good in themselves whatsoever because they were constantly torn down, degraded, humiliated and hurt. And when none of these insidious evils were being committed, they were simply marginalized, ignored. To an extent, I personally understand.
God does not degrade, marginalize and ignore; consequently, these steps are not at all about divine or self-abuse … or abuse from any other source for that matter. It is, rather, all about what Sister Nonna Harrison says: It is ”remov(ing) the dirt hiding these facets of the splendid jewel” we are meant to be and can be, “and polish(ing) them until they shine with the beauty God bestows on each of us.” Each and every human being is an image-bearer of God, fashioned in divine likeness and, thus, worthy of genuine love, authentic respect, and equal dignity. Each and every human being was “made … inferior only to the gods (and) … crowned … with glory and honor,” as the Psalmist teaches.
Committing adultery, stealing from the company, starting fights, being envious and purposefully obnoxious, arrogant and whatnot is the sort of faults, failings, shortcomings and wrong-doings — sin — we are talking about here. Being a slow typist, accident prone, stuttering, struggling with depression, or suffering from physical handicap is not; neither are so many warped ideas inculcated in children by narrow-minded, legalistic fundamentalists that they are nothing more than abject sinners, who are not good and can never really be good … at least never good enough. These children often grow up into adults, who see themselves as lumps of coal rather than many-splendid jewels loved by God.
So, Step Six involves being prepared to have God, with our cooperation, remove our faults and moral defects — sin(s) — to cleanse and purify us in our innermost being. Essentially, following open and honest confession, it involves the Spirit remaking us from the inside-out. This the Almighty is willing to do in order to make us healthier, stronger, happier and truly fulfilled on our blessed journey that will never end. Yes, the step will still be a tough one, but necessary and ultimately an unimaginable blessing, as we shall see.
Do not be ashamed to confess your sins, and do not try to stop the current of a river, for he who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord always; but he who hardens his heart will fall into calamity. (Sir. 4.26; Pr. 28.13-14, RSV)
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5.16a, RSV)
Confession is good for the soul. (Old Scottish Proverb)
Once upon a time, there was an affable, pleasant village that depended upon a mountain stream for its water supply – fresh, clean, cool water – and it was the responsibility of the village to make certain the stream remained clean. People would then volunteer to periodically hike up along the stream, clearing out debris and whatever rubbish to ensure the continued purity of the stream.
As time passed on, though, fewer and fewer people volunteered for the task, and those who did allowed more and more time to elapse before tracking up the mountain to do the necessary work. Eventually, the stream began to shrink, and the water that did flow was not as fresh and clean. When it finally became apparent that the water was now making people sick, the village remembered their forsaken duty.
Consequently, several men and women trekked up along the stream clearing out debris and rubbish so the mountain stream could once again flow down into the village with its fresh, clean, cool water. Not surprisingly, the good health of the village returned and the people vowed never again to forget and neglect their all-important duty of keeping the stream pure. And so, too, they passed this story down to their children and their children’s children.
This is the difference between confessed and unconfessed faults, failings, shortcomings, wrongdoing – or to use the more traditional and much simpler term, sin – and it is an undeniably fundamentally important difference. Not only is it the difference between purity and impurity in one’s life; it is very often the difference between health and sickness, whether of mind, body or soul, or all together. Confession is clearing out the rubbish to ensure life is fresh and clean.
Now, however, we come down to the nitty-gritty of confession itself. You will notice in the story that several people did the hiking and work of clearing; it was not a “one-man show.” Well, neither is confession, or at least it should not be strictly private. For genuine confession to work as it should, others must be involved. Yes, of course, God is another, but is it not strange that it is this same God who commands us to “confess your sins to one another?”
In traditional twelve step recovery programs, the fifth step involves admitting “to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” Good, but for our purpose in walking the path of redemption, we will rephrase Step Five to read, “We confessed our sins to God, fully and freely, without hesitation or reservation, as well as to some mature and godly individual(s), as the Lord has commanded; humbly accepting the counsel of the Spirit of Wisdom and Truth, as well as that of our confessor(s), through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Personally, I always felt it easier to close the door to my bedroom, kneel down and confess my sins to God in private than to stand next to a priest in front of an icon of Christ (as is customary in the Eastern Orthodox tradition) and admit my faults, failings and shortcomings. Obviously, it had something to do with another flesh-and-blood human being present to hear me admit what was sometimes excruciatingly painful to admit. Alone in my bedroom, God seemed somehow remote; present, yes, but not quite so present as someone I could literally reach out and touch.
The same may be true for you, though you do not have to make confession to a priest, pastor, elder, deacon or what-have-you. However, as an important note of caution, when you make confession to another, what or whomever s/he is, you need to be as confident as you reasonably can be that the person is definitely wiser and more mature, and above all trustworthy. This would also hold true where many are present, such as in discipleship groups, with the additional precaution that more time may be required to build such trust within a group.
Regardless of the number(s) involved, the ancient proverb still holds true. Confession really is good for the soul. As the late Lutheran bible scholar, Richard Lenski, rightly explains, there are at least two obvious benefits: “1) to unbosom to a brother is itself a relief, 2) to hear the absolution pronounced in God’s name affords additional peace. We are so constituted as to need both.” Douglas Moo adds, “Mutual confession of sins, which James encourages as a habitual practice, is greatly beneficial to the spiritual vitality of the church.” 
On the other hand, while this is true, it is only completely true when we go on to take the next step or, to go back to the opening illustration, we can easily apply the clearing of debris and rubbish to Step Six. Point in fact, steps Five and Six are so intertwined as to practically be one Step in and of themselves, as we shall see.
In the meantime, heed the scriptural admonition, “Do not say, ‘I sinned, and what happened to me?’ for the Most High is slow to anger. Do not be so confident of atonement that you add sin to sin. Do not say, ‘His mercy is great, he will forgive the multitude of my sins,’ for both mercy and wrath are with him, and his anger rests on the sinners. Do not delay to turn to the Lord, nor postpone it from day to day; for suddenly the wrath of the Lord will go forth, and at the time of punishment you will perish.”
Indeed, take Step Five and have your other foot already ready for Step Six…
 Credit for this story must go to the 20th century Scottish-American minister, the Rev. Peter Marshall, (1902 -1949) who served for a time as U. S. Senate Chaplain. Beyond this attribution, however, I cannot cite an actual written source. Consequently, going on memory alone, I am certain that I have altered the original, perhaps considerably, yet not to such an extent that credit need not be given.
 R. C. H. Lenski, James, 666
 Douglas Moo, James, 188
 Sir. 5.4-7, RSV