I have been meditating on the idea of confession as an aid to reforming my behavior. I once was of the opinion that is was merely the embarrassment of speaking my sins to another person that would make the reformation of character possible, or perhaps make it a bit more likely. However, it seems to me that simply acknowledging the very real difference in degree and nature of sins, the reality of mortal sins and venial sins is key to the process. At least it seems to be so for me over these last few days.
How is this? Of course all sins require the forgiveness of Christ, no matter how “minor” we may feel that they are, and for unbelievers all sins are mortal sins! But as Christians, sins that are almost inadvertent, nearly automatic you might say, are not of the same quality as those we engage in with full awareness of their evil and with forethought and deliberation we go right ahead and commit them. I don’t imagine it much matters what the exact sin is, it is the deliberate act of rebellion against the known law of our Lord and God that makes them so deadly to us. I don’t know that I understand all of the details of this yet, it is something that I will be learning about as I go forward with my study of the Catholic faith I imagine, but already there is a feeling of rightness, and a desire to do right that has never been this strong in me before. While I understood that deliberate sin was bad, I never really grokked the true magnitude of it before now. Venial sins then would be those sins we commit in the course of our day that we did not make a conscious choice to do, things that come upon us out of no where like snapping at an unruly child or things we do out of habit without thought. Of course we confess these sins to the Lord and maybe to others as well and receive forgiveness, but they are not things that divide us, as baptized Christians, from fellowship with God. But for a Christian to deliberately sin is to reject the authority and love of Christ! It is a totally different thing isn’t it? Then we need to go through a process of returning to the Lord I would think, and confession would be the best way to begin that.
I probably misunderstood the Lutheran teachings on sin totally but it seems to me that in the effort to deny that there is a real difference between mortal sin and venial sin, which I recall at least some do, they were trying to indicate to me the seriousness of all sin, that all sin separates us from God. But in the process of doing that they made the most minor sin of anger equivalent to murder. Of course this is based upon the very words of Christ (Matthew 5:21-26) and how can I argue against that. But even Lutherans must admit that there is a qualitative difference between murder committed in the heart and murder done deliberately in the world! To have the anger in your heart and not express it is certainly a sin and one you bring to the Lord in repentance. But the real world murder is a crime with dire consequences for ones relationship with the Lord, to say nothing of the consequences in the world. It demonstrates a complete disregard for the law of God, it shows that we are, at that moment at least, an unbeliever. Of course none of us can perfectly follow the Law of God in our fallen state, but to sin without deliberation and to be sorry for it is a very different thing from spitting in God’s face by thinking about it and deciding to do what God hates and saying, for example, “I can always repent later on.” That is a terribly dangerous attitude I think.
The difference I see in the Catholic views of Venial and Mortal Sin and the Lutheran view of these ideas is the fact that the Catholic stand is very precise and easy to figure out and the Lutheran’s seem pretty confused and vague about it. That could merely be my own previous misunderstanding though. In either case I’m very grateful to God that I’m now beginning to understand these things and already have found that it is easier to stop myself doing or thinking things that are sinful by recognizing the seriousness of them. (And no, I'm not thinking I can become perfect and stop sinning and somehow earn my way into heaven! Only through Christ can I be forgiven sin.)