Once Frederick the Great of Prussia was touring one of his country’s largest prison facilities. Word had quickly spread among the prisoners that the king was in the building and their excitement grew at the prospect of receiving a king’s pardon. As King Frederick passed each of the cells the prisoner would call out to him pleading their case. They yelled things like, “I’m innocent!”, “I was framed”, or “Give me justice!”.
Occasionally he would stop and listen to a prisoner’s account of how he had landed in the prison despite his innocence of the crime he’d been charged with and then, unmoved, continue on. Finally, King Frederick passed one particular cell and it was completely silent. His curiosity was aroused. In the back of the cell, in a dark shadow, a man sat on a bench looking down at the floor. The king called out to him, “Sir, aren’t you going to plead your case to me as well?”
The man, paused for a moment, looked up at him, and said, “No, your highness, I’m guilty of everything they said I did. I’m right where I belong.”
King Frederick immediately turned to the guards and cried, “Free this guilty man at once, before he corrupts all the innocents!”
I’m not sure how historically grounded this anecdote is but it serves as a powerful parable about the freeing power of confession. We live in an age that teaches that guilt is unhealthy and that we need to learn to be OK with ourselves. The problem is that we cannot find true freedom if we are only in the business of guilt management. If we delude ourselves into thinking we are merely the product of our social environment or forced into our actions by a series of incidents beyond our control, we never truly come face to face with our true sinfulness and never experience the redemption and liberation that comes from God’s grace. The scripture says if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive them, but until we look the king in the eye and tell him we’re guilty as charged, we cannot receive His pardon. St. Augustine said it best: “Assume nothing; one thief was saved. Presume nothing; one thief was damned.”
Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…