Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dexter and the Necessity of Confession

"When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long." Ps. 32:3

"Get it? It's a pun."
In the T.V. show Dexter, the eponymous protagonist is a sociopath whose foster father taught to direct his homicidal tendencies in more "con- structive" directions, i.e., becoming a serial killer of serial killers and other atrocious criminals. Some of the show's dramatic tension revolves around the usual nonsense about moral ambiguity (which as I've mentioned elsewhere is simply another proof of moral absolutes and our guilt before them), but the primary dramatic tension comes from Dexter's loneliness. Who he is and what he does isolates him from everyone: his coworkers, his sister, his girlfriend/wife. Regardless of the moral question over his actions, he feels there is no one who can really understand him and what he's going through (except his father, who's dead, and other crazy people, who he always winds up having to kill). Thus, the true tragedy of the show is not all the death Dexter causes but the silence he must endure. He longs to be honest with someone about who he is, but he knows he can't.

When God said, "It is not good for man to be alone," He was making a relational proposition. We were not meant for isolation or separation, to hear those awful words, "Depart from me. I never knew you." We are meant to be with others, even if it's just one other, for we are made in the image of the trinitarian God, who has never been alone, even in the time-before-time when He was by Himself. This is what makes Dexter a tragic character: his is the tragedy of Eden. He hides himself because of himself. Fearing rejection, he self-imposes isolation. It is not impossible to imagine that if he did not fear rejection, if he knew that confession would be met with forgiveness and mercy, that shame would be met with love (from his sister, his wife, or anyone)---it is not impossible to imagine that in such a scenario, he would find peace.

Confession is good for the soul, because it is not good for us to be alone. Silence is isolation, and isolation is a slow (perhaps infinite) death, a growing old of the bones through groaning. But unless forgiveness and mercy are guaranteed, unless we know that stepping out in confession is a step into a loving environment, then we will keep silent out of fear. This is what spearheads David's praise in Psalm 32: the truth that "perfect love casts out fear" (I John 4:18). When he kept silent, he found the shadow of death upon him (Ps. 32:3). But when he confessed, he found forgiveness from God, an occasion that causes him to stand still (Ps. 32:5, including the "Selah"). Because of this radical forgiveness, David calls God "my hiding place," a place of safety and deliverance rather than judgment (Ps. 32:7). Forgiveness and mercy are the end of silence and fear and isolation, and "he who trusts in the Lord, mercy shall encompass him" (Ps. 32:10).

God's house is on the corner.
That is why it is "radical" forgiveness: it is completely unexpected. The Holy, Perfect, All-Powerful God who is absolutely and intimately aware of all that you are and have done---that is the one place where we rightly expect judgment, and yet it is the one place we find perfect love desiring to forgive. "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," says the Holy, Perfect God, "but that the wicked would turn from his way and live" (Eze. 33:11). "I knew," said Jonah, "that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and revoking condemnation and calamity" (Jonah 4:2). "Who is a God like you?" exclaims Micah. "Pardoning iniquity and passing by transgression because you delight in mercy and compassion" (Micah 7:18-19). Where is fear now? It is removed. Why should we run and hide? Love is waiting to replace all our ashes with beauty and all our shame with peace.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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