Bonhoeffer on the impotence of “Self forgiveness”

I published this back in June, but I found the need to refresh myself with it again today and thought you might be challenged by it again (or for the first) so republish it.

In Life Together Bonhoeffer has a provocative discussion about the all too common practice of confessing and forgiving ourselves. We don’t confess our sins to a fellow trusted believer. Bonhoeffer is forceful: this is not real confession and, therefore, not real forgiveness; and so we continue in the secret sin.

Why is it often easier for us to acknowledge our sins before God than before another believer? God is holy and without sin, a just judge of evil, an an enemy of all disobedience. But another Christian is sinful, as we are, knowing from personal experience the night of secret sin. Should we not find it easier to go to one another than to the holy God? But if that is not the case, we must ask ourselves whether we often have not been deluding ourselves about our confession of sin to God–whether we have not instead been confessing our sins to ourselves and also forgiving ourselves. And is not the reason for our innumerable relapses and for the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living from self-forgiveness and not from real forgiveness of our sins? Self-forgiveness can never lead to the break with sin. This can only be accomplished by God’s own judging and pardoning Word (112-13, emphasis added).

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  • Not to mention the fact that we have an amazing ability to rationalize our definition of “sin” down to a severely reduced form that many of the things we do no longer require even self-confession. These are just our “faith struggles,” borne of our human frailty, which God understands and for which He makes allowances.

  • Butters

    Ok, so how do you know if God has forgiven you?

  • Dale

    big mistake i made reading the title as “importance”…

  • The man still speaks. What’s amazing is that he wrote this years before all the contemporary blather about the importance “forgiving yourself” reached epidemic levels. Great quote. Thanks for sharing that.

  • Denise Cavassa

    If this is so, is it that you will spend your life making yourself miserable, waiting to die for God’s forgiveness? That’s the perfect set-up for mind control by organizations (including religious) to keep you servile in depression (“obedience”?) while waiting to die to receive God’s forgiveness. And, if this is the case, what purpose does it serve to forgive those who have trespassed against you? How can you grow as a person if you spend the sum of your life being guilty for lessons you had to learn instead of evolving through experience? I am interested to hear possibilities.