Sometimes after I sin I don’t feel very remorseful. I am afraid that the lack of emotional guilt within me following sin means I am not contrite. What role does emotion play in contrition?
James F. Pope
Humans experience a wide range of emotions. So your question is a valid one to consider, especially during this season of Lent, which emphasizes repentance. Phrases from some of our hymns will be helpful in answering your question.
Sorrow over sin
“My sin and guilt are plaguing me; oh, grant me true contrition” (Christian Worship 437:2). Our Lutheran Confessions define contrition as “terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin” (Augsburg Confession, Article XII:4). After his adulterous and murderous episodes with Bathsheba and Uriah, King David did what he could to distance himself from guilt and personal accountability. Eventually, the message of the law from the prophet Nathan broke down the impenitent king. “I have sinned against the LORD,” the king confessed (2 Samuel 12:13). While Scripture records the words of David’s confession, it does not supply any accompanying outward emotion. We hear only of the king’s heartfelt sorrow over sin.
God works similar attitudes in you through the message of his law. During the general Confession of Sins in worship services he leads you to confess your natural sinful condition and your sins of commission and omission. In daily life, God leads you to acknowledge your wrongdoing and seek his forgiveness. At the time of David’s confession we do not know what emotion he felt. We do know that his confession was sincere.
Sorrow on display?
“With broken heart and contrite sigh, a trembling sinner, Lord, I cry” (Christian Worship 303:1). Is that what contrition is all about: people wearing their hearts on their sleeves, giving evidence of inward sorrow by outward displays of emotions? Contrition can be like that, but we want to be careful that we do not prescribe what contrition is to be like. You and I might confess specific sins with varying degrees of emotions. Factors such as the nature of the sin, the frequency of the sin, and the person against whom we have sinned can have a bearing on how emotion-filled our confessions might be.
Keep in mind that, like any other part of our Christian life, our contrition will not be perfect. One man called out to Jesus, “Help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Faith can always be stronger. Another person could have called out to Jesus, “Help me overcome my impenitence!” Contrition can always be more genuine. And yet, Christian contrition and repentance point in the right direction.
“When o’er my sins I sorrow, Lord, I will look to you” (Christian Worship 109:1). When the prodigal son was ruminating over his lost condition, his thoughts turned to his father. The son recognized his wrongs and began to rehearse the confession he would offer his father. Putting his plan into action, the son traveled back home and said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).
His father embraced him with a kiss and staged a celebratory feast. The father forgave his wayward child. Likewise, God responds to our confession of sins with the words, “Take heart . . . your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2). That message cheers the contrite in heart and provides them with strength to fight against sin even more.
Author: James F. Pope
Volume 106, Number 3
Issue: March 2019
- Q&A: Why is Pontius Pilate immortalized in our creeds?
- Q&A: How does remembering my baptism help with the guilt I carry?
- Q&A: Do parts of the Bible teach works righteousness?
- Q&A: How can I overcome my struggle with lust and pornography?
- Q&A: How should I help my child struggling with same-sex attraction?
- Q&A: Should Christians pray to saints?
- Q&A: Is anger sinful?
- Q&A: How can parents encourage adult children who wander from the faith?
- Q&A: Does the doxology belong in the Lord’s Prayer?
- Q&A: Is God fair?
- Q&A: When we pray, “Your kingdom come,” what are we praying for?
- Q&A: How can I better manage what God has given me this year so that I glorify him?
- Q&A: What are ways to glorify God besides singing in church?
- Q&A: I have no special gifts, and I mess up all the time. Does God really need me?
- Q&A: How do I overcome the feeling that my life has no purpose and I don’t make a difference?
- Q&A: My friend died and was not a professing Christian. What do I say to the family?
- Q&A: How can my mother and I forgive my father for being unfaithful and causing my parents to divorce?
- Q&A: Why were demon possession, gifts of healing, and gifts of tongues more prevalent in biblical times?
- Q&A: Is Christianity the only religion that gives the certainty of heaven?
- Q&A: If people go to hell, isn’t it their fault because God gave them free will and they rejected him?
- Q&A: Why are the 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension important for the disciples and for us?
- Q&A: Can you explain Jesus’ words to the wailing women he met on his way to be crucified?
- Q&A: What if spouses don’t “love” each other anymore?
- Q&A: Is it wrong to have a cross with Jesus’ body on it?
- Q&A: Is our time of grace really unchangeable?
- Q&A: I know that we are saved by grace apart from works, but how can it be that easy?
- Q&A: Are there degrees of glory in heaven as a reward for good works?
- Q&A: Do Lutherans take the Bible literally and teach millennialism?
- Q&A: Are there different interpretations of the Bible?
- Q&A: How can we be sure the Bible includes what God originally gave us?
- Q&A: Why does it seem like Christianity is so negative?
- Q&A: How can I explain how Jesus’ resurrection is possible and if the Bible is reliable?
- Q&A: Is it okay to live together if we are planning to get married?
- Q&A: How is the Bible God’s Word?
- Q&A: Were we “created to make a difference”?
- Q&A: Am I being judgmental if I point out someone’s sin?
- Q&A: Do I need to read the Bible to have a relationship with God?
- Q&A: Can a Christian vote for a political candidate who supports abortion?
- Q&A: Does God really care?
- Q&A: Does it really matter how God made the world?
- Q&A: Does God send people to hell?
- Q&A: Is death natural?
- Q&A: How can I forgive and forget?
- Q&A: Does God help those who help themselves?
- Q&A: How can we say that the Old Testament God is the same as the New Testament God?
- Q&A: Is Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
- Q&A: Doesn’t God want me to be happy?
- Light for our path: Does God hate us?
- Light for our path: What kind of comfort can you give someone when a loved one commits suicide?
- Light for our path: What does a submissive wife in a Christian marriage look like?
- Light for our path: Is it a sin to want to die from a terminal illness?
- Light for our path: What advice can you give about applauding in church?
- Light for our path: Can you please explain Matthew 5:20?
- Light for our path: What is karma?
- Light for our path: Can the devil personally be tempting me and a lot of other people at exactly the same time?
- Light for our path: Does the word Easter refer to Ishtar, the Babylonian fertility goddess?
- Light for our path: What role does emotion play in contrition?
- Light for our path: What does the white stone in Revelation 2:17 mean?
- Light for our path: Is the cross symbol now anti-Christian?
- Light for our path: Were Joseph and Mary engaged or married when Joseph learned of Mary’s pregnancy?