Guest post by Chris Wilson, pastor of Payneville Baptist Church.
If you want to know what confession and repentance really are, you need to read Job 42.1-6. This is the catharsis of Job’s entire experience of pain. This is the point of the entire book. If you’re not familiar with it, the book tells the story of Job, a righteous man who has also been blessed by God with a big, healthy family, huge herds, and lots of money. He’s well known in the whole land as a man blessed by God.
Then God does a thing that seems very strange to our self-obsessed minds. We think God exists to make us more happy. We forget or never learned that God exists to get glory for Himself, and if we’ll join Him in that purpose, we’ll find the happiness we so deeply want—strangely enough, by not pursuing it directly. But, back to the story. God sends all manner of sufferings upon Job through the instrument of Satan. God uses the Devil to do what God always wanted done in the first place, and all the while the Devil foolishly thinks he is freely wreaking havoc. Job’s whole family dies. His entire herd dies. He himself is struck with painful boils. His own wife’s faith lapses and she encourages Job to curse God, and just when you think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel—Job’s old friends come to comfort him—they accuse him of bringing all his suffering on himself through some sin he refuses to confess. And his suffering is once again compounded.
In this context of profound suffering, Job never turns his back on God, never curses God, but Job is not without sin in his response to his sufferings. He falls into the same error as his three friends, though to a lesser degree. And he dares to think that he has the right or authority to question God’s actions, to question God’s moral rightness in inflicting all this pain on him. God graciously, but firmly puts Job in his place in some of the greatest poetic language you’ll ever read in Chapters 38-41. And then come these six verses at the beginning of Chapter 42. In my ESV Bible, the topical heading reads, “Job’s Confession and Repentance.” I can’t think of a better summary of what these verses are all about. This is a classic example of confession and repentance.
Two times, Job literally quotes from God’s humbling, challenging words spoken earlier in 38. He quotes what God had just said as if to say, “God, I hear what You’ve said to me; I understand it clearly; I agree with you. You are right in saying this to me. You are telling the truth. I am guilty.” This is confession. Con- means with. Fess- means to say. To confess is to “say with”, to agree with. Job is saying with God exactly what God has said to Job. Of what was Job guilty? He was guilty of saying things about God that he had no adequate knowledge to say. He was guilty of thinking he understood right and wrong exhaustively, and that God had crossed the line, had treated him unfairly, had pushed him harder than he deserved to be pushed, had overburdened him, had made him an innocent victim. God reminded Job who He is—the Lord of everything, the maker, owner, and sustainer of all that is. And as the sole owner of that position, God has every right to do what He wishes, including subject His people to awful sufferings for the ultimate purpose of His greater glory. And that’s what eventually happened, as Job continually glorified God through all his sufferings, even though in his private thoughts, he questioned a little too self-righteously.
So, Job confessed his sin. But then he repented of it. Verse 6 captures it profoundly, yet simply. “therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” In other words, “I’m so sickened by my attitude; I’m turning away from it. I used to think I knew You, God, but now You’ve shown Yourself more clearly than I’d ever seen before. Thank You for pulling back the veil on Your Glory and letting me see a little more of You. Now that I’ve seen You this way, my vision will never again be so small. I’ll speak more truly of You from now on.” That’s repentance. Many of us only ever get as far as confession. Few of us repent. One without the other can never stand.