In some places there is a teaching that we should never say out loud the things in our heart that we fear or that are faulty. Referred to as “negative confession,” these kinds of statements supposedly give power to the enemy. Consequently, we should not say those things except in a prayer of renunciation or repentance.
The problem is that such teaching also assumes we can actually change what we believe by mere statement or an act of the will. But except for a very select area of loosely held beliefs, this is simply not true. Most of the negative things that we assume about life have been learned from experience. And while some of these may be easily denied, they are not easily changed. This kind of teaching also ignores a great portion of the Psalms which are brutally honest about what is going on in the author’s heart and mind.
Yes, we can espouse negative thoughts with an air of confidence that bolsters our belief in them, and that is not good for us. For example, if I speak with conviction and resignation that the reason a certain event occurred is because I live under Murphy’s curse, my statement has a way of reinforcing that belief in my soul and my bondage to it. But that is not at all the same thing as noticing a mess buried in my heart and exposing it to the light in the presence of God so that He can show me what I am missing and renew my mind with His insight and teaching. With God, I need to be as honest as I can be about all the hate and anger and doubts and resistance in my heart and whatever else I harbor that is contrary to life in the kingdom. The deeper I dig the more I am able to see its extent and the more amazing will be His revelation to me.
When the prodigal came to his father, his intent was to confess not just his failings but his interpretation as well, along with his best idea for a remedy. He may even have been afraid of what his father would say. But his father responded with love and a redefinition of what had happened. “My son was dead and now is alive!” The older brother also confessed what he thought were the important facts along with his interpretation of the events and why he felt slighted. And it appears that he was not at all interested in his father’s reasons for celebrating. But again the father reframed the experience and offered his perspective in the hope that his son would see the wonder of this event and change his heart and reconcile with his brother. Confession was basically each son’s part of the conversation.
We see confession at work in the life of Peter throughout the Gospels. Peter often gets bad reviews because he is always opening his mouth and letting something foolish come out. But such criticism is terribly unfair to Peter, because he is simply revealing what is in his heart and how he sees things. Chances are he was not the only one thinking that way at the time, but he was the only one willing to be exposed. He even argued with God when he was shown the vision of unclean animals and was told to have them for dinner. Peter was not one to roll over easily. But he learned how to be teachable. And that is why he was the perfect choice for the one to bring the gospel to Cornelius and to believe that Gentiles could be saved (Acts 10).
What concerns me most about the way people sometimes talk about “negative confession” is that they can cross the line into a total denial of reality while at the same time believe they are practicing a virtue. “Don’t say you are sick! That is a negative confession.” At the risk of offending some, I can only see three reasons why I might try to do that, and none of them are good. First, I might be trying to talk myself out of what I actually believe. Second, I might be trying to express a faith I do not really have. Or third, might think there is some power in making such a statement, almost on the level of an incantation (we see Jesus command sickness to leave, but never does He deny the reality of what He is dealing with). The truth is, I would not be trying so hard to avoid a “negative” confession about my situation unless I already believed in my gut that something was wrong which needed to be addressed! So I do not really believe the statements coming out of my mouth in regard to how I am already well, because if I really thought I was well, I would not have bothered to say these things. This is not living in the truth — it is being disingenuous and practicing the art of self-deception.
If there is any doubt at all about this, all we have to do is look at the Psalms where the writers are often gut-wrenchingly honest about where they are, often ending on a note of resolution and trust in the God who can do all things. This is honest confession. And there is nothing negative about it. (Next article — “Positive confession”).[ Much of this article on “Negative” Confession comes from the section on Confession in Forming: A Work of Grace ]