A trend continues to take place in the online world of anonymity. Several websites offer the opportunity to air one’s darkest secrets. Visitors put into words the very thing they have spent a lifetime wanting no one to know about themselves. While visiting, they can also read the long-hidden confessions of others, and recognize a part of humanity that is often as obscured as their own secrets—namely, I am not the only one with a mask, a conflicted heart, a hidden skeleton. “Every single person has at least one secret that would break your heart,” one site reads. ”If we could just remember this, I think there would be a lot more compassion and tolerance in the world.” Elsewhere, one of these sites made news recently when one of its anonymous users posted a cryptic message seemingly confessing to murder, catching the attention of Chicago Police.(1)
So often the world of souls seems to move as if instinctively to the very things asked of us by a sagacious God. The invitation to confess is present in the oldest stories of Scripture. After his defiance of God’s request, Adam is asked two questions that invite an admission of his predicament; first, “Where are you?” and later, “Who told you that you were naked?” God similarly inquires of Cain after the murder of Abel, “Where is your brother?” Through centuries of changing culture and the emerging story of faith, this invitation to confess is given consistently. “Therefore confess your offenses to one another and pray for one another so that you may be healed,” writes the author of James 5:16. A similar thought is proclaimed in 1 John 1:7. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” Perhaps the call to transparency is not from a God who delights in the impoverishment of his subjects, but a God who knows our deepest needs.
The hope of an online confessional brings us one step nearer to meeting the need of bringing what is hidden to light, and it is commendable that so many are giving in to the impulse to explore the ancient gift of confession. But perhaps such an impulse to haul the truth from obscurity is worthy of something even greater than anonymity. Light is not meant to be kept in shadows; the benefit of openness is not meant to be experienced alone. The stories and scriptures mentioned above speak of the element of community in confession, the promise of fellowship where there is courage to be honest about our selves and our needs. On websites of nameless visitors, though I tell you my darkest secret, we remain nameless to one another. While it may help significantly to know that I am not the only one with a mask, my mask remains. The anonymity factor offers the glimpse of light while maintaining the security of darkness. But isn’t this undermining the very light we seek? It is akin to lighting a lamp and putting it under a bowl.
Jesus reminded crowds full of secrets and sinners that there was no reason to do this. When a hemorrhaging woman in a swarm of people reached out to touch the fringe of his robe, she did so anonymously. Her condition would have classified her among the unclean, and it was therefore illegal to touch anyone. She probably calculated, “If I could just touch the hem of his robe, I could be healed. The crowd will keep me hidden. He won’t be bothered; he won’t even need to know.” But this was not what happened. Jesus knew he had been touched and immediately called the woman out of her anonymity. Before him, she was not lost in the crowd.
While we may successfully remain shrouded in disguise from the community around us, the Christian story invites the world to see that we stand unobscured before Christ and united with him nonetheless. Such a thought can indeed be terrifying: before him, we are not disguised. But more than this, it is inherently a gift. In his presence, none are kept in obscurity, hidden in mask or shroud; there are no shadows of anonymity that can hide, nor crowd large enough to keep us hidden. We are not disparaged for the flesh and blood and material of our humanity, but shown instead its true and greatest fulfillment.
The invitation to emerge from our darkest failings, lies, and secrets is not an invitation to dwell in our own impoverishment but rather a summons to light, reconciliation, and true humanity. The unique message of Jesus is that there is no reason to hide. Before we came up with plans to improve our images or learned to pretend with masks and swap for better identities, he saw who we were and was determined to approach regardless. Before we found a way to conceal our many failings or even weighed the possibilities of unlocking our darkest secrets, God came near and called us out of obscurity by name.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Gabe Falcon, “It’s creepy and cryptic, but is PostSecret murder confession real?” CNN, September 2, 2013.