Pip, Joe & Confessing Sin
In Great Expectations, Pip, under awful threat from the convict Abel Magwitch, had stolen his sister's beer, pork pie and her husband Joe's file. Later the convict claimed that he had personally stolen the beer, pie and file and that got Pip off the hook. But the child's conscience troubled him, though he confessed he felt very little trouble about hiding the truth from his sister (who was harsh with the boy). It was Joe, trusting, kind Joe, from whom he was keeping the truth and that greatly hurt Pip and he wished he could tell him. He was afraid for several reasons. It wasn't simply a question of possible punishment but as he said himself: "I did not [tell Joe], and for the reason that I mistrusted that if I did, he would think me worse than I was. The fear of losing Joe's confidence and of thenceforth sitting in the chimney-corner at night staring drearily at my for ever lost companion and friend, tied my tongue."
What tied his tongue was not that he made light of what he did because he did not make light of it; it was fear of lost love and fear of isolation and loneliness.
There can be no doubt whatever that many of us fear to confess our wrongs for fear of punishment or for loss of reputation or fear of something more plainly self-serving; so we hide the truth and on occasion are capable of lying to cover the truth. I suppose (though I'm not sure of it) that that is the most popular reason to hide our wrongs—fear of loss or punishment. But like much else in life, there are complexities that should be recognized. (I notice that when I'm not in the mood or if I'm irritated or have suffered loss in the process that I'm not especially interested in being reminded of life's complexities.)
Take the case of our friend Pip. It's clear that he feared loss—he admits to it. But it isn't the kind of "fear" that often attacks us. His fear is real enough but it's a fear that exists because a genuine love exists for Joe. His fear wasn't that of a beating or the loss of standing with a stranger or of being taken away by the police—his fear was the loss of a friend. It wasn't a fear that Joe would spread his shame across half of England for if anyone would have kept the news to himself it would have been Joe who dearly loved Pip and knew that the child just as dearly loved him. No, Joe would protect him to the death. He weighed the telling of the story and the easing of his conscience against the possible loss of the one that was dearest in life to him.
(And think what it would have cost Joe if he had lost Pip.)
Whatever we are to make of such motivation and whatever we are to say about withholding truth it would serve us (and others) well to avoid oversimplification. We tend to that. Those that are good with a hammer, the proverb says, think every problem is a nail. I'm content to believe that confession under some circumstances is not only desirable but essential but life has a way of sometimes showing that simple solutions simply don't work.
It may well be that we that have sinned greatly do hide our wrongs for reasons that are less than honourable; but if there are grounds for "reasonable doubt" maybe we ought to grant a more charitable conclusion. I suppose the least we can do is ask ourselves, "What other possible reasons are there that might have led him/her to hide his/her wrong?"
"Yes, yes, but in the end it doesn't matter greatly. Those that sin should be aware that there are consequences to sin and they often fall on the innocent." This is indeed true. And maybe with that we should dismiss the whole question and insist that all who sin should simply blab out their confession no matter the consequences.
But then on the other hand...