The embarrassing spectacle of Lance Armstrong confessing to Oprah has failed to capture the popular imagination. For one thing, Lance is not a sympathetic character. Americans are not prone to soaring eloquence, so people call him a jerk. British writer Geoffrey Wheatcroft said of him, “Mr. Armstrong has “a voice like ice cubes,” as one French journalist puts it, and I have to admit that he reminds me of what Daniel O’Connell said about Sir Robert Peel: He has a smile like moonlight playing on a gravestone.”
Another thing is that Lance’s confession came too late. And it was lame. And it was tacky. But it fits the pattern now so familiar in no-fault America in which a famous person commits a sin, gets caught, lies about it till the lie becomes ridiculous, then finally stages a theatrical confession. The staging is usually in proportion to the fame and ego of the perpetrator. Thus, Lance. Scroll through the mental list of publicly groveling miscreants from Lance back through Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton, South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, gay/doping preacher Ted Haggard, and a host of others.
The spiritual man can see what this is all about. Adam remains banished from Eden. The occasional rite of public humiliation is just a couple of the exiles passing by the gate and wishing for a way back in. But the gate is shut. The cherub with the flaming sword still bars the road to paradise.
A final thing about Lance’s confession is that we can all see it does no good. The public, momentarily curious, watches the ritual confessions and is vaguely aware of the hopelessness of it all. To confess seems required. A wrong was done. To admit it is demanded. We all feel the pressure of the demand. Some of us help exert it. At the same time, it’s inadequate. It’s watering a dead tree, and all the same to the tree whether it’s water or tears.
The Secular Man, two-dimensional being that he is, confesses to himself and to his peers. Who else is there? To the carnal mind, what is paradise but the pleasure he felt before his sin was found out? A degrading confession seems to be how you shake up the Etch-A-Sketch and redraw the picture.
The confession has to feature humiliation and suffering. Part of the suffering involves the rest of us smirking at the poor dumb schmuck locked in the pillory. But even when we humiliate ourselves as Lance did, the sin remains. And even if you suffer to the point of death, you’re just dead and guilty. Whether you’re confessing to Oprah or CNN, it’s still just praying to a god that cannot save. (Isa 45:20)
The riddle is solved at the cross. It is Christ’s humiliation, not ours, and His suffering and death, that brings remission of sins. It is our confession to Him, not to Oprah nor to a public filled with critics and voyeurs, that brings peace.