Misreading public confession

The predictable media storm has erupted around the notable example of public confession by Liam Neeson that he once felt that he wanted to kill a black man and that he harboured the intent for about a week almost 40 years ago.

The reaction on social and main stream media is predictable. The public opening of his latest film on the topic Cold Pursuit has been cancelled and Bonnie Greer has called it a “silly, stupid thing to do”. Neeson explained that he wanted to open a debate on racism and political correctness.

There will be a debate on Neeson’s character, the purpose and timing of such a confession, the wisdom or otherwise of such a public confession, etc., but the important point is the reaction of people to public confession.

Voluntary, public confession is often misread and misunderstood as an opportunity to attack the confessor. It is for this reason that insurance companies advise people involved in a car accident not to admit liability. The reason is that there might be faults on both sides, and if one party confesses liability, the other one may keep quiet and let that party take all the blame. This experience is why many people will not confess their sins to God, because they expect His anger and want to avoid it. They do not understand the character of God and misread it from their adverse experiences with ungodly human beings.

The godly know that they are sinners, but secular morality does not like this assessment and contradicts it.

The world needs to learn to confess sin, but it is safer to do so to God than to secular human beings who are likely to misunderstand, miscall and mistreat you. The Bible teaches the controlled circumstances for confession of sin to God and to one’s fellow human beings. Private confession can also be a mistake. The Roman Catholic confessional is not one of these places; experience has taught that it is a hotbed for vice. If you get public confession wrong, you are likely to provoke the media storm witnessed by Neeson. Former US-President Jimmy Carter provoked a similar storm when he confessed in the run-up to the 1976 Presidential election, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.” The reaction is because of the general ignorance of human nature, of the Bible, and more particularly of the Christian Gospel.

Slowly, slowly, the force of truth is exposing the reality about human nature to a global audience. Hopefully, the solution in and through the Lord Jesus Christ will have similar global attention in the near future.

‘Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another’ James 5:16.


6 Feb 2019: BBC Newsnight tonight alerted me to other commentators who disagree with the self-righteous reaction to Neeson’s voluntary and public confession.  David Aaronovitch wrote in The Times that these “virtue-signallers” are “part of the problem, not the solution”.  He finishes his article “it probably won’t change anyone’s mind.” 

Changing one’s mind is what the Bible calls ‘repentance’.  It is basic and central to the Christian Gospel.  We are not the finished article.  We need to change, as Jesus told Nicodemus not to marvel that it is necessary for people ‘to be born again’ John 3:7. They need a change of heart, a new spirit given to them by the Holy Spirit of God, a better spirit than the one with which they were born.

2 thoughts on “Misreading public confession

  1. Colin Mansfield

    Hi Donald,
    it was a brave confession to make in public and Liam Neeson should be thanked for his admission. There has not been a hue and cry to find the “black man” who had raped his relative, was it reported to the police, was there medical proof, etc? Perhaps Neeson’s timing was bad, but don’t we all feel such rage if one of our loved ones is attacked or even killed?
    “Revenge is mine says the Lord”, and I’ve seen that done in practise, throughout my little area in His world, when my bullies and attackers were ground down both high and low, and side to side, until I pitied them.
    We have a powerful all-seeing God who meets out justice, we should be glad that we don’t have to take revenge in our on hands. This is not the same in other religions, where human vengeance is allowed, permitted, and preferred for “weak” gods and the secular ungodly. Hence fatwahs, pre-paid idol curses, Karma wheels, and “eye for an eye,” are do-it-yourself justice systems.
    As for Jimmy Carter, most Christians do not realise, that the word “woman” and “wife” are the same, so when the Lord denounces men who look on “women” in lust, it should mean “another man’s “wife” in lust: i.e. the 10th Commandment “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, etc;” It reads much better than we were supposed to know. Otherwise the human race would have died out long ago!
    Colin Mansfield.


    1. Donald


      My Bible commentary on Mat 5:28 runs to well over five A4 pages.

      Under ‘a woman’, it begins: “it is most likely that Christ is referring to a married woman, but if the man is married it refers to any woman who is not his wife. Greek: gune ‘a woman, wife’, from which we derive the word ‘gynaecology’, the study of certain female organs and diseases.

      “Jesus is speaking about married people. For an unmarried teenage boy to lust after another unmarried teenage girl and to desire her for his wife is not adultery; it is normal. This Greek word is translated ‘wife’ in Mat 1:20,24 and Mat 5:31,32 and ‘woman’ here and in Mat 9:20,22 and elsewhere. It is used of mothers in Mat 11:11. One cannot say that it must mean one or another, and its meaning must be determined by context.

      “William Tyndale translates ‘whosoever looketh on a wife, lusting after her, hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’, using wife instead of ‘a woman’.”

      The Christian church has still to do its Bible exegesis on these topics. It has generally followed secular opinions.

      On revenge, 1Pe 2:23 is our example. Like you, I am happy to leave the Lord to justify me, and there are several notable examples in my own life which confirm that He does so and will continue to do so. The Lord’s people can expect this – ‘He is near that justifies me’ Isa 50:8.


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