At this point (halfway through the second season) I will tell you what I need: I need a confession from Walter White (Bryan Cranston). For those of you who don’t know the story, Walter White is an overqualified high school chemistry professor who has discovered that he has lung cancer and very little chance of survival. Being that he has very little money, he fears for the future of his pregnant wife Skyler (Anna Gunn) and handicapped son Walter, Jr. (RJ Mitte). One day his DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) starts showing a video of a drug bust. Walter sees the large amounts of cash that can be made and decides to start cooking meth in order to take care of his family. While on a ride-a-long with the police he finds an ex-student, Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul), and recruits him to help. As the series goes, Walter and Jesse find themselves in all kinds of dangerous scenarios. Turns out, cooking and selling meth is dangerous business. Walter’s life begins to spiral out of control as he seeks to maintain peace at home, deal with chemotherapy, and run a meth operation.
So, it isn’t exactly Malcom in the Middle (a show I will never, ever, ever be able to watch again after this). As I watch the show, one thing strikes me again and again: Walter won’t confess his hidden life to his family. In fact, Walter thinks that he is justified in not telling them. He knows that if he confesses to his sins, his wife will not accept the money, let alone stay with him. He believes that if he keeps the secret to himself, they will find the money when he dies with no knowledge of where it came from. He probably thinks he will look like some kind of hero to them. He actually believes that he is justified in being Albuquerque’s main meth dealer because, after all, it is just trying to help his family. The ends, as they say, justify the means.
But, there is another side to it as well. Walter likes the thrill of it all. It makes him feel powerful. It makes him feel strong. He has lived his life in fear, suffering from things he can’t control: A surprise pregnancy late in life, a son with cerebral palsy, and now lung cancer. But here with the drugs, he is in charge, he has control, others fear him. Not only will he not confess because he is looking out for his family, he won’t confess because he’s beginning to love the sin.
All the while, his lack of confession is ruining his home. Walter, Jr. no longer respects him, his wife knows he is lying and is growing very bitter towards him. In an effort to save his family, he is ruining them with his lies. And thus we see the nature of sin.
Every Sunday in my congregation, I stand in front of the people and we speak the truth of God from I John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” These words are wildly offensive to those who feel justified with how they live their lives. We have this insidiously subtle way of denying that we are sinners. We look at our circumstance, our hardships, and our sufferings as excuses to sin. You might say, we see them as justification for our actions. This is why I love Breaking Bad. It exposes that wicked ability in all of us to justify just about anything. Think about it, if I were to say to you, “Can you give me an example of a time when you think it would be okay to sell meth to a junkie? It will kill them, ruin their family, wreck their neighborhood, etc., etc. Of course (at least, I pray “of course”) you would say, “No way! No one could justify that!” And yet, we excuse our sins all the time, don’t we?
“It is okay that I looked at that website, it doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
“It’s okay that I spent all my money on clothes. I just needed to do something for myself.”
“It’s okay that I got drunk . I had a rough day at work.”
“It’s okay that I slander my boss. He is such a jerk!”
“It’s okay that I sell meth. I need the money and I am in a bind.”
We deceive ourselves. The truth needs to be put back in us. The problem is that we are not merely trying to talk ourselves into believing that our sins are okay, we are trying to prove ourselves righteous before God. We are saying that our sins aren’t really sins because they result from some hardship. So, we pass the buck, we blame others, we declare ourselves righteous.
The only way to freedom from this vicious cycle is found in Christ and His Word of absolution. There is this scene where Skyler discovers that Walter has two cell phones: one for his family and one for his “business.” After Skyler is cold towards him for a few days, Walter decides to apologize to her for all the difficulties that have gone on. But, he will not confess the second phone. He says he wants to be close to her again. She agrees, and then waits. She waits for the confession. He won’t give it. Yelling ensues and she cries, “You want to be close again? Then tell me!” There is a long pause.
Anyhow, Walter looks at her and says, straight faced, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” And she storms off.
The lack of confession drove them apart. But, you see, she had given him the opportunity to confess. She was ready to forgive. But he was captivated by, perhaps, bound to the sin. He had justified himself in his actions and didn’t feel the need to tell her anything. And the relationship was wrecked.
St. John goes on, “But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The answer to our sinful life is not to seek ways to justify ourselves. That will only wreck our relationship, both with God and others. No, the only freedom is found in the blood-soaked Word of Christ that absolves us of our sins. In that moment of silence on Sunday when you confess your sins, you may find yourself wondering, “What will God say to me? Will He condemn me? Will He leave me? Or will He forgive me? Will He free me?” God answers in the proclamation of forgiveness you hear from the pastor. You hear that God has promised to you upon your confession: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins.” He doesn’t justify your sins by saying you were right in doing them, rather He justifies you by placing your sins on Christ and Christ’s righteousness on you. He loves you. He forgives you. Your sins are paid for, your guilt is cleansed, and you are justified because of the death of Christ.
I don’t want to know how Breaking Bad ends until I get there. I don’t know if Walter will confess. I don’t know if there will be forgiveness in his family. But, I am going to give you a spoiler alert: I know how your life ends when you have faith in Christ Jesus. You who are baptized and forgiven will be raised up on the last day free from your guilt and your shame. Your sins will be forgotten. Everything will be made right because God has declared you righteous, justified you, through the blood of Jesus.