I have come to understand that our society is becoming guilt free in its attitudes. Although this is the case, and most people are attempting to drown their own conscience, I find that I still live in the world of guilt.
Guilt exists in two ways; first, it is the inevitable feeling of having done something wrong that hurts oneself or another. The term “another” does not need to be another human being. It can be “an other” in the sense of a living creature that has been harmed by one’s action(s). The second way guilt exists is through the manipulative or controlling statements (or actions?) adults employ on children. The long-term effects on children is fairly well understood. Adults may face a lifetime of self-destructive behavior and negative self-talk as a consequence of feelings generated from the internalized statements adults imbued them with.
The second type of guilt creates a “tape recorded” message of catastrophic failure to events that may only be minor. The child, who becomes an adult, ends up reviewing events with the skewed lense of guilt and shame, not realizing that they are in a perpetual cycle of guilt. It has become “hard wired” into their personality.
So, with all of this forensic analysis, I open myself up as an example. I have hurt people by my actions, lack of actions, words, or lack of words. Some of these events are of the recent past, but some of them may have happened 28 years ago. Usually, I don’t dwell on these past events, because I am caught up in things I’m doing or relationships.
Then, for some unkown reason, one of these guilt-inducing events run through my mind. I am transported to the event as if it were actually happening all over again. The feelings connected with it are intense and raw. I feel guilty.
Where do these replayed events come from? Why are they happening? The Christian worldview states that we have been forgiven for all of our real and imagined sins through the work of Jesus being crushed on the cross. In the midst of a guilt-inducing event, however, one becomes blind to the cross, or simply discounts it. I have felt so guilty for some of these events in the past, that I have considered ways to rectify the circumstance even years later. “If I just make things right” I argue to myself, “then I will be free of this guilt, and can work on another past event”. What is really happenning?
My flesh is warring against me. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). It is not the only one that accuses us, though. We have an active adversary in the Devil and his minions. He is “the accuser of the Brethren”. This re-hashed guilt is a weapon in his arsenal. Putting it frankly (cover your children’s ears), the Devil is a Son-of-a-Bitch. What then, can be done for a heart that is racked with guilt?
John writes, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart”. It is in the moment that I see an event replayed before my eyes, when I feel the beginning of guilt, that I say to myself, “God is greater than my heart”, and “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
It is at these times that I need to hear the Gospel, not the “to do list” of how to make myself right. Finally, I know that I never want to do thes things again. I can ask the Lord to help me as a weak and sinful man to love others rightly. And, I can pray for those whom I have wronged to forgive me. God be merciful to those of us who have to fight guilt. Amen.