In this Part 2, we’re talking again today about guilt and the ways of dealing with guilt. The denial approach (discussed in Part 1) to guilt denies the existence of God (or at least the God of the Bible). And that gets rid of a lot of those pesky guilt-producing rules in the Bible. But does this really work? What happens when you decide to live by your own standards and you fail to keep even them? You are right back where you started—feeling those terrible guilt feelings and not knowing how to deal with them.
And if you think your guilt is only a by-product of the rules your family and culture made up, why do you try so hard to escape your guilty feelings? Think about what you do when you feel guilty. Some people overeat, some exercise, some shop, some drink or do drugs, some sleep too much, some can’t sleep at all—the list is endless. Why go to all this trouble for something you think doesn’t exist?
Trying to be a better person
If denying your guilt feelings doesn’t work, then you can try another often used method for dealing with guilt: moral self-improvement. You could call this ‘the New Year’s resolution’ approach to guilt. When you notice you are feeling guilty, you resolve to stop doing the behaviour that is bothering your conscience. For example:
- overeaters resolve to diet
- couch-potatoes resolve to exercise
- the disorganised resolve to clean their closets
- liars resolve to tell the truth
- addicts resolve to stop doing their addiction
and the list goes on and on!
What happens to all those resolutions? Most of us are not able to keep them—and our guilty feelings return.
Comparing yourself to others
Sometimes we make it easy for ourselves and decide we don’t need to feel guilty as long as we can find someone who is acting worse than we are. We say things like, I may get angry with my wife and kids, but at least I don’t hit them, or I may cheat on my taxes but at least I haven’t murdered anyone! We deal with our guilt by being self-righteous and critical of others. And we try to build ourselves up by endlessly discussing the failings of those around us. But does this really help? Putting someone else down might give you momentary pleasure, but it doesn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that you haven’t measured up.
Becoming obsessed with your guilt
Many Christians go down this path:
- I feel so guilty, I get depressed or
- I failed again—how can I approach God?
Have you ever thought these thoughts? Anyone who is concerned about growing as a Christian has said things like this. This struggle is a sign that God is working in your life. Guilt can be a good thing if it gets you looking for the right cure. If you don’t find the right cure, guilt can crush you. David describes the crushing experience of guilt in Psalm 32:3-4 – ESV:
For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.
The Only Right Way to Deal With Guilt
God says in the Bible that the guilt we feel is real. There is a God who made us and the rest of the world, and he does require us to be holy (Leviticus 19:2). Sadly, none of us are (Romans 3:23). We have all broken God’s two greatest commands: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself” (Luke 10:27)
But there is an answer to guilt. It is found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The Apostle Paul in Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” What does this mean? He gives us the answer in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The word ‘for’ at the end of this verse means ‘in our place’. Jesus came and died in your place. He was your substitute. He paid the penalty of your sin so you could be free from guilt and be reconciled to God.
This is the only answer to your guilt—don’t let guilt stop God blessing you today.