Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Question Of Guilt

Recently, I've been thinking about the concept of guilt and what relevance it has (if any) in our lives as Christians. We've all felt guilty about something at some point in our lives. Usually it's a good thing, because it lets us know what we've done wrong, and gives us some incentive to think about our actions and not repeat them. Other times, of course, guilt can lead to despair and allow us to think of ourselves as worse off than we are. That type of guilt is self-centered, and can lead us away from Christ instead of closer to Him.

It's finding the balance that is the problem. For example, I would really like to feel guilty every time I sin. Often times, I'm sure I sin without even realizing it (like when saying a sarcastic remark that could hurt a person's feelings, or perhaps entertaining some not-so-wholesome thoughts in the back of my mind, or perhaps some other habitual behavior of mine that I don't even recognize as sinful). The guilt could clue me in to what I have done wrong, and give me a chance to repent more earnestly and strive to live more faithfully in the future.

At the same time, I've had the experience of being overwhelmed with guilt before, and it's not very nice. Perhaps for certain sins a lot of guilt is appropriate (mainly sins that hurt others). At the same time, if that guilt makes people unable or unwilling to talk to God and have confidence in the fact that they are, indeed, forgiven for their sins, then it isn't a good thing. Every Christian should be aware of when and how they sin and work against the sin in their lives. However, if the guilt they feel makes them believe that they are unworthy of God's love or are not, after all, saved, then it is not healthy, and needs to be put in check.

That's really all the thoughts I have on the issue. It's just a random musing going through my head. Feel free to talk and discuss. I should be around. Hope you're all having a good day!


otrolado said...

Hmmm...I think you and David might have stolen my blog topic list! I have been mulling this guilt topic myself.

I feel guilty for a lot of little things like using plastic water bottles, buying dyed tissues, not recycling all of the cardboard boxes I get from Amazon, and returning things to stores. I also understand the guilt that separates you from God, as most SSA guys and gals probably do.

I don't really know how you strike the balance. There are often times that I feel convicted by seeing the actions of others that I should be emulating. For example, seeing a demonstration of selflessness or authentic love for someone will make me realize that I have become a bit to selfish and my pride may getting in the way of me loving others.

I have lately been changing my prayers to emphasize clarity and conviction. Hopefully by relying on God and being cognizant of my tendency to gloss over important guilt and overdramatize trivial guilt, I will be able to better discern what sin is drawing me away from God.

I hope this makes some sort of sense.

Glenn Houtchens said...

Good topic. I understand the differences in motivation you point out, but wanted to mention these themes are differentiated by different terms- namely, guilt, shame, condemnation, and conviction.

Of the four, conviction comes from the Holy Spirit and is part of a Godly process that can help us grow, if we make the right choices, and are able to perceive what lessons God has for us in our spirits. The others are used by our common enemy to bind us to sin, in one way or another, usually without our even being aware.

Perhaps you could explore this topic more.... I like what the previous poster said as well.


MR said...

Well. I don't think I feel too guilty about using plastic water bottles, but I have definitely felt it over other things. I believe there is true guilt and false guilt. Both can be just as intense, but true guilt is over things that matter, like stealing or hurting others, and false guilt is over what doesn't matter.

I pray and ask God to take away false guilt and still let me feel it about actual sin.

MR said...

Like you said Jay, the right kind of guilt pushes us toward God to receive forgiveness and relief. The wrong kind leads to despair.

RikFleming said...

I don't mean to get nick-picky about words, but I have always thought of "guilt" as a judicial status and not a feeling.

What we often feel when we sin is remorse, regret, shame and so forth. A person can be guilty of a sin or a crime and not FEEL remorse or regret but rather ambivalence or actually good about their actions because they have a hard heart or they are some sort of socio-path.

The important thing to do is have a BIBLICALLY informed and sensitive conscience. This is why the Psalmist said, "Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against Thee." (Psalm 119:11)

A new Christian who came out of paganism may have an uniformed conscience and not realize that he is free to eat meat purchased from a market that had been previously sacrificed to idols. So, when he eats it his conscience bothers him and he feels shame, regret etc.

But the Christian who knows his theology, that there is only one God, can be free to eat the same meat but he ought not to stumble the one without such knowledge. (1 Cor. 8:1-13).

So not only do we need an INFORMED conscience we also need a SENSITIVE one that looks out not only for our own needs and desires but also of that of others. (Phil. 2:4)

But hardening our heart creates callouses. When we hear the Holy Spirit convict us saying, "STOP! DON'T DO THAT!" but we do not immediately obey then we are suppressing His voice and are beginning a pattern of habitual sin.

When we have a sensitive spirit and do not harden our heart, then we are easily convicted of sin and are quick to repent and confess our sin to the one we offended (God and neighbor) as well as perhaps to a brother to whom we submit in order to keep ourselves accountable.

Of course, I don't know ANY of this stuff from experience... I just read about it in a book somewhere..


Brandon said...

Well, I'll admit that I'm one of those people who, in the past, had a hard time feeling as though God could ever possibly forgive me for certain sins. And that's just where I felt so guilt-ridden and ashamed and convicted and felt the great accuser just laying his voice so heavy against me that I couldn't see the higher power of God's love and desire to forgive me. But I know that feelings of guilt can really get at a person. And a lot of times, those feelings do bring us to repentance. At least that's been my experience.

Anyway, good discussion. And I hope you're having a good day as well. :)

Jay said...

To add on to something MR said, I don't think false guilt is over things that don't matter (at least, not always). Sometimes I think we "over-do" it with guilt and continue feeling guilty for something that we should already be moving past. The question I'm raising in this post is how do we know when guilt (or shame, or remorse, or whatever you call it) it too much for the particular wrongdoing you have done?

I'll agree that "false guilt" is over things that don't matter, but forgiven sins are some of those things as well.

MR said...

Yes, Jay, false guilt includes guilt over forgiven sin, too. I meant to say that but I was leaving for work and I had to cut my comment short.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

I heard RT Kendall speak on total forgiveness (including true vs false guilt) and it was awesome. I have yet to read his book on the topic (title: Total Forgiveness) but I know several people who have and said it was very good indeed.

Anonymous said...

I am new to your blog, but I would like to add my own understanding of guilt. I have come to appreciate guilt as a warning to me to avoid doing something that may be harmful to me. When I let this guilt take me over and it begins to erode the way I feel about myself then it becomes damaging. It becomes shame when I start feeling that I am a bad person because of the feeling that I have. Shame is a destructive force that separates me from others.

Anonymous said...

Last week in Bible study we addressed guilt as Christians. One thing we as Christians fail to realise, is that we truly do have God's grace. We are forgiven, yet we continue to feel guilty for being Christians and for sinning. It's something all of us struggle with.