God has dealt with our guilt. It is the best news in all the world. It is the only strategy that owns up to the truth of God's righteousness and the depth of our debt before Him…Jesus removes our guilt.” John Piper
William Shakespeare might have made a great psychotherapist. He accurately described guilt in Macbeth as “life’s fitful fever.” Anyone whose suffered pangs of guilt knows that the Bard nailed the essence of this spiritual malignancy. It contaminates our life and even invades our dreams. An obsessed Lady Macbeth sleepwalks, incessantly washing her hands, screaming, “Out damned spot. Out, I command you! … Why should we be scared, when no one can lay the guilt upon us?” All the soap and water in the universe couldn’t wash away the dirty guilt in her own heart.
What is guilt? It’s that awful feeling which hits us in the pit of the stomach when we know we’ve done wrong. We’ll do almost anything to get rid of it. It’s the dread of the past; a pain that wells up because we committed an offense or failed to do something right. It’s a phantom pain, a bit like amputees experience after a limb has been removed. Some experience this same kind of dread obsessed by the memory of some wrong committed years, even decades ago. It never quite leaves, crippling the enjoyment of life and relationships with others. They live in fear that someone may discover their past failure.
Guilt is the bane of human existence. It’s one of the most crippling maladies of the soul. Psychiatrists and doctors say that unresolved guilt is the number one cause of mental illness and suicide. Psychologist Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University studied guilt, discovering that the average person spends approximately 2 hours a day feeling guilty.
Yet, guilt is God ordained and for the most part, guilt is constructive. It’s like an electric fence that gives us a jolt when we stray beyond our boundaries. Like pain, guilt tells us when something is wrong. When you feel it, you don't just sit there, you do something about it. It’s guilt that ultimately drives us to God, to the Cross and to Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Guilt cannot be ignored. We were not designed to handle guilt. Either it’s forgiven and we’re free from it, or we must attempt to escape it…but it can’t be escaped. Guilt is the “hound of heaven.” Yet many still try…
Some seek to blame game away guilt. Adam and Eve established a pattern continuing to this day – the Blame Game. They rationalized their choices, blaming others…even blaming God. We foolishly think that if we can blame someone or something, we’ll feel less guilty. It doesn’t work.
It’s why many are incessantly angry or critical. Those can be coping mechanisms for a guilty conscience. If you can aim anger toward parents, spouse, circumstances, job, ad nauseam, it’s a distraction from peering into the darkness of your own heart at your failures and personal responsibility.
Some attempt to relabel guilt as a disease. It’s common to relabel moral failure as a disease or some addiction, but calling sinful behavior a disease isn’t really helpful. If guilty behavior is a “disease,” isn’t it unjust to incarcerate someone for actions they did as a result of their addiction? We don’t lock up cancer victims. I can’t help it if I get sick, but I volitionally choose to have another drink or engage in some wrong behavior.
Some attempt to excuse guilt with a victim mentality. It’s the rational of “I’m poor. It’s why I steal.” Yet, what about individuals who are poor, yet never steal and even choose to work to change their economic situation? Being poor is not morally wrong; stealing is. It’s as silly as if I were to suggest that because I’m bad at math, I don’t have to pay taxes. Children are victims; adults are volunteers.
Some attempt to anesthetize guilt. Countless individuals seek to self-medicate, numbing the pain of guilt with substances or behaviors. The cure is frequently worse than the disease. Think about the myriad of “aholic” terms commonly used; workaholic, shopaholic, rageaholic, even chocoaholic. Some take medications to hopefully silence symptoms of guilt like paranoia, anger, stress or depression. (Please understand, not all mental health issues are guilt related). It’s why there may be seemingly no end to the treatment because the root problem is never addressed – guilt.
God gave us a conscience to make us aware of sin. There’s never been a civilization that didn't have laws…rules about right and wrong. The moral codes of every civilization prove there’s an objective authority who has set a standard. The human conscience is evidence of God's existence and His standards for behavior. As we violate His standards, we feel guilty.
Is there a cure for guilt? Yes! It’s the Easter story. Ultimately, God is the One we offend when we sin. That means only He can provide the remedy for guilt. It’s why Jesus came to earth to die. He’s our Substitute in that Jesus took the punishment for our sin so we could be forgiven and right with God. God wants us to be free from guilt. Through Christ, He’s wiped our record clean and wants us to live in freedom. “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:14).
Jesus’ death on the Cross and His resurrection is God’s cure. When we trust Him, He forgives our sin, cleansing our conscience of guilt. When we trust Christ as Lord and Savior, sin and guilt are gone. In God’s courtroom, they’re eradicated, as if they’d never even happened. It’s why we begin a new life in Christ with a clean slate. As a new creation, God gives us His Spirit, empowering us so that we’re free from sin’s penalty, power, and ultimately in heaven, it’s very presence. Christ’s Cross is our emancipation proclamation from guilt!
Can we help you spiritually? Can we help you know Jesus better? Please check out more resources on our church's web page, Gracechurchwi.org. Or, call us at 262.763.3021. If you'd like to know more about how Jesus can change your life, I'd love to mail you a copy of how Jesus changed my life in "My Story." E-mail me at Carson@gracechurchwi.org to request a free copy. Please include your mailing address.