Turning to God with our burdens of guilt

Published 7:19 pm Thursday, September 12, 2019


Religion Columnist

A man entered a bar, bought a glass of beer and then immediately threw it into the bartender’s face. Quickly, grabbing a napkin, he helped the bartender dry his face, while he apologized with great remorse. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I have this compulsion to do this. I fight it, but I don’t know what to do about it.” The bartender kicked him out of the bar and told him not to return until he got his problem fixed. 

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Months when the man asked for a beer, the bartender refused. Then, the man explained that he had been seeing a psychiatrist and that his problem was solved. Convinced it was now okay to serve him, the bartender poured him a drink. The man took the glass and splashed the beer into the barkeeper’s astonished face. “I thought you were cured,” the shocked bartender screamed. “I am,” said the man. “I still do it, but I don’t feel guilty about it anymore” (Charles Sell, ”Unfinished Business,” Multnomah, 1989, p. 223).

Guilt is a powerful experience that can bring great harm, or great good in our lives. There are different types of guilt. Some people rarely, if ever, feel guilty — even when they should.  Their conscience has been calloused to guilt.  There is also appropriate guilt. These people feel guilty under conviction of sin, and the sorrow that grows out of their faith is appropriate.  Too many people also struggle with unfounded guilt. These people feel guilty over something they shouldn’t.  For example, children who are sexually abused often carry many great burdens of guilt, even into adulthood, when they have done nothing to feel guilty about.

Popular culture often says that guilt is a false emotion, the result of “religious people” planting ideas in our heads to control our behavior. After all, in a society that does not believe in absolute truth, what is there to feel guilty about?

Guilt is not a bad thing, in and of itself. In a healthy sense, guilt is that uncomfortable feeling we get when we do something that we know is wrong. Christians would say that guilt is the result of God speaking to us, telling us that we have done something wrong. We need to confess our sins appropriately, experience forgiveness from God, and if possible those we have wronged, learn from our sins, and let go of them — free to live our lives without guilt moving forward into the future.

The story of King David and Bathsheba is a classic illustration of how God used guilt to bring about a personal transformation in one of his servants. The story begins in II Samuel 11.  In this terrible story King David, the most faithful of kings, has a sexual fling with the beautiful Bathsheba. She gets pregnant. David has her husband killed in battle. Then he marries her, and he thinks everything is fine.  Instead, God reveals his sin to the prophet Nathan, who must expose David’s sins to the world.  David could have killed Nathan and anyone else who said anything, but instead he seeks to get right with God and the kingdom. 

His confession of sin to God brought forgiveness. God will always forgive us when we are humble before him.  We read, “Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die (II Samuel 12:13).”  But, David’s confession cannot repair the damage to the kingdom. Confession of sin cannot always fix things, and we must face the consequences of our actions.  But, confession does repair our relationship with God, which can give us the strength to face those consequences.

One thing David was sure of was that he could not conquer the giant of guilt by himself, and neither can we. Are you carrying the burden of guilt from the past? Have you turned to God for help? Have you asked for forgiveness from those you have wronged? I can think of no other way to defeat this giant than with God’s help.

To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles go to lagrangepres.com.