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Guilt as a driver
- Jacob Ninan
Modern society is trained to avoid all forms of guilt. Some secular psychologists tell us that guilt is a 'learned behaviour' based on moral standards others have thrust upon us. They suggest that we should ignore those standards so that they no longer judge us! Of course there are many times we may unnecessarily feel guilty because we listen to accusations from others as well as our imaginations. But all guilt is not 'learned.' If we look into the eyes of an 'innocent' child who has just told a lie do we not see guilt there? That is from the conscience which we are all thankfully born with.
The drive to be positive and to avoid all things negative has also served to push guilt out of our set of acceptable feelings! Christians tell themselves that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus and turn away from every twinge of guilt (Ro.8:1)! The problem is not with that truth but the wrong application. The truth is that once God has forgiven us, there is no more place for guilt. For God to forgive us there is need for us to confess our sins to Him (and others if necessary) and to forgive others (1Jn.1:9;Mt.6:15). Once we have done these, we must believe that God has kept His word and forgiven us. Then we must reject feelings of guilt as an enemy.
There is yet another thing we can do after we have been forgiven. That is to change our course for the future. This is actually implied in our confession which includes "I won't do it again" along with "I am sorry." That is repentance. If we are not to do again whatever we have done wrong, we need to take some action. As a great scientist said, if we repeat an experiment without changing any of the parameters and hope to get a different result we will be disappointed! We need to understand how and why we fell the last time - or the past trend - and make necessary changes in our attitude and behaviour if we are to be different in the future.
This is where guilt can become a great helper! The most immediate need is to get right with God, and that settles most of the issues. But now we need to take steps so that we will minimise the possibility of falling again. One thing that can drive us in this direction is a healthy sense of guilt. I mean by this that we face guilt in a bold, rational way and take action to prepare ourselves for the future. "And now, isn't it wonderful all the ways in which this distress has goaded you closer to God? You're more alive, more concerned, more sensitive, more reverent, more human, more passionate, more responsible. Looked at from any angle, you've come out of this with purity of heart" (2Co.7:11 The Message). We can take steps to get closer to God, learn how He looks at us, change our way of thinking and our approach to temptations, and take practical steps to avoid temptations. Guilt can drive us to take action so as to avoid having to face it in future. We remember how Paul's recognition of his past drove him to serve God all the more (1Co.15:9,10).