Guilt good and bad?
- 2002 9 Sep
Guilt is one of those good/bad things. It's good to feel guilty when you've done something wrong because it just might prevent you from making the same mistake again. On the other hand, guilt is a bad thing when it takes you on a long trip and prevents you from moving forward.
I like the story of the little boy who instinctively answered the telephone and whispered, "Hello." The voice on the other end said: "Uh, hello, is your mother home?" The little guy answered: "Yeah, but she's busy," "Is your father home?" "Yeah, but he's busy too…" "Well is there any other adult in the house that I might talk to?" "Yeah, there's a policeman and a fireman." "May I speak with one of them?" "No, they are busy too." "Well, what's everybody so busy doing?" The little boy whispered, "They are looking for me."
When we're guilty, we instinctively hide; I think it's woven into our genes somehow. Hiding is exactly what Adam and Eve did when God came looking for them after they had eaten the forbidden fruit. However, hiding probably isn't the best option for dealing with our guilt because guilt is never resolved when it is pushed down, denied, or covered over.
Someone once asked me, "Dave, why exactly do people feel so guilty?" I said, "Probably because they are guilty!" We all are aren't we? Not a single one of us makes it through the day without something less than perfect innocence entering into our lives. Sometimes it's a hateful or revengeful thought. It could be a streak of impatience with a toddler. Perhaps it's a lie - not one of those little "innocent" lies that people tell to keep from hurting someone's feelings - I mean a premeditated whopper of a lie! Maybe it's failing to give 100% at work, or flipping someone off in a minor fit of road rage.
But whatever it might be, when that tingle of guilt shows up, thank God for it…I'm not kidding…thank God that you can still feel. I say that because when the guilty feelings stop haunting our souls, it means we have become calloused, and calloused people become increasingly capable of destructive attitudes and activities toward the people around them.
You see, in this sense guilt is good because it has the potential of keeping us human. On the other hand, guilt can eat away at us, consuming our peace of mind and freedom to function. This kind of guilt is usually associated with some gigantic failure or mistake, like the mother who couldn't forgive herself for letting her toddler out of her sight, or the woman who lost control of her car and plowed into a school playground last week taking the lives of two youngsters. Guilt that gets a stranglehold on our souls and refusing to let go can suck the life right out of you. When that variety of guilt enters your life, there is only one real antidote: Grace…
You see, God understands our failures and our mistakes. While He grieves with us over them, He is perfectly willing to forgive us of all our failures and mend the brokenness associated with our mistakes. All we've got to do is ask.
The Bible says that He understands our weaknesses as well as our inability to live perfectly. His grace is sufficient and all you've got to do is ask. And when you ask, He exchanges guilt for grace. So…the next time you screw up, go ahead and ask, God's only a prayer away.