Thursday, January 31, 2013

Eliminating Guilt

An Occasion for Guilt
This past Sunday, I had the privilege of participating in a Sanctity of Life Service at Life Bible Fellowship Church. For a variety of reasons, many churches, even churches that have a pro-life position, do not talk very much about abortion. One of the reasons why there is a lack of talk about abortion in our churches is that we know how painful it can be for those who have experienced abortion. Some people will say that it is insensitive to talk about abortion because it brings fresh guilt and shame to people who have had an abortion.
This sentiment certainly should lead churches to be sensitive and gospel-led as they address abortion, but this argumentation brings up a deeper question: Should the church avoid topics that can bring guilt and shame upon people?

Taking Guilt Seriously
Now, some people would hear this question and dismiss it, saying, "It is impossible for a church to teach God's Word without, at least occasionally, making someone feel guilty or ashamed. If people sin and violate God's Word, it is not the church's job to make sure that they don't feel bad about it. We need to speak the truth."
On the other hand, some people would hear this question and conclude that this is the very problem with Christianity and with all claims concerning moral absolutes. If you say that abortion is wrong, you make others feel guilty for a decision they made. If you say that pre-marital sex or looking at pornography is wrong, you rain down guilt on "violators" of these "sins." If you say that homosexuality is wrong, then you make someone feel guilty simply for trying to live out their own orientation.
A couple of months ago, I watch a video of Mark and Grace Driscoll on the Dr. Drew Show. The Driscolls were talking about their book, Real Marriage. While Dr. Drew and his panel said some nice things about the book, they then proceeded to take Mark and Grace to task for certain things that they said were wrong. Specifically, they pointed out that the Driscolls' had said that fantasizing about other men or women was wrong and sinful. The panel said that this would bring guilt on the people who did this, while they were only doing things that were natural and normal. The clear assumption from the panel was that it is harmful to be responsible for making someone feel guilty.
We may reject this line of thinking. We may know that certain things are wrong and therefore must be proclaimed to be wrong. Still, there is probably something in all of us that doesn't want to bring guilt and shame upon others. That can't be the goal, right? If our goal in a conversation or a sermon or a church service or a blog post is to make people feel bad, then this certainly doesn't seem like a noble or godly goal.

The Inevitability of Guilt
But if we talk about sin, then we will inevitably make people feel guilty.
And, to some extent, we all know that there are appropriate occasions for guilt. When we are correcting our kids, we often tell them to say that they are sorry. And if they say that they are sorry with clenched fists and an angry voice, we tell them that they should not only say that they are sorry; they should feel sorry. When criminals are being sentenced or are up for parole, their remorse (or lack of remorse) is taking into consideration.
Most of would admit that there is a time for guilt. We would even admit that there is an appropriate time for us to feel guilty. But we also instinctively know that guilt is bad. So, we try to get rid of it.

Two Ways to Eliminate Guilt
If guilt is bad (and certainly it is bad in some sense), how do we eliminate it? How do rid ourselves of the nagging guilt and shame that we experience when our wrongdoings are exposed?
The world around us has a strategy. That strategy is to conclude that our guilt is not real. If we feel guilty, it is only because we have mistakenly accepted someone else's invention of morality. Religion or self-righteous people have called something "wrong" and this causes us to have a psychological disorder that we simply need to explain away. You get rid of your guilt by concluding that it is not real and therefore it is not valid.
The Bible teaches another method for eliminating guilt. The Bible teaches that all people are sinners before God (Romans 3:23). We all have real guilt before God and before one another. We can't simply imaging it away or throw it off. Even if we ignore it, it is still present.
But the Bible does not teach that God has left us in the misery of our own guilt and shame. The Bible teaches that someone else came to bear our guilt and shame. When Jesus died for the sins of the world, he bore our guilt on the cross. Our guilt had to go somewhere. It went on him. We don't face any condemnation because he was condemned in our place (Romans 8:1). And now we can be free from guilt not because we have done nothing wrong, but because someone else took it away.

Always See the Gospel
There is a price for talking about abortion, as well as any other sin mentioned in the Bible. The price is that a number of people will be reminded of the guilt and shame that goes along with their sinful actions. The solution is not to avoid the subject. The solution is to preach the gospel. Our guilt is real! Our shame is real! Our sin is real! We should be panicked, wondering what we will do?! And then we are reminded of the cross. And when we remember the cross, we are invited into the great freedom that comes along with the elimination of guilt. This kind of freedom can never be present when our (inferior) solution to guilt is to ignore it, suppress it, or explain it away.
And for those of us who are Christians, the cross is still the solution to out guilt and shame. We still sin and we still feel guilt and shame when we sin. We must always take that sin to the cross and embrace the reality that Jesus died for it. This, and only this, is the path to true freedom and joy.

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