The Loss of Guilt


guilt guiltyI don't want to make you feel guilty.
That was the comment made by the speaker during a great seminar I heard. I immediately found myself wondering - why not? After all - I was guilty and I suspect most of the listeners were guilty. What do I mean - I was guilty?

Well, I was guilty because I wasn't doing the things the speaker presented as good, right and true. Not only that, but as moral guidance and more, moral imperative from an impressive source - namely the God of the Old and New Testament scripture.

The speaker presented in a compelling way core ideas and themes which he righly concluded were true. That means they were absolute, normative and authoritative. That means I need to do those things. If I was not doing those things, something was wrong. The speaker wanted me to understand that the "lack" of these things in my life was a very real issue of great importance. And, he suggested (again, rightly in my assessment) that Christ was concerned when I am not living in a way of faithful obediance to the guidance and imperative as taught by Jesus.

I WAS guilty of not doing what Jesus said I must do. Moral imperatives always have the nature of "oughtness" about them. They are not a matter of individual opinion or personal preference. My life was not in harmony with Truth. My behaviors were not in alignment with the Moral Nature of human existence.

Again - I WAS guilty.
And - my problem is that I did not FEEL guilty. At least until I listened to the speaker.

Pleae note: There is such a thing as false guilt, inordinate guilt, misplaced guilt, guilt trips and more such examples of what I describe as BAD GUILT. But when we don't know what Good Guilt is, we will inescapably be plagued with Bad Guilt. But Bad Guilt is not the focus of this post.

That is the great peril and perplexity of our culture. We ARE guilty, but we do not FEEL (or have the subjective experience) of guilt. Therefore, we do not mourn, lament and grieve. We do not confess. We therefore cannot repent or turn from what is wrong to what is right. We do not pray for grace, forgiveness and succor. (Succor: what a great, rich, deep, wonderful word. It means help, assistance and support in times of distress and hardship.)

What our culture has done, since it has lost the way of lament, confession, prayer and repentance... is to castigate and insult the experience of guilt. It is now lambasted (harshly criticized) as primitive, psychologically unhealthy and a remnant of relic religion. The sooner we do away with guilt, the sooner we can be free to be me or we.

To do away with guilt, we must of course do away with any Truth/Morality that has the status of absolute, normative, and authoritative. This has been done through the now commonly accepted relativism of truth and morality. Truth is downgrded to "what I feel is true." Morality is degraded to "what you value, want, desire as long as it doesn't hurt someone else... or at least not too much...

What a crock that is since our frequent violations of power, money and sexuality mean the misuse and abuse of that Triad... and that means someone ALWAYS gets hurt. But in a world that has no absolutes, might makes right, the one who has the gold makes the rules (the new Golden Rule by the way), and what happens in Vegas stays in Vega (really - do you really think you can do what you want in secret and get away with it?).

Just because we try to redefine GUILT (and shame as well) out of our lexicon, it does not mean that guilt has gone away. It has gone undercover, deep undercover. There undercover, guilt morphs into depression, anxiety and despair (epidemic in our culture and all the Humpty Dumpty Drugs are not working that well). I suspose that it also (often) morphs into anger and rage, which also seem to be on the increase.

So . . . there I sat, feeling guilty . . . because I was guilty. And Jesus was there as well, full of truth, holiness, forgiveness, mercy, grace and love. Extending  an Invitation to believe his Imperative. To believe and to behave . . . which I did. My conscience was pricked, I felt guilty. I mourned my sin, confessed my sin and now comes repentance, that long obedience in the same direction. Mourning and confession, if they are genuine can take a moment. Repentance and the long obedience, well, they are longer, much longer.

So I think that teacher for making me "feel guilty."
And I thank Christ for forgiving me for the guilt. 

If you are feeling guilty - use that as a stepping stone for the spiritual formation work Christ desires to do. If you are not feeling guitly about anything (hmmm...)

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions Internaitonal
BrianRice@lcileaders.org