I remember when I was young, and I did something terrible. I stole a piece of candy from the local drug store. I wasn’t very smart in my thievery, though. As soon as we were in the car, I sat in the back seat and began to enjoy my ill-gotten booty. That’s when my mother caught me.
Immediately, she turned the car around, marched me into the store, called for the store manager, made me apologize, and pay for the candy. Oh! The guilt! I remember feeling red hot and exposed and weighed down by a burden of wrong. And all that for a piece of “Bit O; Honey!” Yuck!
Guilt is a feeling of deep regret and responsibility for some action. Now, there is real guilt and there is felt guilt. Real guilt is the kind Adam felt in Genesis 3. Adam was led to realize that his doubt and disobedience had broken the bond he shared with the LORD God. He knew that God’s penetrating gaze would see through to his guilt and failure. When God confronted Adam with his sin, he refused to accept responsibility and tried to excuse himself by blaming Eve. That’s when the “blame game” began.
Adam and Eve had real guilt. They had broken a moral principle or law which the LORD God had established. There is a difference between being guilty and feeling guilty, however. Sometimes, people get blamed or punished for things they didn’t do. This can lead to feelings of worthlessness.
We learn something from how the Lord dealt with Adam and Eve. It is important that people verbalize their feelings of guilt, whether real or felt. This is often the first step to the healing of forgiveness. The real guilt we feel, which is triggered by the Holy Spirit, leads to an honest admission of guilt (we call that “Confession”) as well as to hear the promise of forgiveness (we call that “Absolution”).
Real guilt leads to repentance and restoration. False guilt leads to regret and failed expectations. Either way, guilt feels like a hot flame that exposes and a heavy burden that crushes. God is not a burden, though. He is the burden-bearer. There is a Bible passage that reminds us of this truth:
Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens. Psalm 68:19
God, our heavenly Father, placed our sins on Jesus Christ at Calvary. He quenched the flame that exposes and he removed the burden that crushes. Our risen Savior daily calls us to cast our burdens on him because he cares for us (Matthew 11:28-30).
The Lord is gracious and loving. The commandments that he gave were designed to keep us safe and free to love him. That means we must be free from the burdens of guilt. And we are! Even when we mess up, there is no condemnation for those who trust in Christ (Romans 8:1). That means God continues to forgive our sin and “wipes out [our] transgressions,” remembering them no more (Isaiah 43:25).
We may have to live with consequences of our choices, but never with the weight of guilt. We can find the ability to turn off the mental voice recorder of Satan who tries to accuse us. Jesus said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30) That means Satan’s accusations of guilt (real or felt) are cancelled. Jesus says so.
It might help to have a “guilt bucket.” Every time you feel guilt sneaking up on you, write that feeling on a piece of paper and throw it in the bucket as if to bury it in Easter’s empty tomb. This is especially helpful for people dealing with felt guilt. Forgiveness means freedom. And freedom from guilt means we can live anew for Christ. Freedom from guilt means we are free to show kindness to others. We are freed to practice forgiveness in our relationships. This helps us move past the powerful feelings of guilt.
And guilt is powerful. The Lord God uses it to show us where we have gone astray and need to be honest with him in forgiveness. On the other hand, guilt can be a prison that locks us away from the joy of forgiveness we have in Christ. Know the difference. Know that you are freely and fully forgiven in Christ. That’s because God declares us to be forgiven children in his Son, Jesus. That is God’s promises whether we feel it or not.
Lord, sometimes I am embarrassed to admit my sins and mistakes. Yet you know me as I really am. You know my sinfulness. Even more important, you know me as your forgiven child in Christ Jesus, your Son. Assure me that I am forgiven and loved by you. Amen.