Guilt has been used for so long as a whipping stick to scare people into faith that the blessing of guilt has been lost. Guilt has been considered to be a psychological dark hole used as a way of avoiding treatment for depression for so long that its blessedness has been lost.
Can anything good come from guilt?
Guilt is not a means by which God punishes us.
It is not an expression of God’s anger or hatred.
Rather, guilt is a gift by which God calls us back.
Guilt is that pull toward virtue, that longing for wholeness and peace, that draw of the Holy Spirit.
It derives from our being out of sync with our true nature. We were born to love and to be loved. We were born to enjoy a continual exchange of love leading to oneness with God.
God intends our lives to be a symphony of beauty, goodness, and truth. When we fall short, God blesses us with guilt.
Sinful actions separate us from our true nature and alienate us from God.
Sin is a state of being that results from sinful acts or inactions.
Sin is the state of being separated from God and others.
It is a condition of being disconnected from our true self.
Guilt results from the separation that is sin.
Feeling guilty comes from a tender regard for the person God created us to be, the person that we long to be, but only glimpses from a distance of our own making.
Guilt articulates our broken relationship and calls us home.
Feeling guilty is a gift by which God calls us home, to our true purpose and our true nature.
If we don’t respond to the blessing of guilt, it becomes a curse.
Guilt turns into dread and gloom when we choose not to repent and don’t change our ways.
Think about it. If we had no sense of guilt, we would not be moral people.
We see terrifying examples of people who don’t feel guilt. They are rude and hurtful. Sometimes they commit horrific terroristic acts with seeming glee. We read another tragic example of blindness to guilt this week in the crusade against Christians in Egypt. The wanton beheadings speak of a total poverty of guilt.
So what is guilt, if not a gift from God that calls us back to our true self, back to God, and back to our neighbor? It is not a self-abnegating exercise, such as the psalmist practiced when he declared, “I am a worm and no man” (Psalm 22).
Lent is a season for embracing the wholesome gift of guilt, for recognizing its true giftedness, and for responding accordingly.
We embrace the gift knowing that we will never be free from guilt. Nor will we want to be set free, once we recognize guilt to be God beckoning us home. We embrace guilt, because it permits us to rely on God’s mercy. It is guilt leading to confession that motivates us to be merciful to ourselves. Being smitten by God’s forgiveness, we are inspired to extend mercy and forgiveness to others.
The ashes on our foreheads are an outward sign that we are guilty, and thankful for the gift.
The Rev. Rick Matters
All Saints’, Carmel