How guilt haunts us! Picture yourself in Macbeth’s shoes. Here is a man who had ascended to the top. Everywhere men respected and feared him. At his slightest whim, a kingdom mobilized to please him. He knew wealth, fame, and power.
Yet, instead of a sense of exhilaration and fulfillment, as we should expect, the picture Shakespeare paints for us is of a man caught in the throes of gloom and despair. Desperate and hopeless, he is plagued by the knowledge of the evil of his treachery against the kindly old king and Banquo, and fearing retribution must come somehow.
Or, picture Saul, taken from the small tribe of Benjamin to sit on the throne of Israel, yet his misdeeds turned him into a paranoid old man suspicious of his most faithful lieutenant and even his own son, and dying in defeated suicide on a lonely battlefield. Both Saul and Macbeth were deadened by guilt.
What is Guilt?
What is this thing called guilt, and, even more importantly, is there any way to deal with it?
There are several facets to guilt. One, guilt is a sense that our stock on the personal value market has crashed. We remember being told while growing up about our generation being the hope of the world.
After a few years it became obvious we had been sucked into the same pattern as everyone else. We all tend to think of ourselves as being that special type of person who always does the moral and decent thing, above the influence of temptation. Each misdeed, every morsel of wickedness, shatters this mirror of illusion a bit more. The result is a damaged self-image.
Guilt can also include the fear of others thinking less of us. Being social creatures, we crave the esteem of others. A large ingredient of guilt’s pain is caused by the premonition that we will not receive the respect we need. If people only knew us as we really are. What if they find out the truth? What will they think?”
Another dimension to guilt is that lingering, nagging doubt deep in the pit of the stomach that we may have to pay for our deeds someday. What could God be thinking about us and our actions? How patient will He be before He requires retribution?
Cures for Guilt?
There have been many suggested solutions to the problem of guilt.
Eastern philosophies and religions say: sin is caused by being out of kilter with nature, the universe, or some such entity. Guilt is nature’s way of telling us that all is not right, much like physical pain indicates a problem in the body. By meditation, according to this theory, one can transcend his own baser instincts and drives and commune once again with nature.
Modern psychiatry often treats sin as an aberration of the mind. One must just take his mind off his sin, and his guilt will go away.
Liberal Western philosophical systems, both secular and religious, have attempted a reconciliation between ethics and guilt by either watering down any universal standard of moral) eliminating it completely. If something is not, why feel guilty about it?
These proposals fall short of doing the job absence of chaos in creation demands a single Creator, and the diversity within each segment that creation demands personality. (Human beings consistently have two eyes, two ears, one nose, toes, et cetera, and yet each person is so unique that no two persons even have the same fingerprint. And, since God’s laws of nature are constant an universal, it would make sense that His ethical star cards would also be universal.
Bearing this in mind, the aforementioned suggested remedies for guilt fail to take into account personal responsibility for the acts for which we feel guilty in the first place. Only the Biblical faith even attempts to deal with this.
First of all, we feel guilt because we’re guilty. Yet most of the time we take that time-honored approach, the coverup. This classic maneuver, known to us all, is accomplished by either ignoring a wrong done or by justifying it by righteous-sounding motives. King David exemplified the former when, after finding out a child would result from his adultery with Bathsheba, he tried to make her husband, Uriah, appear to be the father; that failing, he had Uriah killed and married his wife (II Samuel 11-12). The coverup only led to murder and further complications. The latter is illustrated by Saul’s actions in his war with Amalek (I Samuel 15). Told to take no spoil, Saul spared the best of the livestock and the king. When confronted with this, Saul blamed the people and his desire to sacrifice to the Lord.
Needless to say, neither plan succeeded. David and Bathsheba lost their child and were exposed to all Israel, and Saul’s dynasty ended with him.
Proverbs 28:13 states, “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
David must have learned this lesson. He finally owned up to his actions, God forgave him, and the next child to result from his marriage to Bathsheba succeeded him on the throne—Solomon.
It is clear that the Bible teaches forgiveness, but how do we know that it is real?
The reason we know is that God has provided a tangible means of dealing with it. In Leviticus 17:11, God says,
“…I have given it (blood) to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
God does not compromise His Law to forgive us; instead, He has provided a way for our sin—debt to be paid death. Now, before you start trembling, understand that it is not your death that God wants. In ancient Biblical days animals were sacrificed, but these were mere statements of intent pointing to the real substitutionary sacrifice—Messiah. Isaiah said,
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Here God has promised through His spokesman, Isaiah, that this Messiah would bear our sin. As Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, says so succinctly of this Eternal One to be born in Bethlehem,
“And he will be their peace.” (Micah 5:5)
What the Bible teaches is that we need fear guilt no longer, not because of some mystical mumbo-jumbo, or because of psyching oneself to ignore misdeeds, or by lowering God’s standards, but because the Messiah has paid for our sins.
Freedom From Guilt
The Mosaic Law gives a beautiful illustration of this principle in Leviticus 16. As part of the Day of Atonement rites, a live goat was chased into the desert, never to return again. Just as the people of Israel knew that the scapegoat would never return to camp, so would God not return their atoned-for sins on their heads. Thus could the Psalmist in the 103rd Psalm say, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.”
Saul of Tarsus, also known as Paul, wrote in his Roman epistle of those who took advantage of this atonement, or debt payment, that they were justified and glorified. (Romans 8: 29-30)
Justification as a term came from the Roman Imperial legal system. When a defendant was found innocent of a charge, the judge would issue him a writ of justification, a decree stating him to be righteous. The Bible teaches that when we accept God’s cure for guilt, He decrees us to be righteous.
The verb translated “glorify” in this same Scripture is “doxazo.” Walter Bauer’s Greek Lexicon, translated into English by Arndt and Gingrich, states a root meaning of this word to be “arrayed in splendor.” When our sins are removed by the blood of Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), God, instead of seeing us in rags of evil, sees us arrayed in His splendor, restored to Himself.
There is no more need for you to live like Macbeth or King Saul. God has provided a cure for guilt, one that won’t leave you worse off than when you started. The Messiah has already provided the means. All you need do is take advantage of it.
Psalm 51 A psalm of David.
When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
4 and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak
5and justified when you judge. Surely I have been a sinner from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
9let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.
10Create in me a pure heart, O God,
11and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence
12or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.