Guilt Trip

Freedom from a Guilty Conscience

By Stephanie Ismer

There's a joke in our family about guilt. We're Norwegian, and though I don't know why that should produce guilt, as a people we tend to be plagued with a guilty conscience. I have it, my Dad has it, my Grandmother had it, and that it probably goes back all the way to Erik the Red, who I have no doubt paid for each indulgence of looting and pillaging by extensive self-flagellation.

A few years ago there was a study to determine which nation was the most honest. Wallets full of money were left on sidewalks in various nations, to examine what a random sample of the populus would do. Only one nation had a 100% honesty rate. Guess which one?

So what. Surely there are worse things than a guilty conscience. Maybe. But you know who painted that famous painting of the terrified white-faced man on the bridge? A Norwegian. So, take it from me and Edvard Munch, guilt can be brutal. It can be vicious. It can make you want to scream. How does a person escape from guilt?

Here is a passage from Exodus 34:7, where God is describing Himself to the Nation of Israel:
The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and fourth generation.
Now look at what King David (songwriter, adulterer and murderer) says, in Psalm 25:11:
For your name's sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
If David knew God to be a God who will "by no means clear the guilty" how can he ask God to pardon his guilt? If we look at the preceding verses we may find a clue. This is from Psalm 25: 8-10:
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
What we can assume from these passages, when taken together, is that God is steadfastly loving and faithful, and will indeed pardon guilt, though he will not clear the guilty. What is the difference? A man who is humble and recognizes his sin, is a man who says "pardon my guilt". But the guilty are those who do not accept that they have done anything wrong — and there is no possible atonement for that person because they have rejected the only cure and their guilt still remains on them. Take a look at 1 John 1:5-7. It follows the same pattern as Exodus 34:7. Extolling God's virtue, and then exposing man's condition:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Walking in the light means allowing yourself to be exposed — you're covered in dirt, and you can't clean yourself. The only answer is to walk out under the glaring daylight covered in mud. Only then can you go from being guilty in God's sight to being able to say to Him "please...pardon my guilt, for it is great." It starts with humility, with a desire for truth at all costs. It starts when you want God more than you want to convince the world (and yourself) that you're innocent.

A wonderful example of this comes from Isaiah 6:7. Isaiah is transported into God's presence, and He sees God "high and lifted up" in all His glory. When He sees this matchless sight, he says "woe is me, my lips are unclean." He has come into the light, and has seen the truth about himself. But what does God do? Does He say "go away, you're filthy!" Not at all. Rather, He shows His steadfast love and faithfulness, as is shown by what happens to Isaiah next:
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips: your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.

Where did the coal come from? The altar.
What happens on an altar? Sacrifice.
Whose sacrifice was it? God's.


Image Credit: OakleyOriginals; "Those Eyes"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Hardships  | Sin-Evil

Published 6-17-11; Revised 4-20-15