- • GUILT & FORGIVENESS By: Don Williams
A presentation to help us better understand guilt and forgiveness.
The one factor common to everyone, found in anxiety, depression, anger, relational, sexual, martial, abuse, identity, family, divorce, and control issues.
The one factor common to all men.
We all suffer from guilt at some time.
WHY? Because we are all guilty!
ROMANS 3:23, ECCLESIASTES 7:20, ACTS 17:30
Guilt has been described as the place where religion and psychology most often meet. It is a terribly painful emotional experience. In most all of the problems that a person may face, guilt will be a part of the difficulty. With this knowledge it is imperative that we learn to help others and ourselves manage guilt in a way that brings forgiveness.
- • TWO CATAGORIES of GUILT
Ø OBJECTIVE GUILT occurs when a law has been broken, the lawbreaker is guilty, not related to feelings.
Ø SUBJECTIVE GUILT refers to the inner feelings of remorse and self-condemnation that come because of our actions.
It is important to be able to distinguish between the two types of guilt.
Ø LEGAL :SOCIETY’S LAWS
Ø THEOLOGICAL: LAWS OF GOD
Ø PERSONAL: PERSONAL STANDARDS
Ø SOCIAL: SOCIALLY ACCEPTED RULES
LEGAL GUILT: a violation of society’s laws, an example would be theft. If a person steals from a store the individual is guilty of theft whether they are caught or not and regardless of remorse.
THEOLOGICAL GUILT: a failure to obey God’s laws. The Bible describes divine standards for human behavior, standards that we all violate at some time in our actions or thoughts.
PERSONAL GUILT: a violation of our own personal standards or resistance to the urgings of our conscience. An example would be a devoted father who had to be out of town on business on his child’s birthday. No illegal, immoral, or unbiblical acts were committed, but guilt is present.
SOCIAL GUILT: when we break unwritten socially accepted rules. An example would be talking too loudly in a normally quiet setting, a funeral gathering.
These types of guilt overlap, merge, and sometimes are not easily distinctive. Although most people would be uncomfortable when they violate any of the four objective types of guilt it is quite possible to do all of these and not feel guilty.
The uncomfortable feeling of regret, remorse, shame, and self-condemnation associated with perceived wrongful acts or thoughts, including omission.
Ø APPROPRIATE GUILT FEELINGS
Ø INAPPROPRIATE GUILT FEELINGS
Appropriate guilt feelings are present when we have broken a law, disobeyed biblical teaching, or violated the dictates of our conscience and feel remorse in proportion to the seriousness of our actions.
Inappropriate guilt feelings are out of proportion to the seriousness of the act. These often come from within ourselves or can come from statements or judgments of others.
Ø People usually refer to subjective guilt.
Ø Biblical Guilt is objective guilt.
Ø Psalms and other scripture relate personal remorse, but not guilt feelings.
Ø Bible does not imply that we should arouse guilt feelings in others.
Ø Constructive Sorrow: godly sorrow.
Ø Divine Forgiveness: major biblical theme.
The words translated guilt in the Bible refer to the objective guilt in the theological category, not the subjective feelings of guilt that most people talk about when referring to guilt. A person is guilty in the biblical sense when they have broken God’s law. In the Bible there is little difference between guilt and sin.
Although biblical writers never mention subjective guilt, we do see this type of guilt throughout scripture. Deep expressions of remorse over sin are found in the Psalms. Paul writes of his own inner anguish as he fails to do good.
As a believer we have no reason to have guilt feelings because of the work of Christ, even so we continue in mental self punishment, dwelling on guilt we feel over our sin.
Many teachers, parents, preachers, and coaches attempt to stir up guilt feelings in others in an attempt to motivate, change behavior, punish wrongdoers, and protect people from future sin. These tactics may work temporarily but tend to be manipulative and arouse unhealthy guilt feelings.
The concept of Constructive Sorrow or Godly sorrow is seen in Paul’s writings. In 2Corinthians 7:8-10, Paul describes worldly sorrow (guilt feelings) contrasted with godly sorrow ( helps us turn away from sin and seek salvation. Psychological guilt is self condemning and confession is usually a selfish motive to get relief from guilt feelings. Godly sorrow involves remorse, repentance, and a genuine desire to change.
Divine Forgiveness established by Christ so we could be forgiven and restored. Most biblical passages imply that forgiveness comes with two conditions confession and repentance. It also means we must forgive others. We can help people find forgiveness from God, help them forgive others, help them receive forgiveness, and forgive themselves.
Ø PAST EXPERIENCES
Ø INFERIORITY and SOCIAL PRESSURE
Ø FAULTY CONSCIENCE DEVELOPMENT
Ø SUPERNATURAL INFLEUENCES
Ø LACK OF FORGIVENESS
Most people feeling guilty are seeking help with their subjective guilt feelings, they may be from an objective guilt but they seek help for their feelings. Why do they feel guilty? Some reasons are.
Past experiences and unrealistic expectations are a main reason. Early childhood parental standards and punishment can lead to self-criticism, inferiority, and guilt feelings. Guilt feelings are also a way for us to both punish ourselves and push ourselves to do better. These unrealistic expectations usually are not successful.
Inferiority and Social Pressure: feelings of inferiority and guilt are intertwined and can cause the other. Our self-perceptions are greatly influenced by the opinions and criticisms of others.
Faulty Development of the Conscience: Although the term conscience is found in the New Testament it is never clearly defined. Paul wrote that consciences are built on universal, divinely given principles that are written within us. A Conscience can be dead, dulled, weak, strengthened, and altered by teaching and actions of others. Again early childhood development is important here, as well as peer input, and social values. Christian training as a child or adult can also be an influencing factor on our conscience.
Supernatural Influences: an awareness of objective guilt can come from the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin. This influence is for cleansing and our good. Satan is referred to as the Accuser, these accusations in our thoughts lead to condemnation and guilt feelings.
A Lack of Forgiveness: not really a cause of guilt, but when we can not find forgiveness, guilt persists.
• EFFECTS OF GUILT
Ø DEFENSIVE THINKING
Ø PHYSICAL REACTIONS
Ø MORAL PAIN
Ø REPENTANCE and FORGIVENESS
Guilt feelings can influence us in several ways.
Defensive Thinking: these take the form of defense mechanisms, ways of thinking that we use to avoid or reduce feelings of guilt. These can include repression, projection (blame), denial, withdrawal, rationalization, anger, or over apologize. Christians fall prey to the manner of thinking that “ sinful nature” is to blame. This can minimize the severity of sin and cheapen grace.
Self-Condemnation: feelings of inferiority, inadequacy, weakness, low esteem, pessimism, and insecurity are all associated with guilt. Many people feeling guilt experience inability to accept compliments, say no to requests, or accept forgiveness. Anger of a self condemning nature can lead to depression and suicide.
Physical Reactions: guilt feelings can produce physical results. We are weakened and eventually may break.
Moral Pain: This type of effect is usually associated with the experience of intense violence, cruelty, or brutality. We experience deep moral pain from the acts we commit, experience or witness.
Repentance and Forgiveness: the one positive effect of guilt feelings. Confess and be made whole.
Ø UNDERSTANDING and ACCEPTANCE
Ø INSTILLING INSIGHT
Ø MORAL EDUCATION
Ø REPENTANCE and FORGIVENESS
Ø MAKING RESTITUTION
Forgiveness and freedom from the burden of guilt is a gift from God. Guilt is a moral issue, and guilt feelings arise from moral failures. When people experience forgiveness, forgive others, and learn to forgive themselves they can learn to face their guilt and its causes.
Understanding and Acceptance: many people have a self condemning or self blaming attitude. We should not minimize the reality of sin, nor act morally superior, or condemn. An attitude of love and understanding works, love the sinner not the sin.
Instilling Insight: We must understand why we feel guilty. We must also be aware of our response to guilt. We need to recognize how or when our guilty feelings arose. These insights may lead to spiritual truths.
Moral Education: People with feelings of guilt must learn to reexamine their standards of right and wrong. It is almost basic theology, the solution to guilt feelings lies with honesty, confession, pray for forgiveness, repentance, and acceptance.
Repentance and Forgiveness: In dealing with the issue of forgiveness a person may think; I can’t ask for forgiveness, I don’t feel forgiven, I can’t forgive others, I can’t forget, and I can’t forgive myself. These struggles and thoughts are common to all.
Making Restitution: forgiveness is usually followed by a change in behavior and in thinking, these changes lead to true freedom from guilt.
The ultimate answer for guilt is not found solely in psychology. It is found in God and His forgiveness. We can be forgiven and our guilt removed and a way is provided to deal with our feelings of shame and guilt.
Although Christian Counseling is a wonderful tool to aid in our quest for freedom from guilt and to obtain inner peace, true forgiveness can only be found in the shed blood of Christ for our sin.
HONESTY BEFORE GOD
“The ultimate solution to guilt and guilt feelings is to honestly admit our pain, sufferings, failures, and guilt; to confess sin to Christ and at times to other human beings; to pray for forgiveness and a sincere desire to repent and change behavior; and then to believe with divine help that we are forgiven and accepted by the God of the universe.” quoted from Gary R. Collins, Ph.D. Christian Counselor.