As a pastor and a helping person, over the years I have had conversations with a struggling individual, and the conversation begins, “I feel so guilty”. All kinds of things can prompt that very real feeling. The trouble is, there is a crack in the door in this scenario that can let a destructive lie in the house. Some guilt is real, some guilt is false and feelings can lie to you.
Guilt is a very necessary thought for us in our lives, because it is the warning light on the dashboard that tells us there is something we need to make right. If we have violated God’s word, disobeyed something in scripture, we should feel guilty. A good self examination in prayer looks like David’s prayer; “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thought; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23,24).
The Holy Spirit responds by convicting us, making us aware of what we have done wrong.
Having that clear, the scripture says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Simple as that. This is what I did, and I am going to stop it.
He forgives us and cleanses us, there is no more guilt, no more shame.
But that is often not the scenario the person comes to me with. They are feeling guilty because they did not meet someone’s expectation. They are feeling guilty because they did not get something absolutely perfect. They are feeling guilty because they did not go to something that they really did not want to attend. They are feeling guilty because everyone is in a mood to celebrate, and right now their massive headache won’t allow it.
Worse yet, some exuberant personality says something like “Aw c’mon, don’t you have the joy of the Lord?” Sure you do, but right now my head hurts. But you go home feeling guilty because you were not into the mood. I have had people say that if you are really moved by the Lord, you will jump up and down, get excited, maybe cheer. When I feel that way, I get kinda quiet. Is that okay? And I can feel guilty.
The trouble with all of these things, is NONE of them are violations of scripture.
In order to be truly guilty of something, you have to actually VIOLATE something. As in most of our struggles, if we reduce it to the irreducible minimum, it is TRUTH. The truth is, again, to be guilty, you have to VIOLATE something. So if we feel guilty and we have not violated anything, that is false guilt. And false guilt is a lie, and we know where lies come from.
When we get to feeling guilty, this is the benefit of having an accountability partner to talk something through with, and false guilt feelings are a good candidate for that kind of conversation. Take it down to bare bones truth, and refuse to believe a lie, no matter who it is who is egging you on in that direction.