On faith: Can guilt be good for us?
The story is told about the scene in a San Diego courtroom where two men were charged with robbing a small store. A witness to the crime was being questioned by the prosecuting attorney who asked the following sequence of questions: "Were you at the store at the time of the robbery?" "Yes," came the reply. "And did you see the faces of the two robbers?" The witness nodded. The attorney then turned up the intensity of his questioning and asked in a loud voice: "Are these two men present in the courtroom today?" There was no need for a reply, however. The two defendants immediately raised their hands.
Have you ever felt guilty about something? I mean really guilty. Maybe there was good reason for your guilt: you know you did wrong. If so, guilt is not really a bad thing. Or maybe you were blaming yourself for something that really wasn't your fault. In cases like that, guilt can be self-imposed and is not good. Guilt can be positive or negative, depending on the truth behind its cause.
If you are feeling guilty today about something, know that you are in good company. If we look honestly at our lives, all of us have reason to feel guilty about something. Romans says: "For all have sinned and fall short of God's glory." God is perfectly holy, and whenever we do anything that violates his holiness, it is, by definition, sin. Guilt is a built-in response so that we will seek forgiveness.
King David had plenty to feel guilty about. He committed adultery and then had the woman's husband killed to cover up his sin. Talk about offending the holiness of God! In the midst of his guilt over his sin, David pens one of my very favorite passages of Scripture - Psalm 51. It begins: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me." David knows that what he has done has violated the holiness of God, and his guilt is almost overwhelming.
So what do we do with guilt? David knew what to do. He took his sin and laid it out before God. Later in Psalm 51, David prays: "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me." And so, there is good news. Forgiveness is available for the asking! Jesus died a horrible death nailed to a cross, carrying our sins upon himself. He died, taking all the wrath of his heavenly Father, that we might find forgiveness. So whatever it is that is making you feel guilty, take it to the Lord Jesus. Confess it to him, and thank him for dying in your place. Admit that you need him as your Savior and Lord. If you do, you will find that by believing in him, there is forgiveness.
Guilt does not have to be forever. You can start fresh in your relationship with God. It truly doesn't matter what you've done in the past. Seek forgiveness from the Lord, and you will experience what it means to be forgiven. I have had that experience, and it has changed my whole life. Get a fresh start today, and see what new life in Christ is all about.
Scott Nelson has served as pastor of First Baptist Church since Nov. 1, 1993