How Do I Deal With Guilt?

Often counselors of all kinds are approached by people dealing with issues of guilt. Some are long standing issues, others are new and fresh. I thought perhaps I would take a few days and post some things about dealing with guilt biblically.

I think we will agree that we all have guilt to some degree. You may know people who say that guilt is unimportant, that guilt is unnecessary, or that it is the creation of religion. What we know medically is that guilt left unresolved can lead to ulcers, migraines, digestive difficulties, and others. What we know emotionally is that unresolved guilt will distort other problems.

Guilt is not new. It is spiritually a result of sinning against God and becoming aware we have violated God’s principles. An example from Scripture would be Adam’s son Cain. He knew true guilt long before he ever killed Abel. Cain knew he was guilty of bringing the wrong kind of sacrifice to God. He brought grain instead of animals and was angry because God was pleased with Abel’s right sacrifice and not with his. (Genesis 4) True guilt comes from divine judgment. God righteously judged Cain as guilty for disobedience, anger and murder and sent him away to wander the earth.

The Lord Jesus Christ also spoke about guilt in several passages of Scripture (Matthew 5:22; Mark 3:29; John 9:41; John 15:22).

A person’s belief system has a direct impact on if they experience guilt and how they respond to it. Your view of guilt will determine how you respond when you are wrong and confronted.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. Proverbs 27:6

Have you ever confronted someone about sin? If you have ever taken that risk, you are a true friend. We know it is a risk to confront because we are never sure what the reaction will be. There could be denial, an angry response, or both! If the person you confront does not have a high view of God, their response to guilt will be minimal. He or she will not be very affected by what she has done wrong and will be more likely to brush it off as no big deal. If the confronted person has been brought up in an extremely legalistic fashion, the confrontation and resulting guilt can tear them apart.

The person who has little response to guilt may have a secular world view. They will want to only deal with the effects or the feelings of guilt, not guilt itself. Often, there are attempts rationalize the sin in an attempt to explain it away (“I had a bad day”; “You make me so angry!”) to relieve the resulting guilt from their actions. Some people take the corporate sin approach, “Everybody does it.” The most common method currently is to call sin sickness- mental illness, mental disability in which case a person cannot be guilty for their actions because, after all, they are “sick.” Maybe they have received bad genes, “It is not my fault, it is bad genetics.”

Another way folks deal with the feelings of guilt is to desensitize the conscience by continuing in sin until you feel no guilt. Many of us know people who try to numb the guilt with chemicals like illegal drugs or prescription medications, and alcohol abuse.

Attempting to create a good self-esteem is also a way people try to absolve guilt. The thinking is if you just need to feel better about yourself. The better you feel about yourself and the more pumped up you are about how good you are then the guilt will go away; the erroneous thinking is that you can smother guilt it in good feelings about yourself.

Finally, the favorite method of many people to dealing with guilt is to blame shift the reason for the guilt onto someone else. (Genesis 3:12) This is where I sinned against you but it is your fault. A typical rational in cases of abuse.

None of these worldly ways of dealing with guilt recognized the cause of guilt is an offense to God. All of the above secular approaches disregard the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the individual’s accountability to God.

The definition of guilt is liability (you are responsible) or culpability (you are guilty) to punishment for wrongdoing. This is not just “feeling” or “result” or effect.” Not how I feel about my liability for wrongdoing, this is a fact. The Biblical view of guilt is not dependent on how we feel about it. Our feelings may or may not follow our understanding of what true guilt is. The fact of guilt is that we are talking about offending a Holy God!

...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23

By the way, psychology tells us that we all need to be loved, that it is our greatest need in life. Society wants us to believe that if we all felt enough love for one another we would not hurt each other. This is untrue- the reason we hurt each other and feel guilt is because we are sinners in need of a Savior. What our greatest fundamental need really is to be saved first, and then to walk in a way that honors God- for that is love.

The love of Christ will then motivate our hearts, the conscience is activated, and we understand what real guilt is all about. Then, because of that understanding we are driven by the Spirit of God to repent of the real things we have done that bring with them the realization of guilt.

But, what about feeling guilt when you haven't really done anything wrong? That is tomorrow's topic, unless He comes.