Last month we considered how important it is to not carry unforgiveness in our hearts towards others – but what about not being able to forgive ourselves? Guilt can torture and spoil. The sun hides behind the clouds and peace turns to anxiety. Meaningful relationships are a struggle and looking for unhealthy comfort becomes a real temptation.
Guilt can be good. It is our spiritual and emotional equivalent of physical pain. If you touch a hot stove your arm will instinctively snatch your hand away. Guilt is designed to produce the same effect when we are about to harm ourselves or others in the way we think or act.
Many people carry ‘false guilt.’ Those who struggle with issues of self-worth can feel they have done something that is too bad to be forgiven, that they are a ‘bad person’ and so deserve punishment. The smallest misdemeanour is magnified and weighs heavily. Some feel so bad about themselves that they find something in an unpleasant situation for which they can blame themselves. That might make them feel better in the short term but it is storing up real damage for the future. You cannot be forgiven for what you haven’t done wrong. The key is to talk out what you feel about yourself with someone who can help you.
What are we to do with the memories of things we have done wrong? Can we distract ourselves, bury guilt beneath the floorboards? Does it ever go away? This is precisely why there is a cross and a resurrection at the heart of the Christian faith. Jesus paid the price for all the wrong we have done and the resurrection proves that the payment was accepted. By trusting Jesus for that forgiveness our ‘slate is wiped clean’ and we have a new beginning.