Hope, Hope Month What Do We Do With Guilt?

By Michelle Williams

We just finished up our sermon series for Hope Month 2021: I'm So Glad God Made This Planet. I noticed that Barry mentioned in his first two sermons that the series is not intended to make us feel guilty. Did you catch that, too?

I want to spend some time considering this, especially because guilt is one of those emotions that pops up pretty frequently. Guilt is also usually delegated to the “negative” column anytime emotions are classified. I realized that I’ve never really questioned the conventional wisdom that guilt is a negative emotion even though it seems to be a standard piece of the human experience. Have you also found that experiencing emotions like guilt, anger, or fear seems nearly inevitable, especially when we begin to learn more about brokenness in the world and ways that we may unintentionally contribute to it?

If these feelings are bad, why would God design humans to experience these uncomfortable emotions?

Let’s temporarily pause the human tendency to label these emotions "good" or "bad," and consider that God may have given us all our emotions for a reason. The more I study and learn, the more I believe that God has equipped us with a sophisticated set of emotions to serve as a navigational system that will inevitably lead us back to His love. (Check out this article about fear from the sermon and devotional series we did in the Psalms the summer of 2019!)

If God has a purpose for equipping us with a complex emotion like guilt, I wonder if it might be to prompt us toward repentance? Stories from the law and prophets in the Old Testament seem to support this possibility, but the purpose of these emotions may remain a mystery of God’s wisdom that is impossible for humans to comprehend. Even so, I feel confident that we do not need to fully understand why we experience uncomfortable emotions like guilt to trust that God can use them for good. God can cause everything to work for good.

I also believe that where God is partnering with His beloved children for good, the spiritual powers of the world find it irresistible to hijack the human will to serve other purposes. An easy way for the spiritual enemies of God to manipulate us is to prey on the predictable, habitual characteristics of the human condition—such as our emotions. As humans, we are vulnerable in this way. But as Christians, we also hold the power and authority of Jesus to derail the intentions of evil.

"Don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect." - Romans 12:2

We can prevent these spiritual enemies from manipulating our emotions by allowing God’s Spirit to change the way we think. I’m proposing here that we listen to the Spirit and change what we believe about guilt. Maybe another verse in Romans can help us get there:

"For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering." - Romans 8:16-17

Since we are made in God’s image, the things that break God’s heart will break our hearts, too. Could it be that a sense of guilt may arise in us as the mirror image of God’s broken heart for the suffering of Creation? In this way, feelings of guilt may reflect our direct connection to God as proof that we’re sharing in his suffering. If we believe this moving forward, might that tinge of guilt prompt us to feel as though God is calling us to participate in healing the broken places of the world?

I love this possibility. It gives me confidence that when a sense of guilt pops up for me, God has already equipped me with the power to crowd out Satan’s lies and accusations. Since I’m aware of the spiritual dynamics at play, I can choose to pay attention to what God wants to show me the moment that my emotions put me on alert.

I hope that, as Hope Month 2021 draws to a close, you can share in this confidence as we continue to celebrate God’s Creation and aspire to participate with God in healing it. 


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