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The Graceless Gospel of Guilt

The Graceless Gospel of Guilt

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Published by Thom Hunter

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Published by: Thom Hunter on Dec 04, 2011
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12/04/2011

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By Thom Hunter 
'Why have you despised the word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to beyour wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. -- 2 Samuel 12:9
Those words were spoken by Nathan at the request of the Lord to directly rebukeKing David, forbearer of Jesus Christ, declared him guilty of lying, adultery andmurder. A boatload of clearly-earned guilt for which he deserved to die.Some people do.I think guilt may have killed my father. Not specific guilt for a specific action . . . but just the guilt of not being all he could have been, for not making more of himself, for not rising above, climbing higher, grasping the golden ring, for not meeting theexpectations of others or even of himself. I used to think it was alcohol, but now Ibelieve it may have been guilt. Not guilt
over 
alcohol, but just plain old guilt. That"not-good-enough" guilt. Falling too short too often . . . and too witnessed. Eachtime he lowered his bar, the bar against which it was measured, was raised. Thevitality and hope of an adventurous boy swallowed up by the reality of a time-diminished lack of . . . hope. He just dimmed and flickered out.The gospel of guilt
: "From him who fails much, much failure is expected." 
 
I wish he had known that there is a cure for even a brokenness as consistent as his.Had I known then what I know now, I would have told him so . . . and perhaps hecould have fought through it in this life and strode into eternity less-burdened . . .acknowledging that guilt is one of those odd gifts we give to the King. We hand Himour guilt; He sees our hidden hope and covers our guilt with His grace, so we too cansee that hope.How many men and women long to demonstrate a good soul, but never seem tomake it onto the stage? Or they stride to the middle, stand in the glare of thespotlight and are booed into the silence before the first act begins? In the quietnessof their minds, they say "I really am a good person. Really."But the audience is ready for the next act.On the flip side of the guilt-ridden are the guilt-riding. Instead of letting their own badfeelings get them down, they use those bad feelings to take others down. Such wasmy first stepfather. I'm not sure he ever really felt bad about anything he did . . . buthe sure made you feel bad for him. He's the only person I ever knew who couldawaken out a drunk stupor and cuss about the boss who fired him for not showing upat work and the wife who had let him run out of cigarettes and whiskey. It wasalways someone else's fault that he was unable to have his bad habits and his gooddreams in tandem. He would damn everyone around him and then demand a drink.I wish I had known back then what I know now about guilt. And about grace. Guiltkills. Grace restores.If anyone should ever have succumbed to the debilitating misery of guilt, it shouldhave been King David. He goes from the glory of killing Goliath and being hailed asa hero and warrior to the gritty grossness of using his ordained power to satisfy hisown temptations by first spying on his neighbor's wife, committing adultery with her,making her pregnant, trying to disown the child by tricking the husband, and then,when all else fails, he puts the husband in a position to be killed. All to cover-up, notown-up, to his sin.And we would say to David: "Boy . . . you are as guilty as sin." He was. It's enoughto send you into hiding in a cave somewhere. David was no stranger to hiding incaves, having fled there before in fear. What does guilt produce but fear?And then there's grace. Grace brings you back out of the cave, if you accept it. If itcan penetrate the walls of piled on guilt. If the warriors of the Gospel of Guilt don'tstand outside the cave with swords of righteousness and slice grace down to ameaningless morsel and drive you back inside. That's not the armor of God they'rebearing.Some people equate a moral compass with a guilt compass. But they're not thesame. With a guilt compass, the arrow points always downward and no matter howyou turn it . . . it leads you no-where. The grace compass? Due north. Out of the
 
cave. Down the highway. Back to the cross.Guilt?Grace?I would rather be foolish or boring or simple or clumsy or slow or even ignorant . . .than guilty. I don't really want to be
any 
of those things, of course, but have been atone time or another. I've been the fool, the bore, the clown, the simple-minded,slow-to-catch-on and the not-so-blissfully ignorant, all of which can lead to painfullessons . . . and moving on. Fool myself once, shame on me. Fool myself over andover again . . . guilt.Now . . . don't think I believe there is no retribution for sin. David's path toredemption was not an easy one and we should have no expectations that ours willbe. Consequences are . . . consequential. No matter how secret our sin, it is notbeyond the full attention of God. Our consequences can be glaringly public.
Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun. Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord " And Nathan said to David, "The Lord also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemiesof the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die." --2 Samuel 12:12-14
The consequences of our sins often extend to others.When we rise into grace, we may stand on legs with bloody knees and extendscraped palms. This is where the healing begins. Not in the dark recesses of thecave where we shiver in the dark, but in the light, where the pain begins to absorbthe warmth of grace and we display our wounds and pray for healing. I just think thatsometimes we look to the left and the right for someone to tell us how to get out of this pit of sorry guilt . . . and we need to look
up
. For correction and mercy and thecourage to embrace grace.
He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. -- Proverbs 28:13
Yelling for mercy at the top of your lungs is a good thing. Just realize that God is notthe only one listening. People have motivations, even if the stated goal is to assist inyour restoration. Some are
angry 
because "you should have listened to me in thefirst place." Some are
frustrated 
because "you brought this on yourself." Others are just
baffled 
because "the right way was as plain as the nose on your face." Othersget a bit
 puffed up
and want to set you on the path to righteousness so they can putanother victory cup on their mantle. Others want
revenge
because of the pain or the embarrassment your trip into guilt caused them personally. Some are
striking back 
out of their own pain because you betrayed them. And then, there are somewho just can't resist valuing
retribution
over restoration, making an example of youso others won't find themselves in your dismal state.

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