The Graceless Gospel of Guilt

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 be your 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 rebuke King David, forbearer of Jesus Christ, declared him guilty of lying, adultery and murder. 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 the expectations of others or even of himself. I used to think it was alcohol, but now I believe 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. Each time he lowered his bar, the bar against which it was measured, was raised. The vitality and hope of an adventurous boy swallowed up by the reality of a timediminished 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 he could 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 Him our guilt; He sees our hidden hope and covers our guilt with His grace, so we too can see that hope. How many men and women long to demonstrate a good soul, but never seem to make it onto the stage? Or they stride to the middle, stand in the glare of the spotlight and are booed into the silence before the first act begins? In the quietness of 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 bad feelings get them down, they use those bad feelings to take others down. Such was my first stepfather. I'm not sure he ever really felt bad about anything he did . . . but he sure made you feel bad for him. He's the only person I ever knew who could awaken out a drunk stupor and cuss about the boss who fired him for not showing up at work and the wife who had let him run out of cigarettes and whiskey. It was always someone else's fault that he was unable to have his bad habits and his good dreams 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. Guilt kills. Grace restores. If anyone should ever have succumbed to the debilitating misery of guilt, it should have been King David. He goes from the glory of killing Goliath and being hailed as a hero and warrior to the gritty grossness of using his ordained power to satisfy his own 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, not own-up, to his sin. And we would say to David: "Boy . . . you are as guilty as sin." He was. It's enough to send you into hiding in a cave somewhere. David was no stranger to hiding in caves, 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 it can penetrate the walls of piled on guilt. If the warriors of the Gospel of Guilt don't stand outside the cave with swords of righteousness and slice grace down to a meaningless morsel and drive you back inside. That's not the armor of God they're bearing. Some people equate a moral compass with a guilt compass. But they're not the same. With a guilt compass, the arrow points always downward and no matter how you 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 at one 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 painful lessons . . . and moving on. Fool myself once, shame on me. Fool myself over and over again . . . guilt. Now . . . don't think I believe there is no retribution for sin. David's path to redemption was not an easy one and we should have no expectations that ours will be. Consequences are . . . consequential. No matter how secret our sin, it is not beyond 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 enemies of 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 extend scraped palms. This is where the healing begins. Not in the dark recesses of the cave where we shiver in the dark, but in the light, where the pain begins to absorb the warmth of grace and we display our wounds and pray for healing. I just think that sometimes 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 the courage 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 not the only one listening. People have motivations, even if the stated goal is to assist in your restoration. Some are angry because "you should have listened to me in the first 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." Others get a bit puffed up and want to set you on the path to righteousness so they can put another 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 some who just can't resist valuing retribution over restoration, making an example of you so others won't find themselves in your dismal state.

So . . . what happens to the downtrodden when he creeps out of the cave and gets hit with these misguided yet understandable motivations masquerading as "welcome back?" Guilt. And a laundry list designed to work him back into the good graces of the revamped condemners. Do we want good graces or grace? God's motivations are pure. He loves us and wants us back. He wants us to trust Him above all, cast aside all those things we think we know . . . and know Him first. Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. -- 3:5-6 Making the paths straight can involve working through some pretty serious consequences encountered as a result of our descent into the pit of guilt. But . . . He loves us so much He even walks with us through those consequences with the same unwavering love He used to coax us out of the cave. Cleaning up the mess we make is a community effort . . . communing with God, hanging close, keeping Him near, looking through His eyes to see the raging river of chaos as crossable and trusting those He brings into our lives to help carry us across. He's called Emmanual -- God with us -- for a reason. He knows our propensity to head back down the guilty road. And, if we insist on leading, He'll go there with us. But if we let Him lead, the road is straight to grace. We don't deserve it, especially after all the plundering, but it is because we don't deserve it that we get it. If we tried to earn it, we'd just feel guilty because we didn't do it right. So . . am I saying that people are of no use to us as we pursue grace? Not at all. God works in the ways He wills . . . and sometimes He wills to use the most wonderful, grace-filled, straight-talking people in our lives to help us right ourselves, to stand on each side of us as we wobble along our way, to give stability and instruction, to sharpen our dullness back to a useful edge, to clean out the clutter, to sweep away the layers of deceitful dust. For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles -- if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.-- Ephesians 3:1-2 God used Paul to extend His grace. We recognize the ones He wills to work in our lives when we realize their motivation matches His: love. And it is grace that allows us to accept the love of others and of God at the points in our lives when we feel our least-deserving. Wait on it. Don't rush headlong into the hands of the peddlers of guilt; wait for the enveloping arms of the offerers of grace. Love will take your hand. I received one piece of advice from the peddlers of guilt that has, in time, actually proven to be a bit of help: "Now that you know it is wrong . . . just don't do it anymore." That was a callous comment, but, in the context of grace, it works. We

have to know. And we have to stop. Unfortunately, the comment usually comes packaged like airplane model parts in a box without directions on how to put them together. Pieces of plastic. No clue what to glue to what. It's easier to put everything back in the box and tape down the lid. If we learn and we listen, "now that you know what is wrong" becomes "now that you know what is right." And "don't" becomes "do." God's Word unfolds like long-lost directions, with grace as the glue. The pieces fit together. Feeling guilty does not set us free. Equipping sets us free. A GPS -- Global Positioning System -- will not get us back to the throne of grace. But a GPS -- Grace Per Salvation -- will guide us there. It's easier to leave the cave when you know where you're going. I don't know what you've done. I don't know who you hurt. I don't know who you betrayed. I don't know what all you did to cover-up your trail, though I doubt that you killed someone in the cover-up, like David did. But, I do know that if your path to freedom from habitual sinning is blocked by piles of guilt, whether collected and placed there by you or carted in and arranged by others, it is not God's intent that you remain behind that wall. 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. -- 2 Samuel 12:13 David confessed. God forgave. He took the sins away and David was not guilty anymore. That is grace. We can move beyond the mistakes we made and the choices we made and all the issues we created and the hurt we inflicted. Grace takes out the broken parts and creates something altogether new. Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. -- 2 Corinthians 5:17 If you feel so guilty about what you've done and you don't think those things can pass away, let grace show it to you. It's true. New things come. God said so. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. -Romans 8:1 Believe it. I do now. God Bless, Thom

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