Guilt – an underrated emotion

Hatfield Church Blog 6 Comments

By Shaun Joynt, jack of all trades and master of some; pastor; explorer of practical theology (PhD), worship leading, songwriting, and IT/webmaster stuff …

It amazes me how often we try to nullify what God intends to affect us. Take guilt as an example. I’ve been attending church since the age of three (although only being born again at 15). I’ve heard many Christianese terms such as the devil condemns, but the Spirit convicts as well as guilt is often culturally biased/based. Although both clichés may be true, they lack the fuller picture. Guilt may be culturally based in the sense that some folk might feel that going to church without wearing hats or wearing pants (both relating to women) are regarded as sin. I agree that these are culturally based and without Biblical substance. Yet, when it comes to an immediate dismissal of guilt, when it is intended as a receptor in the soul, I certainly draw the line!

Our bodies have receptors that warn us of danger in order to avoid damage to ourselves. If we were to touch something hot, the receptors send a message that we interpret as pain and we immediately react by jerking away. Guilt is meant to do the same for our souls. It acts as a soul receptor that cautions us when something is not right. It warns us to change our behaviour in order to stop the sensation of pain in the soul.

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, guilt is defined as:

  1. the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly: guilty conduct
  2. a: the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b: feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy: self-reproach
  3. a feeling of culpability for offenses

If guilt (beyond a culture-only bias) was designed to warn us, why would society spend so much time refuting its importance? For exactly this same reason. If we no longer are warned of impending danger, then we will be like the proverbial frog in the kettle that didn’t observe the water getting warmer until it was too late. This aversion to guilt allows murderers to blame parents, friends, lack of education or societal poverty for their crimes. After all, if those guilt receptors were silenced or altered, they may be excused because there was no warning prior to their deeds, nor remorse afterwards.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately) there is no excuse. The Bible is very clear about being forewarned of doing wrong by a universal code that is imbedded in our consciousness (Romans 1:18-32).

Guilt warns us that there is an incongruency between what we should be doing and what we are doing. It tells us that the peace eluding us might be restored when we rectify the wrong done – be it in thought, word, or deed. Paul knew that guilt was firstly God’s idea before man perverted it.

We can still benefit from good old-fashioned Bible-based guilt. After all, it is the sick who need a doctor and the guilty who need a Saviour full of grace and truth.

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Comments 6

  1. Hi Shaun. It is Dana from TUKs. Thank you for writing this article, and for getting us thinking about guilt. I wonder what other benefits come from such an emotion, beyond the one you pointed out, namely that it drives us to the cross? Off the cuff, I am thinking of guilt as a driving force to reconciliation with people we have offended, guilt as a means by which God can keep us humble in heart, or guilt as a built in means for correcting our behaviour. You? Thanks!

    1. Hi Dana. My pleasure. I agree with your three examples as they are concrete realities of where guilt may very well be useful. I perceive guilt’s intent to have a dual purpose, similar to the two beams of the cross. The vertical aspect of reconciliation with God (propitiation & expiation – restored fellowship with God) and the horizontal aspect of reconciliation to one another (restored fellowship with one another). Or in other terms, guilt may facilitate the process towards the fulfilment of the two commands that sum up everything: love God and love your neighbour. Of course, there is a difference between legal guilt, moral guilt, and false guilt – each huge topics in and of themselves 🙂 Here I am referring more specifically to moral guilt and its usefulness from a traditional Biblical vantage point. Blessings!

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