Archive for Guilt


This week I’ve devoted a lot of virtual ink to the subject of dealing with guilt and making peace with your past. Most of my energy has been diagnostic as opposed to providing tangible steps to turn the corner from regret to resolution. The Bible has a lot to say about resolving guilt issues. What the Bible has to say is fairly simple to understand. The problem is that the principles of resolution we discover in Scripture are hard to apply!

The first thing the Bible would say about dealing with guilt is that one must first come clean with God. We need to confess our buried sin to God. That sounds frightening, but let’s be honest: God already knows! Here’s the good news. No matter how marred or scarred our broken pasts may appear, the promise of God is that when we turn from our sin we run directly into the open arms of God. There is no forgiveness and healing without coming clean with God in confession. Confession means “to agree with.” If there is one verse in the Bible you need to know, its 1 John 1:9, which reads, “If we confess our sins to him, he is faith and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (NLT). We always need to confess our sins to God. But what about to those we have offended? Here’s what James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (NLT).
Coming clean is the first step to resolving yesterday’s guilt.

Next, the Bible would say we need to accept God’s forgiveness. Accepting God’s forgiveness is one of the most difficult things we can do. I think there are a couple of reasons for that. For one, we live in a performance based culture. Our society, which is based on merit and conditional love, struggles to comprehend the grace of God and unconditional love. We feel that we have to earn or deserve forgiveness. But we cannot earn forgiveness, we can only receive it. How can God forgive? God can forgive because God is a God of love. Love is the character and essence of God that makes forgiveness possible.

The other reason it’s hard to accept God’s forgiveness is because we associate forgiveness with feelings. If we don’t feel forgiven, then we question forgiveness. God’s primary goal in forgiveness is not emotional. It’s legal. God’s forgiveness is his righteous declaration and pronouncement that we have been made right with him. Feelings may follow, but one cannot judge what God has stated as fact based solely on how we feel. Focus on the facts first. The feelings will follow.

The final thing the Bible would say about handling guilt is to become forgiving in our own spirit. There are several verses in the Bible on forgiveness that we have to acknowledge and deal with. For example, Jesus said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:14-15, NLT). What do we do with that?! How about this one? “Be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:32, NLT).

Forgiveness is a picture of releasing a debt. By refusing to forgive, we keep others emotionally indebted to us. We cannot have an open relationship with God if we hold others in debt for something that God would forgive us for.

I like music, but I really don’t know that much about it. I do know that in music a dissonant chord is one that lacks resolution. You’d know one if you heard it. A dissonant chord lingers in the air, begging for resolution. Or, better yet, closure. If you’re at a dissonant in life, resolution comes through Jesus. The only way we can make peace with our past is through him, the “Prince of Peace.”

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What does guilt do? How does it impact our lives? Last weekend I highlighted implications of guilt from Genesis 42:1-28.

First, guilt limits us to the point of emotional paralysis (Genesis 42:1-2). Jacob knew there was food available in Egypt, yet the sons weren’t doing anything about it. The effects of the famine had reached the land of Canaan, yet the narrative reveals this family, slowly starving to death, standing and staring at one another. Purchasing food from a food source is a routine act each of us take for granted. Yet guilt had such a powerful grip on Jacob’s family that they couldn’t do simple and obvious tasks.

Second, guilt distorts our vision (Genesis 42:6-8). Having arrived safely in Egypt, Joseph’s ten brothers didn’t recognize him, but he immediately recognized them. Guilt has a way of preventing us from seeing things as they really are. Guilt can cause us to become self absorbed, making it hard to see others as they are. One can lose objectivity and miss things as they are right beneath their own noses.

Third, guilt can blind us from the truth (Genesis 42:9-13). Notice the two affirmations the brothers made to Joseph: “we are honest men,” and “one is no more.” The brothers had been telling those lies for 25 years, so long that they had begun to believe them. But what was the truth? The truth was that God had placed his hand on Joseph, as revealed in the dreams of the sheaves and the stars. The truth is that they had premeditated murder, sold Joseph as a slave, then conspired to cover it up Joseph’s brothers were farther from the truth than they acknowledged, yet closer to the truth than they realized.

Next, guilt can chain us to the past (Genesis 42:14-24). Notice how the brothers are gripped by fear and paranoia. Although Joseph had spent time in prison, he was never a captive in the way his brothers had been. They say that circus trainers will begin their training baby elephants by chaining them to a small stake to keep them in place. The baby elephant will strain against the chain until it learns that it cannot escape. Now elephants are not necessarily known for their intelligence, but they are praised for their memories. The memory of the stake becomes so powerful, that even as a full grown adult it will not pull at the simple chain and stake. Unfortunately, our memories are often no different

Finally, guilt distorts our view of God (Genesis 42:15-28). As Joseph sent his brothers away, he quietly had returned their money and provided supplies for their journey home. I think this is a simple act of grace. After all, what kind of brother would Joseph have been to take money from his starving family? But upon discovering the money on the return trip, the brothers exclaimed, “What has God done to us?” Guilt has many negative implications on our lives, but perhaps the worst of all is that it distorts our view of God to the extent that we cannot comprehend his simple grace in our lives.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up Making Peace with Your Past and post three ways that we can deal with buried sin and the guilt that accompanies it.

Categories : Genesis, Guilt, Joseph, Peace
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Feb
14

Making Peace with our Past: 1

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Each stage of Joseph’s life has been plagued by its own unique set of challenges. While it appears difficult to understand, the most challenging stage of his life was his exaltation as governor of the land of Egypt. Joseph had been prepared by God for this challenge. His preparation included time in the pit, time in slavery, and time in prison. During these days Joseph learned to deal with injustice, temptation, rejection, and being forgotten by a friend.

One of the key factors in Joseph’s progress from the pit to the palace was his character. He was faithful in the little things, doing them in the quiet out of the way places. Because of his faithfulness in the little things, God made him ruler over many things.

After he was elevated to his new position, Joseph went to work during those seven years of abundance.
In our minds Joseph represents the classic “rags to riches story.” But before we can close the book on the story, it becomes clear that God has unfinished business. God has plans to put Joseph and his family back together. Joseph is at a dissonant note, but God is going to bring resolution. God’s plan was to use this family to create a new nation: Israel.

Genesis chapter 42 tells how God deals with our conscience regarding guilt. We may put time and distance between our present and our past, but it is never healed until God deals with it. 25 years have passed since Joseph was thrown in the pit. It’s time for resolution and closure.

What does guilt look like? How does it affect us? Tomorrow I’ll post five ways that unresolved guilt impacts our lives.

Categories : Genesis, Grace, Guilt, Joseph, Peace
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