The Problem with Guilt

Guilt is such a strange thing.  It is something that we make ourselves feel as well as something we often seek to produce in others.  We use guilt to punish ourselves for not meeting certain standards and it comes in handy to keep the people around acting the way we think they should. 

                Tragically it can infect our church culture.  Guilt is a devastating weapon when used from the pulpit.  Whether in sermons or in personal conversations guilt is a common tool in our religious arsenal.

                The problem with guilt is; it doesn’t work.  Worse than that, it is counterproductive to a life with Jesus where His Spirit is working within us as we grow and change.  Another problem with guilt is that it is not from God.  Guilt is a product of a world broken by sin.

                So why do we use it?  Because it works

wait…didn’t you just say it doesn’t work!?  well, yeah, I did, and it doesn’t…hold on, let me explain.  We use guilt bc it does accomplish what we want it to… in the short term.  We get immediate gratification from it, which, as humans, is one of our favourites!  But unfortunately, over time it doesn’t work.

                For example, if I ditch worship services for a few weeks bc I’m losing touch with the church, somebody might be able to guilt me into coming back, but what have they accomplished?  They have gotten immediate results, but guilt won’t keep me there for long.  Likewise, a parent can send a child on a guilt trip to get them to do what the parent wants, but in the long term this does not achieve what the parent really desires, does it?

Why is guilt so systemic in our society? Why doesn’t it work?  What WOULD work instead?  We’ll answer all these questions in our next post….or two.

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4 Responses to The Problem with Guilt

  1. Eager to hear your next post about this topic. Reading this made me think about all of God’s words to the Israelites through the prophets where He reiterates all He has done for them through their generations. Is that not using guilt in a way? What do you think?

    • simplyeddie says:

      Perhaps you could give me a specific example of what you mean Lori. The instances that I can call to mind are more about God reminding them to help them remember where their true power lies, or to encourage them to return to the God who has remained faithful to them. Also, I think its worth considering that there is a difference between me feeling guilt (not always a bad thing), and someone attempting to make me feel guilty (as far as I can tell, never a good thing). Some things in the Bible convict my heart and I have a sense of guilt, this is not the same as one person manipulating another. imho

  2. Pingback: Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment! | simplelifeinchrist

  3. John says:

    I mentioned this briefly a few nights ago in some bible study. The prophets again and again do refer back to the exodus and Egypt to speak to their current generation about what God has done for them, but the point was never to guilt them, so to speak. He was reminding them of how powerfully and uniquely He worked on their behalf, calling them back to believe in His saving power in the current situation, if only Israel would come back to Him. He was being constructive rather than manipulative.

    At the start of my last sermon I reached behind the veil and talked about how I like to follow the Lutheran pattern if hitting people hard with Law before clearing up the problem in Gospel. An element of that is to sear consciences: YOU are guilty! YOU are the reason sin propagates! YOU are the reason Christ had to die! But Jesus’ death was for your sake, to free YOU because He loves YOU and wants to provide for and be with YOU. Grace can sometimes only be joyfully received if we understand the cost.

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