“Sink the guilt trip,” one ME advocate said. The plain truth is, those who feel no guilt are sick.
CAN sin be ended by issuing a proclamation to that effect? That would be like ending fever by breaking the thermometer, like ending crime by throwing out all laws. Discarding the Book that defines sin does not remove it. Even without the Bible sin exists and there is awareness of it. Speaking of those not acquainted with God’s laws, the Bible says:
“Whenever they do by instinct what the Law commands, they are their own law, even though they do not have the Law. Their conduct shows that what the Law commands is written in their hearts. Their consciences also show that this is true, since their thoughts sometimes accuse them and sometimes defend them.”—Rom. 2:14, 15, Today’s English Version.
Regardless of the claims made, you serve whomever or whatever you follow: “You are in fact the slaves of the master you obey—either of sin, which results in death, or of obedience, which results in being put right with God.”—Rom. 6:16, TEV.
Sin and guilt exist in the imperfect lives of all of us. Acting like the woman of Proverbs 30:20 does not alter that fact: “Here is the way of an adulterous woman: she has eaten and has wiped her mouth and she has said: ‘I have committed no wrong.’” Today’s Me generation copies her refusal to see sin and guilt. As the cover of Dr. Karl Menninger’s book Whatever Became of Sin? says: “The word ‘sin’ has almost disappeared from our vocabulary, but the sense of guilt remains in our hearts and minds.”
The Value of Guilt
“Some people,” psychoanalyst Willard Gaylin says, “have never experienced the feeling of guilt. They are not, however, the lucky ones, nor are we fortunate in having them in our midst. The failure to feel guilt is the basic flaw in the psychopath or antisocial person.” He differs with the gurus of me-ism who say that guilt is a useless emotion. “Guilt,” says Gaylin, “is not only a uniquely human experience; its cultivation in people—along with shame—serves the noblest, most generous and humane character traits that distinguish our species.”
Within ourselves we form an identity or model of ourselves. We identify with this internal model. It becomes a standard or ideal against which we measure ourselves, either approvingly or disapprovingly. It is built up by our associations with parents and their teachings or examples. Other persons whom we respect or admire contribute to this internal ideal growing within us. Principles observed or studied add to it. If we study the Bible this model or ideal becomes patterned after that of Jehovah God, for the Bible reflects principles embodied in God, such as justice, love, wisdom, power, work, purposefulness, and many others. The closer we come to living in accord with this right standard within us, the more we can respect ourselves, yes, even love ourselves.
However, when we fail to measure up to this ideal within, we feel guilt. Is this useful? On this point, psychoanalyst Gaylin says:
“Guilt is not a ‘useless’ emotion, it is the emotion that shapes much of our goodness and generosity. It signals us when we have transgressed codes of behavior that we personally want to sustain. Feeling guilty informs us that we have failed our own ideals.”
Conscience Makes Us Unique
Of all earthly creatures, only humans have conscience. The basis for its operation is the standards or ideals that we have within. If we study the Bible and become Godlike, we can safely let our conscience be our guide. If our conduct falls short of God’s will, conscience pricks us, and we feel guilt.
Animals have no conscience to make them feel guilt. Dogs may look guilty when they have disobeyed, but it is only a fear of our displeasure. But because of conscience the conduct of people comes under scrutiny. “Their conscience is bearing witness with them and, between their own thoughts [as to what they should be], they are being accused or even excused.”—Rom. 2:15.
In their endeavor to “sink the guilt trip,” people sear their conscience to make it insensitive, to silence it. They become “marked in their conscience as with a branding iron.” They also must seek to replace their former internal ideal with a new one, one with lower standards or no standards. It is a return to the age-old immorality, but disguised and sugarcoated as “the new morality.” In doing this, both “their minds and their consciences are defiled.”—1 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:15.
We should retain the valuable ability to feel guilt. To do that, “hold a good conscience.” If a conscience is weak, do not defile it by going against it, but strengthen it by bringing to Christian maturity the “secret person of the heart,” which is based on God’s Word.—1 Pet. 3:4, 16; 1 Cor. 8:7.
Face Your Guilts
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” in whose likeness man was created. (Rom. 3:23; Gen. 1:27) Hence, all have cause to feel guilt. Those who don’t are hiding unsuccessfully, like the proverbial ostrich that sticks its head in the sand.
The first human pair felt guilty when they sinned, and hid themselves. When found and confronted, they did what so many of us do: tried to shift their guilt to someone else. The record states: “The man went on to say: ‘The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree and so I ate.’ With that Jehovah God said to the woman: ‘What is this you have done?’ To this the woman replied: ‘The serpent—it deceived me and so I ate.’”—Gen. 3:12, 13.
It is said that misery loves company. Guilt is even more delighted with company—the more the merrier! Dr. Menninger wrote:
“If a group of people can be made to share the responsibility for what would be a sin if an individual did it, the load of guilt rapidly lifts from the shoulders of all concerned. Others may accuse, but the guilt shared by the many evaporates for the individual.”—Whatever Became of Sin?, p. 95.
To what can this eventually lead? On “the sin of war,” he says: “All behaviors ordinarily regarded as criminal and/or sinful are suddenly sanctioned—murder, mayhem, arson, robbery, deceit, trespassing, sabotage, vandalism, and cruelty.”—P. 101.
Menninger proceeds to paint the sin more vividly and asks questions, saying:
“The picture of one screaming, burning child or of one half-dismembered or disemboweled woman shocks and revolts us, although we are spared the sound of the screams and groans. We are not witnesses to the brokenhearted mother’s sorrow. We know nothing of the despair, the hopelessness, the loss of everything. We don’t go with them into the hospitals and observe the hideous wounds, the agonizing burns, the shattered limbs. And all this is only one tiny dot on a great map of millions. It cannot be described. It cannot be grasped. It cannot be imagined.
“But who is responsible for this evil? Surely it is sinful, but whose sin is it? No one wants the attribution of responsibility for this. Someone told someone to tell someone to tell someone to do so and so. Somebody did decide to launch it and somebody has agreed to pay for it. But who? And how did I vote? . . . Sometimes I think the only completely consistently moral people are those who refuse to participate.”—Pp. 102, 103.
Cope with Your Own Guilts!
Honesty demands that each of us face his sin and guilt. Mental health requires that we rid ourselves of it. Jehovah provides the way for us to do it.
God’s Word points out the only adequate way to cope with sin. Face it: “If we make the statement: ‘We have no sin,’ we are misleading ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8) “He that is covering over his transgressions will not succeed.” (Prov. 28:13) Confess your sin to God: “I said: ‘I shall make confession over my transgressions to Jehovah.’” (Ps. 32:5) Forgiveness follows confession: “If we confess our sins [to God], he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins.” (1 John 1:9) Guilt then vanishes: Forgiveness from God comes through Christ, and such forgiveness will “cleanse our consciences from dead works.” (Col. 1:14; Heb. 9:14) Then our consciences need no longer feel guilt.
So, face your sin, acknowledge it, confess it to God, seek forgiveness of it. Sometimes punishment may follow, but oftentimes confession is followed by forgiveness and that ends the matter.
The Me generation seeks to dismiss guilt by denying sin. Sin literally means “to miss the mark.” Their “new morality” certainly misses the mark, as shown by its fruits. The contention of the behaviorist psychologists that we make no personal decision and, hence, have no responsibility sweeps sin under the rug. It is a no-fault psychology: no one is responsible, no one is to blame, no one is guilty, no one is sinning. It is just the kind of psychological gibberish the me-firsters seize upon and hide behind and ask with raised eyebrows, “Sin? What’s that?”
Healthy psychology is to acknowledge sin and cope with it. God’s Word is the key enabling us to do this. It shows that we must have a proper regard for ourselves, must be considerate of others, and, above all, must love our Creator Jehovah God and accept his principles as our guide. The next article develops these points.