What is a guilty conscience anyway? For as long as I can remember I’ve felt guilty for things-even as a small child. If I got a bit of pocket money I felt guilty if I spent it all on myself. So instead I’d go to the dime store and buy the cheapest, junkiest stuff for my siblings and my parents and a little something for myself. I remember buying my dad a cheapo corncob pipe, which he dutifully smoked. That way I didn’t have to feel guilty if I bought something for me because there was enough to spread it around. If I told a lie I outed myself. Needless to say, even though I love to play poker now, I’m not very good at it. I’ve got a pretty good poker face, but my shaking hands are a huge tell. I would make a horrible thief – not that that’s a bad thing.
The problem comes in when I feel guilty about things for which I shouldn’t feel guilty. I feel guilty if I put myself first-EVER. I’m a nurturer by nature. I love to do things for other people and I don’t mind coming in last. That’s not always a healthy attitude I’m told. But it made me a prime candidate for fundamentalism. That’s what the message is. It makes you a hero of sorts for doing just that. Turn the other cheek, give until it hurts, put everyone else first. So that message combined with my natural tendencies made a cocktail for disaster. It made me a pansy and a doormat. I didn’t know where to put up boundaries because I thought I wasn’t supposed to have any and felt guilty if I imposed any.
Enter SALVATION. Lo and behold I can finally stop feeling guilty and I’m ripe for the picking. Jesus has taken all my sins away, as far as the east is from the west and into the depths of the sea. Nothing can separate me from his love and forgiveness. Except, that is, sin. I’m told even after I’ve been cleansed future sin still drives a wedge. And now sin isn’t just screwing up on the ten commandments. It’s so much more. Any time I put anything ahead of Christ, anytime I have a sinful thought, anytime I do anything that might be deemed missing the mark of perfection that Jesus has set forth as an example. Now I can feel guilty about all of that too. If I choose to sleep in on a Sunday morning instead of attending church, well that’s idolatry don’t ya know?
You see, for as much as I’m told that Salvation = grace + faith + nothing that isn’t the message that the Sunday School teacher teaches, and it’s not the message that the preacher preaches. No, salvation is much more than that. And for as much as I’m told that salvation is a free gift I’ve come to realize it’s not free at all. I’m bought with a price, my righteousness is as filthy rags. So even my best efforts suck. And I’m always feeling the need to repent. Repent, repent, repent. Because I’m guilty, guilty, guilty.
So to those who say Jesus is the answer, the cure all for what ails you. I’m just not so sure about that. What it did for me is to make me feel even worse, even more guilty to think that I nailed an innocent man to a cross. There will be those who say that is what gives me value. That I’m worth something because Jesus was willing to do all that for me. What kind of value is that? I’m worth nothing because God can’t even look at me. He’s got to replace me with a blood sacrifice. I’m told when God looks at me he sees Jesus, not me. Nope, that makes me pretty much worthless.
I think that’s the trap we fall into. Always feeling guilty because we’ve missed the mark, fallen short, so we need this savior. If we continually feel guilty we continually need this grace. But is living our lives and going about our business something we should even be feeling guilty about?