Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

Born with a Guilty Conscience

12 Comments

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? 

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12 thoughts on “Born with a Guilty Conscience

  1. I agree with you that there is a cost to this free salvation. All of the things you have to subscribe to: beliefs that may go against your heart and mind that you have to just force down and tell yourself you accept; the time you put into daily Bible reading, praying, church-going; and yes, all that guilt. I had read about de-converts before I myself left Christianity and I remember coming again and again across passages about the relief they felt after dropping all that guilt. I figured they had been theologically misguided all along. God is love! God is grace! It's Satan, not God that gives us guilt. Right? But, like you, I can now see that we are taught that from the get-go, we are bad. But we are also taught that, in Christ, we can move toward perfection, shedding layer after layer of our dirt until, somewhere, deep down where Jesus dwells, there's this righteous being. We just have to rid ourselves of all our worldliness, our flaws, our doubts, basically, ourselves. This makes us obsess over every little "sin." Disappointed in ourselves time and time again, asking for help and forgiveness just as we're on the cusp of making the same mistake once more. What a terrible cycle. I'm glad to be out of it.

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  2. I remember talking to a Christian friend about this once. I asked her "how do you remember to confess every sin you commit every day?" "I get busy and then later I think oh no I was angry, resentful, jealous, and I need to confess all these sins." "If I don't confess then Jesus is no longer first and I have quenched the holy spirit." She looked at me confused, and replied with, "I confess my sins as I commit them according to 1John1:9." This made me feel again like a failure as a christian. Now I am free from all those thoughts, free to be kind and good and live a life that makes a difference without having to believe in a god.

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  3. "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. "this describes me so well

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  4. Great post! You describe the guilt-salvation paradox very well. I tend to be on the nurturing side too, but I'm not above a selfish thought or two. ;-)"If I choose to sleep in on a Sunday morning instead of attending church, well that's idolatry don't ya know?"The modern idolatry teachings are a real perversion of the true intent of Biblical text. An idol was essentially another god, which people would sacrifice to and solicit in much the way people do for God. But to hear modern preachers touch the subject, it is exactly as you describe here: absolutely anything but worship of God.I think they had to do this out of necessity to make the text seem relevant to our times. Otherwise it would seem very antiquated.And as you aptly point out, this ramps up the guilt quotient to unreasonable levels.

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  5. I think much of this has to do with temperament. I'm a lot like you regarding guilt. I could never relate to the testimonies of those who spoke of great burdens rolling off them upon conversion, leaving them with joy unspeakable. That just wasn't my experience.

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  6. You know, the first time someone said this – I think it was The Woeful Budgie, expressing the guilt and burden of being a Christian – my immediate reaction was, but it doesn't have to be that way. Christianity shouldn't have to mean additional guilt and additional worry and added layers of misery. It's supposed to relieve you of all that, and if it doesn't, then you're doing it wrong.And I still have that reaction, a little. At the same time, I know – I'm acutely aware – that it doesn't matter now. I'm not a Christian, you're not a Christian, and really I don't have any interest in defending Christianity per se. But I still have that reaction, that hint of but it didn't have to be that way…Is that hypocritcal, given that I myself walked away from relaxed, liberal, trust-in-God-and-all-will-be-well Christianity? Or is it because I was raised in that sort of Christianity? I really don't know. A bit of both, maybe. Regardless, if that's what Christianity was for you then you're well out of it. Good for you for walking away. And wherever you find yourself, I'm sure it'll be an interesting road.

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  7. "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."I can so relate to this. However, I've gotten much better about it. That is why I think I felt such guilt over telling my mom that I no longer believe. She is NOT handling it well at all, but I feel I've felt guilty enough and I am choosing not to let her actions define me or make me feel guilty any longer. Well I say that but my sister contacted me tonight to say that our mother was rolling around on the floor crying asking God to please take her in the place of my sister and I. Yeah I felt a tiny bit guilty for that.

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  8. @Tricia:I'm certainly not saying my entire Christian experience was bad. Far from it, actually. It's just that I've come to the realization of certain things. One of them is: It's time for Christians to stop saying the gift is free. It comes with strings attached. Quit trying to kid yourselves and definitely stop trying to deceive others. Jesus, himself, said you have to count the cost or else you end up a laughing stock because you didn't have what it takes to complete the job.@cerbaz:Apparently your friend doesn't attend the same denomination as me. If I'm honest when I think about it, and not that anyone in my church does this by any stretch, but according to the teaching going on there anything short of living the life of self-denial that Jesus lived is sinful. We should all be selling all of our stuff, giving the money to the poor, making disciples of all nations, never missing a church meeting and the list could go on. Yes, our minister said from the pulpit that not attending Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night and any other function under the authority of the church is a sin. You can't escape it, sin is taking the next breath.@SteveJ:I certainly agree with you that this has a lot to do with temperament. I have friends who just shrug it off and do what they want and never seem to feel guilty in the slightest. I envy them. There I go again…sinning. :-)@Michael Mock:my immediate reaction was, but it doesn't have to be that way. Christianity shouldn't have to mean additional guilt and additional worry and added layers of misery. It's supposed to relieve you of all that, and if it doesn't, then you're doing it wrong.Somewhere deep down I know this. I tell myself this often. Someone should enlighten the preacher. 😉 My belief now is that it's a control mechanism from the pulpit. The guiltier leadership can make you feel, the more stuff they can get you to do. That's why 20% of the people end up doing 80% of the work. They're the ones who feel guilty if it doesn't get done.@theagnosticswife:I'm glad to know you've gotten better about it. What's your secret? On the outside looking in I can say that seems like emotional blackmail on the part of your mother, but when it happens to me my vision isn't so good. I hate to hear your mother's taking it so poorly, and that she feels the need to let you know just how poorly she's taking it.

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  9. As you can see, I'm catching up on reading and commenting.All I can say is, great post! I relate to every single point from my own experience and the experiences of others. … Zoe ~

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  10. @Tricia:I'm certainly not saying my entire Christian experience was bad. Far from it, actually. It's just that I've come to the realization of certain things. One of them is: It's time for Christians to stop saying the gift is free. It comes with strings attached. Quit trying to kid yourselves and definitely stop trying to deceive others. Jesus, himself, said you have to count the cost or else you end up a laughing stock because you didn't have what it takes to complete the job.@cerbaz:Apparently your friend doesn't attend the same denomination as me. If I'm honest when I think about it, and not that anyone in my church does this by any stretch, but according to the teaching going on there anything short of living the life of self-denial that Jesus lived is sinful. We should all be selling all of our stuff, giving the money to the poor, making disciples of all nations, never missing a church meeting and the list could go on. Yes, our minister said from the pulpit that not attending Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night and any other function under the authority of the church is a sin. You can't escape it, sin is taking the next breath.@SteveJ:I certainly agree with you that this has a lot to do with temperament. I have friends who just shrug it off and do what they want and never seem to feel guilty in the slightest. I envy them. There I go again…sinning. :-)@Michael Mock:my immediate reaction was, but it doesn't have to be that way. Christianity shouldn't have to mean additional guilt and additional worry and added layers of misery. It's supposed to relieve you of all that, and if it doesn't, then you're doing it wrong.Somewhere deep down I know this. I tell myself this often. Someone should enlighten the preacher. 😉 My belief now is that it's a control mechanism from the pulpit. The guiltier leadership can make you feel, the more stuff they can get you to do. That's why 20% of the people end up doing 80% of the work. They're the ones who feel guilty if it doesn't get done.@theagnosticswife:I'm glad to know you've gotten better about it. What's your secret? On the outside looking in I can say that seems like emotional blackmail on the part of your mother, but when it happens to me my vision isn't so good. I hate to hear your mother's taking it so poorly, and that she feels the need to let you know just how poorly she's taking it.

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  11. You know, the first time someone said this – I think it was The Woeful Budgie, expressing the guilt and burden of being a Christian – my immediate reaction was, but it doesn't have to be that way. Christianity shouldn't have to mean additional guilt and additional worry and added layers of misery. It's supposed to relieve you of all that, and if it doesn't, then you're doing it wrong.And I still have that reaction, a little. At the same time, I know – I'm acutely aware – that it doesn't matter now. I'm not a Christian, you're not a Christian, and really I don't have any interest in defending Christianity per se. But I still have that reaction, that hint of but it didn't have to be that way…Is that hypocritcal, given that I myself walked away from relaxed, liberal, trust-in-God-and-all-will-be-well Christianity? Or is it because I was raised in that sort of Christianity? I really don't know. A bit of both, maybe. Regardless, if that's what Christianity was for you then you're well out of it. Good for you for walking away. And wherever you find yourself, I'm sure it'll be an interesting road.

    Like

  12. I agree with you that there is a cost to this free salvation. All of the things you have to subscribe to: beliefs that may go against your heart and mind that you have to just force down and tell yourself you accept; the time you put into daily Bible reading, praying, church-going; and yes, all that guilt. I had read about de-converts before I myself left Christianity and I remember coming again and again across passages about the relief they felt after dropping all that guilt. I figured they had been theologically misguided all along. God is love! God is grace! It's Satan, not God that gives us guilt. Right? But, like you, I can now see that we are taught that from the get-go, we are bad. But we are also taught that, in Christ, we can move toward perfection, shedding layer after layer of our dirt until, somewhere, deep down where Jesus dwells, there's this righteous being. We just have to rid ourselves of all our worldliness, our flaws, our doubts, basically, ourselves. This makes us obsess over every little "sin." Disappointed in ourselves time and time again, asking for help and forgiveness just as we're on the cusp of making the same mistake once more. What a terrible cycle. I'm glad to be out of it.

    Like

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