Sligo's Youth and Young Adult Ministries just finished an exciting four-week evangelistic series called Beyond the Search. More than 120 youth and young adults attended the series, which was held in the Youth Room on Friday nights and Sabbath mornings. There was a number of highlights during the series, including seeing the young leaders of our church passionately preach the Gospel; meeting first-time Sligo Church visitors who decided to attend the series because a youth member stepped out of their comfort zone and invited them to church; observing the hours of work each volunteer dedicated in rehearsals and reading through each precious decision card that was filled out at the end of the series, each card representing a young person's desire to get closer to God.
One highlight of the series came from a surprising place. It was during one of our Friday night meetings where a 20-minute documentary was screened called “Beyond Guilt.” After the screening, I expected the lights to be turned back on and that we would quickly transition to the next part of the program. To my surprise, as soon as the screening was over the room began to applaud, and it wasn’t just a handful of people, it was everyone. I wondered what led to that kind of response; we didn’t really do anything different from the week before, but then it hit me! It was the topic of guilt that resonated with so many of those present. Could it be that there are many people today, not just those who are young, walking around with the burden of guilt in their lives and we don't even know it?
Dr. Arch Hart, Professor of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, gives insights into the psychology of guilt. He states that guilt is an important aspect of being human. There are those in society who don’t feel any guilt at all, whom psychologists call sociopaths. He goes on to say that if we don’t experience guilt we will find it hard to empathically connect with others, “...whole families can be destroyed if there is someone in the family who feels no guilt.” So feeling guilty is not always a bad thing. It can cause us to feel bad about something and spur us on to make things right. But what role does guilt play in my relationship with God and other important people in my life?
There are two forms of guilt that we can all experience - neurotic guilt and true guilt. Dr. Hart describes neurotic guilt as the false form of guilt, whereby you feel guilty about something you haven’t done wrong or something petty. For example, you might feel guilty if your knife and fork are not placed at a 45-degree angle on your dinner plate after you’ve finished a meal because growing up, you were told that was the correct thing to do. On the other hand, true guilt is when we understand that we have done something wrong, even something terrible at times. One of the differences between true guilt and false guilt is with true guilt, you can take actions to make yourself feel better and remove that guilt. For example, you can apologize to someone that you hurt or pay back someone what you owed them. Neurotic guilt causes you to be a self-punishing, self-hating person and there are no actions you can take to remove it because the guilt you are experiencing is not based on anything you have done. Rather it exists within your own mind.
God’s solution to our guilt of sin is forgiveness. 1 John 1:9 reminds us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we feel truly guilty, the Bible says we can do something about it; we can confess our sins and God promises to forgive us for everything we have done. Many times Satan comes along and tempts us to doubt God’s promise of forgiveness towards us. The enemy wants us to have a false sense of guilt where we punish and hate ourselves after Christ has cleansed us with His grace. Sometimes the hardest person to forgive can be ourselves, but if God can forgive us, we must also learn to forgive ourselves. Other times we can find it difficult to forgive others, but if God forgives us, we must also learn to forgive others. We can get beyond guilt as we learn to both receive and impart forgiveness to others. What is forgiveness? Dr. Hart says, "Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you back." We can go beyond guilt as we experience the peace that is only found in God's forgiveness and grace.