I heard a sermon this week about the difference between true moral guilt and the guilty feelings we constantly deal with. I started thinking of the ways that I am truly guilty. It’s a pretty depressing list. I started thinking about a “My Name is Earl” type list that I could check off and make these things better. Then the Spirit said, “Do you honestly think that you can cross off everything on your list and then be perfect?”
At first this sounds defeatist. But at the same time it is really freeing. By trying to cross things off my list, I’m trying to save myself. Of course I need to try to make amends when I have wronged someone. But that is not going to earn me anything. And really, once I cross this thing that is nagging at me off of my list, there will be more things that I find. A friend described this process as living in a dark and dirty room. Then someone comes along and starts turning the lights up on a dimmer switch. Slowly we see the major filth of the room. We clean it up. Then the light gets brighter and we have to clean it again. Then the light gets brighter and we clean again.
The closer we move to God, the brighter the light becomes. It is important to clean up the mess. Realizing that we need to clean the mess is what true moral guilt looks like. But working feverishly to clean up the mess, thinking that we can ever totally clean the room; this is the problem. This is where the psychological “guilt” (maybe this would better be termed “shame”) comes in. When we think that we couldn’t possibly be lovable because of the filth we live in, and that if we could just clean it up, then we’d be lovable, we are doubting the love and forgiveness of God. God knows even better than we do what kind of mess we live in. The light of God is not a light of condemnation for those who have accepted the gift of Grace. It is a light that shines on the areas where we need to work in order to live in the abundant peace we are offered.