by Pastor Dan Colburn
Several years ago, in another part of the country, there was a man named Stewart who was, as he often had, driving while intoxicated. This time however, he happened to strike a young woman named Susan, and killed her. She was eighteen years old. There was a criminal trial in which he was convicted and although I can’t remember the sentence he received, the ensuing civil trial is hard to forget. After winning the case, Susan’s parents requested and received a very unusual judgement.
The judgement against Stewart was for the tidy sum of $936.00. That’s it. $936.00? If a judge had awarded that kind of settlement the outcry would have been great; but this was the wish of the dead girls family. Her parents! You’re saying to yourself “there must be more to it than that” and you’re right. Along with the dollar amount came a stipulation that the money would be paid by check, once a week, on every Friday, in the amount of one dollar, for eighteen years. Every Friday he was to write out a check for one dollar, for every year of Susan’s life.
Initially Stewart was ecstatic thinking he had gotten off light. After-all, he could have been fined millions and now, instead, he was only going to be out $936.00. He was sure he had gotten off light and by every worldly estimation he had. However, after only a few weeks, it began to wear on him. Imagine every week making out that check and as you fill in the spaces, being reminded of the wrong deed you had done, the young life you had taken, and the pain you had caused another family. He found himself growing depressed as each Friday approached.
He stopped the payments and Susan’s parents took him back to court where he was forced to resume–one dollar, every Friday, for eighteen years. Four times he stopped the payments, and the outcome was always the same–one dollar, every week, for eighteen years. He offered in desperation to pay the whole amount at once. No they said. He offered to pay the whole amount plus an extra year (a whole $52.00) to which they also replied, No! A dollar a week, for eighteen years.
Stewart exclaimed and I quote; “I am haunted by Susan’s death, I am tormented by these weekly payments”. Still, in spite of his protests, a dollar a week, for eighteen years.
To me, this is an awesome illustration of how this thing “Guilt” torments people. This is a wound which all of us over the age of five, and some even younger, have in common to one degree or another. It is one of, if not the greatest weapon in Satan’s arsenal and its purpose is two fold. 1) to keep lost people from coming to a saving knowledge of Christ, and 2) to keep Christians from ever being the effective witness God intended them to be.
There is a healthy or good guilt. It is that which keeps us from stepping to far over the boundaries of right and wrong. We were all “hard wired” by God to have guilt, but it was always for the purpose of reconciliation. It is after all the Holy Spirit’s primary function to “convict and convince of sin”-John 16: 7-11, to show us our need. There is also an “undeserved” guilt. I have counseled children of broken homes and without exception, in spite of all the love and comfort at the hands of all concerned, the kids feel like it’s their fault. They must have done something wrong. Ask someone who has lost a dear loved one; A child or perhaps a sibling, and if they are honest, they will tell you there are several stages of grief they go through. They are common to all, and though they don’t follow the same order, one of these is guilt. It is absolutely devastating. Every angry word or deed comes back in 3D stereo and there is nothing you can do to take it back. No way to apologize or make it right,–only guilt that is relentless.
Usually, however, our guilt is deserved. That being said, how do we deal with it?
There are four basic ways to deal with guilt. 1st, we can do away with the standard that makes us feel guilty. Wether we want to acknowledge it or not, when you render it all down, that standard is God. Oh I know, God, religion, and churches are all lumped into that box, but it’s ultimately God. Usually Christians take the brunt of the attack if for no other reason than our accessability. We are called “haters, narrow minded, dogmatic, intolerant”, and many other things, but it’s really God and more specifically His principals.
A man I respect deeply who has a very large Church in Tennessee, says he is convinced that the overwhelming majority of people who profess to be atheists or agnostics are simply trying to do away with the one they perceive to be the one making them feel guilty. “They don’t have an intellectual problem with God-they have a moral problem with God”. A problem with guilt.
A variation of this would be to beat down the standard of God. If I can do that, dilute the word of God, hide the word of God, cast doubt on the word of God, or even pervert the word of God, then perhaps I can begin to feel better about myself and more importantly, cause others to feel better about me because remember, God fixed us so that we cannot go on with life as usual while carrying guilt. Let’s get it out of our schools, off our money, out of our pledge, away from our holiday celebrations out of our public buildings, rob it of it’s authority, and maybe----we’ll feel better about ourselves.
The second approach people try is to “Ignore the Guilt”. We try, to no avail, to suppress it, hide it, bury it, and ignore it, but it always manifests itself in unpleasant ways and every thing in our lives is viewed through the clouded lense of guilt, and it effects every relationship we have until it is dealt with.
The third approach (and the most common) is to Blame. We seem to have this down from an early age too.
In an adulterous affair, the guilty party will far more often than not say something like this. “Yea, I know it was wrong, but---- she didn’t meet my needs”; or “He didn’t understand me”. I stole from my employer, but he wasn’t paying me enough. A child rebels and blames it on their parents. This is the natural way, but God calls us to be supernatural-Romans 12: 2.
There is then a fourth option in dealing with guilt. We can deal with it Gods way, and experience his healing forgiveness. This is what we are going to explore on Sunday. If you think God is sitting on a marble throne with a lightning bolt in each hand just anxiously waiting for you to mess up so he can punish you, then you have a wrong understanding of God, and I would encourage you to join us.
“My little children, these things write I unto you that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous;”. 1st John 2: 1.
Are you burdened by guilt of any kind? There is more than hope available through Jesus Christ. We are going to learn that there is healthy guilt from God, unhealthy guilt from Satan, and how to tell the difference.