What would you think of a doctor who gave you a few aspirins for a broken leg? What would you think of the staff in an emergency ward if you were in agony with a face full of glass and they offered you a 292 and a drink of water? You probably wouldn’t be too impressed at their efforts to treat your pain.
The dictionary defines pain as: “The unpleasant sensation of feeling resulting from or accompanying some injury, over-strain, or obstruction of the physical powers.” Obviously, pain has a purpose. It is there to inform us that something is wrong. The person who constantly treats pain with painkillers rather than seeking the source of the pain, is certain to face far more serious consequences than some “unpleasant sensations or feelings.” In fact, their life could be at stake.
Our emotions also contain a warning signal. This signal is designed to inform us when something is wrong with our spiritual condition. It is the unpleasant sensation or feeling that we call “guilt” and it acts much the same as pain. It accompanies some offense committed, or obstruction that we have placed between ourselves and God, to prevent His power from being active in our lives. And, as with pain, we have invented some “guilt-killers,” things that we use to try to cover the issue instead of getting to the root of the problem. I don’t know what other people do, but here are some of my “home-cure remedies” for guilt, none of which do any good, and in fact compound the problem and confuse the patient:
1) Blaming others and therefore denying responsibility for my own faults.
2) Rationalization, which is really redefining the “illness” so that I am not really guilty at all, and therefore need no treatment.
3) Excuses: “I couldn’t help it” “I didn’t know any better” “You made me do that!” and this gem, “That’s just the way I am!” Sometimes excuses are valid, but most of the time they are offered as a panacea for guilt.
4) Promising that I will never do it again, a sort of fantasy whereby I begin to think that because I have such good intentions, I have solved the entire problem.
5) Talking to myself about the various aspects of the problem so much that I have covered all the angles, am sick of the subject, have dulled my sense of guilt, and therefore have not had to admit it or do anything constructive about it.
6) Balance it out by focusing on my goodness, which is like saying, “Oh, I know my left arm is broken, but my right one is still okay.”
7) An extreme self-condemnation, exaggerating my responsibility for the mess that the entire world is in, to the point where I simply do not do anything specific about the garbage that is really mine.
8) And when all else fails, self-pity, even though it is a bitter spoonful of medicine to take, transfers the pain of guilt to a more satisfying pain of being a “poor innocent victim of circumstances!”
I am thankful to my Lord that even should I decide to take this entire batch of supposed painkillers for my guilt, He eventually brings me back to the place where I started, and to this verse which offers the only remedy that is effective: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Just as a healthy body enjoys the well-being of being pain-free, those who know God’s forgiveness and cleansing from sin can enjoy freedom from guilt. His remedy is to get to the root of the problem and when we receive the forgiveness that He offers, the symptom is taken care of along with the disease.