December 19, 2000
A sign on a church reads “No God — No Peace. Know God — Know Peace.”
After a restless night, do you ever struggle out of bed in the morning complaining and muttering, “There’s just no rest for the wicked”? It may be a clique but that line actually comes from Scripture. In context, God is describing the rebellion of His people when they refused to follow His directions. He finishes His description with “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.”
Some versions use the word “rest” but either way, lack of peace or lack of rest describes the agitation of heart felt by anyone with a guilty conscience.
In spite of popular psychology, feeling guilty is not always a bad thing. It is like pain. If we did not feel pain when touching a hot stove, the burn would cause physical harm. Pain makes us stop touching the stove. Guilt is similar. When we do something contrary to our convictions, guilt helps us stop doing it. Without that agitation, we would cause harm to ourselves and others. Guilt also encourages us to fix the mess that our wrong actions have produced.
Guilt does have its drawbacks. One of them is that we tend to measure it by how bad we feel. That is, if someone feels badly for taking pencils from the boss but the fellow in the next desk feels nothing, then that person is apt to say, “It may be wrong for you but it’s okay for me.”
Such relativistic thinking dismisses all objective standards regarding morality. It says God’s opinion is not important or at best, is open to personal interpretation. That’s just another way of saying, “I don’t care what anyone thinks, even God. I will do what I want to do.”
Christians hold God and His Word as our standard, yet guilt is still tricky. Sometimes we do the right thing but feel guilty if someone doesn’t like what we did. That happens if our goals slip into a desire to please people. If someone is not pleased, then we have failed our goal and will say we feel guilty. As long as we did nothing wrong, this is a “false guilt.”
It gets trickier. True guilt, under the objective standards of God, does not always produce that inner agitation or lack of inner peace. We can break God’s law in ignorance, something like we can drive over the speed limit with a broken speedometer. If that happens, we may not realize we have broken the law because we can’t see (or feel) anything, but we are still guilty of doing it.
Obviously, if we rely on our feelings only to tell us about guilt, we can be mistaken. Not only that, if someone tells us we are guilty but we didn’t feel any guilt, we might refuse to see or admit it. We could say, “But everyone else does it” or “It’s really not that bad.”
Most people could not dismiss speed limits without considering how that would affect lives—our highways are already littered with victims—but our society tosses out objective standards and replaces them with personal opinions, personal preferences, and subjective feelings, then dares to say we are free from “Victorian” restraints. Some call this “progress.”
Lack of civil, criminal, and even traffic laws produces confusion, anarchy, and death but lack of moral law produces progress? Take another look. The price of dropping God’s standards is far more than lack of sleep, a vague sense of unrest, or an argument over who is right and who is wrong. It is out-of-control moral chaos.
Lord, the Bible says You “laugh at the wicked for you know their day is coming” and promises justice for those who do right. It is not easy to live an upright life in a world where right and wrong are measured mostly by what people want. God, help me to know what You want and then give me the courage to do it.