Feelings of guilt, like feelings of pain, are a gift we are endowed with from God. Both guilt and pain are warning systems alerting us that we are in danger.
When these gifts are not present in us, it poses a real crisis. For example, a person with a medical disorder in which he can feel no pain, called congenital analgesia, lives in constant danger. Likewise, a person who never experiences the feeling of guilt may very well be a sociopath. A sociopath is defined as a person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience. The sociopath typically can form relationships with others but ignores societal norms, possesses little to no conscience, lacks empathy for others, and is a completely self-serving individual.
Both of these are horrifying conditions, which often result in harm to self and others, but we do not need a diagnosis to misuse or abuse what God has intended for good.
It is also important to be aware that feelings of guilt and pain can be easily corrupted. When someone needlessly physically mutilates him or herself, they are misusing God’s gift and are dishonoring God. Likewise, harboring false guilt for things that are beyond our control or because of our personal limitations in certain areas of our lives is a wicked form of spiritual self-mutilation.
Don’t Confuse Unwarranted Guilt Feelings with Humility
False guilt is not humility. It is the result of an unhealthy self-preoccupation that is often rooted in our expectations about what we think we should be able to do and accomplish. The problem is that we do not often distinguish between what we truly should feel guilty about and a false sense guilt that is unwarranted. We may perceive this unwarranted guilty feeling as humility. This may stem from a need for validation from other person or a group of people.
We are all guilty because we have all sinned against God.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
In 1 Corinthians 10:13, this statement is made concerning the human condition:
“There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it”.
Our subjective feelings of guilt, when they accurately reflect what the Scripture names sin, are a path to confession, repentance and a renewed experience of cleanness by the grace and mercy of God.
That path is defined for us in the Book of Hebrews, chapter 4, verses 14-16:
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
But what if others refuse to forgive even after the steps mentioned above have been taken? What if there has been confession and repentance and yet forgiveness is withheld? How should you feel about yourself?
Often our continued subjective feelings of guilt after repentance are rooted in a need of acceptance and validation from others. This will often cause a person to keep seeking that acceptance in unhealthy ways. And this needy condition is often used to control a person.
In a bid to win acceptance, to get back into good grace with an offended party, one may subject themselves to an endless course of jumping through emotional hoops as a manner of speaking. This is an effective control mechanism. The end goal is always withheld and the objective is never achieved. Only the perpetrator benefits. What should you do in response?
Forgiveness is often defined as a deliberate decision to let go of feelings of anger, resentment, and retribution toward someone who you believe has wronged you. However, while you may be quite generous in your ability to forgive others, you may be much harder on yourself.
Forgiveness means that you accept the behavior, you accept what has happened, and you are willing to move past it and move on with your life without ruminating over past events that cannot be changed.
Self-forgiveness is not about letting yourself off the hook nor is it a sign of weakness. The act of forgiveness, whether you are forgiving yourself or someone who has wronged you, does not suggest that you are condoning the behavior.
Everyone makes mistakes, but learning how to learn from these errors, let go, move on, and forgive yourself is important for mental health and well-being. Learn more about why self-forgiveness can be beneficial and explore some steps that may help you become better at forgiving your own mistakes.
If we have made confession and repented and if we have a renewed experience of cleanness before God, we sin when we allow other to continue to make us feel guilty by their continuing to harbor resentment. You have done all you can humanly do about the matter as you cannot go back and change the past.
Falling Prey to Satan’s Tactics
When we harbor guilt for sins we’ve repented from we become a malicious witness, not against our brother(Deut. 19:15-20), but against ourselves.
Satan’s name means adversary and accuser. He is the accuser of the brothers, and he will answer to Christ for his malicious accusations (Rev. 12:10). When we accuse ourselves and bear false guilt, we are unwittingly copying the devil. False guilt is one of the primary weapons of Satan’s parasitic rival kingdom.
Genuine feelings of guilt that lead to conviction, confession and repentance do not leave the believer in self-oriented groveling but rather declaring, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
As a result of taking responsibility, you may experience a range of negative feelings, including guilt and shame. When you’ve done something wrong, it’s completely normal, even healthy, to feel guilty about it. These feelings of guilt and remorse can serve as a springboard to positive behavior change. But once those positive changes have been made, it’s okay to let go of the guilt.
Be On Guard
While guilt implies that you’re a good person who did something bad, continued shaming by someone who is unforgiving makes you see yourself as a bad person. This can bring up feelings of worthlessness which, left unresolved, can lead to addiction, depression, and aggression. Understand that making mistakes that you feel guilty about does not make you a bad person or undermine your intrinsic value. You are a person who did something bad that you regret.
Everyone has at some time or another been hurt by the actions or words of another. These wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of anger and bitterness — even vengeance.
But if you don’t practice forgiveness, you might be the one who pays most dearly. By embracing forgiveness, you can also embrace peace, hope, gratitude and joy. Consider how forgiveness can lead you down the path of physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Consider as well that unforgiveness can lead you down a path of physical, emotional, and spiritual dysfunction, psychological trauma, and much worse.
Forgiveness means different things to different people. Generally, however, it involves a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge.
The act that hurt or offended you might always be with you, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help free you from the control of the person who harmed you. Forgiveness can even lead to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for the one who hurt you.
Being hurt by someone, particularly someone you love and trust, can cause anger, sadness and confusion. If you dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If you allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, you might find yourself swallowed up by your own bitterness or sense of injustice.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you or making up with the person who caused the harm. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life. And the extending of forgiveness where warranted is pleasing to God.
Refusing to forgive can be is a very specific sort of psychological manipulation, and is a fact of life. We may indulge in withholding behavior ourselves, or we may be on the receiving end. This kind of withholding can make a person feel powerful.
Psychological manipulation also known as emotional manipulation is defined as a form of coercion or persuasion. It can involve brainwashing or bullying, and is usually deceptive or abusive in nature. It may present itself as a pretense of forgiving someone, only to ‘withdraw’ the forgiveness… a pulling in only to later push away. This kind of manipulation is employed as an attempt to control the behavior of others and emotionally jerk them around to punish them. If this is what you are experiencing, what do you need to do?
Satan’s tactics have not changed. He longs for us to be gripped by the constant ache of a continued sense of guilt. This so even though proper contrition has been shown. This kind of guilting is a self-feeding beast. It produces hypersensitivity and creates a paralyzing self-loathing. It also speaks to the character of the unforgiving person.
Those who hold on to grudges due to past sins against them, should learn a lesson from the account recorded at John 8:1-11:
1 but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.
2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.
3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst
4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.
5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”
The Lord told them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
We have all sinned against another in some fashion in our lives. But we always seem to tend to rank our own sins as less egregious than those of others. The scribes and the Pharisees who hauled the women mentioned at John 8 before Jesus had lost sight of their own debt of sin. Perhaps they too thought that their sin didn’t merit as much condemnation. Obviously by Jesus’ reply to them, they had not even confessed their own sin at the Temple in order to be forgiven. But in the end, they all had to walk away because not a single one of them was worthy to be in judgment of someone else. The Lord know even the secret sins of all. And certainly God does as well. It is God’s judgment that is most important.
To those who fear God, the Scriptures offer clear warnings regarding any who withhold forgiveness in harsh judgment of others.
“For with whatever judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with whatever measure you measure, it will be measured to you”.
If we condemn another person and leave no room for forgiveness of sin, we can expect to be treated similarly in the final Judgment by Christ. This would be especially true regarding individuals who themselves, have made no attempt to repent from a life of sinning against God’s commandments. All of that person’s sins both great and small, will be held against them and they will be held accountable because they judged harshly.
The Bible writer James wrote this concerning the extending of Divine mercy:
(Translation For Translators)
“Speak and act like that, because when God judges us, he will not act mercifully toward those who do not act mercifully toward others. But when we are merciful to others, we can rejoice, because our being merciful shows that we are acting like people whom God has mercifully saved from being judged (OR, we can rejoice because God will judge us mercifully)”.
God will not show mercy to someone incapable of being merciful. Unforgiveness will lead to the second death for the one who can’t forgive a repentant sinner.
Remember this, we are all guilty because we have all sinned against God.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
The woman mentioned at John 8 sins were being used as a ploy to trap Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees intention in their condemnation of her wasn’t pure. They withheld their forgiveness and wanted her stoned for ulterior motives.
Feelings of guilt, like feelings of pain, are a gift we are endowed with from God. Both guilt and pain are warning systems alerting us that we are in danger. But it is also important to be aware that feelings of guilt and pain can be easily corrupted. If we have sinned, made confession, repented, and have made an honest effort to make amends to a party that we have grieved, we sin when we allow other to continue to make us feel guilty by their continuing to harbor resentment. You have done all you can humanly do about the matter as you cannot go back and change the past. But you can allow others to force you into living in it. While guilt implies that you have done something wrong, continued shaming by someone who is unforgiving makes you see yourself as a bad person. Once you have made the necessary positive changes, it is correct in God’s eyes to let go of the guilt.