In a recent Bible Study I attend, the ladies had just finished sharing their thoughts on a chapter in Exodus in which most of our focus was on how to obey God and root out our sins of omission and commission. A new member of the group seemed frustrated with us all for what she said was too much emphasis on guilt and this constant self-flagellation. She asked, “Where is the joy in that?”
At the time I felt defensive because I do enjoy the presence of God. Yet, I have to admit that my conscious is often pricked with concern that I am guilty of something. This is really false guilt and combined with an overactive conscious and can either drive a person to relentless striving for perfection or to giving up on the whole idea of becoming good enough.
Why do we place these burdens of guilt on one another? How do we know when we are truly guilty as opposed to when we are operating out of false guilt? How do we respond to the accusations of others when our actions are not sinful?
Scripture is not hazy on these points, I do not think. For instance, in Genesis 42 we read that Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking food, and without knowing that he could understand their language, admitted their guilt. How amazing that after all those years since throwing Joseph into a pit and selling him to a caravan of traders, the brothers would believe that their treacherous treatment of Joseph was the reason for their current troubles. They rightly judged their actions as guilty.
Then in Job, we read that Bildad falsely accuses Job and his sons as having committed acts against God and that therefore, Job’s family deserved vengeance. Stripped of his health, bereaved of his sons, and shunned by his friends, Job could have agreed with Bildad. Yet, God had said that Job was blameless, so all that Job could do was to wait for vindication.
Then again, in Mark, we learn through a parable that God judges those who seek to destroy the innocent. There was a clear picture of mayhem and murder by the vineyard laborers. Jesus was just a clear about what would happen to them in the end. No false guilt here.
So it seems that we can know guilt from false guilt. Romans 12 sums up how to rightly divide good and evil. It says, “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” Further, good is described as, “Be kindly, affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another, not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord, rejoicing in hope…” Salvation is the answer to guilt, and loving God and serving one another is the answer to false guilt. There, then, is the joy!