Thursday, 22 May 2014

How to deal with guilt

If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared. Psalm 130:3-4

Here's a question that requires strict honesty by way of reply: Do you ever harbour grudges? Carry chips on your shoulder? Allow things people have done to you, or said about you, to rankle months or even years after they happened?

I suspect that even the most easy-going of us might have to answer Yes. Even if we don't allow our grievance to eat us up inside, deep down it is still there, working its poison. Yes, it's very easy to "keep a record of sins".

Well, the good news is that this is something God doesn't do. I suppose that if anyone was entitled to, it would be him. But the Psalmist glories in the fact that the opposite is true: "With you there is forgiveness". How we need to drive this great truth into our thick skulls - our God is a God who delights to forgive. Got it? Really got it?

I think there are at least three things
we need to do that follow from this.
First, accept God's forgiveness with pleasure and delight. Don't go on for ever carrying that burden of guilt. Bring it to God, lay it at his feet, tell him from the bottom of your heart how truly sorry you are... and you are free! Don't keep returning to your guilt and picking over it like an old scab that is never allowed to heal. If God has blotted it out of his mind, well, why shouldn't you do the same?

Second, move on from your failure with a new determination never to fail again. I think this is partly what the Psalmist means by "...therefore you are feared". In some ways it seems a little odd to add those slightly sombre words to the lovely "...with you there is forgiveness". Why should we fear such a God? But the fact is that sin and guilt are serious matters, and even God's great love and mercy should not allow us to forget it. It also goes without saying, I hope, that we should put things right with the other person if we possibly can, making any amends that may be needed. Anyone who has had a massive debt wiped out will (hopefully!) be all the more determined never to get into such a position again.

Third, extend to others the same forgiveness God has extended to you: putting it simply, the forgiven person must become the forgiving person. Isn't it hypocritical to receive forgiveness from God, only then to withhold it from someone else? Remember how we pray in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive others the wrongs they have done to us." That second part is absolutely crucial.

Hatred breeds hatred. Vengeance breeds vengeance. That is the sorry story of our world. But the opposite is also true, thank God: love breeds love, and forgiveness breeds forgiveness.

Suppose God was in the business of totting up all our misdeeds? As I look at my own life, I can only imagine him sitting there in heaven licking his pencil, so to speak, and adding yet another item to the grim list. By this time in my life he would need a pretty long piece of paper... As the Psalmist puts it, who indeed could stand? 

But that is exactly the way it isn't. Here are three other Bible verses that drive home the same wonderful truth: "You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7). "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more" (Jeremiah 31). And: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins..." (1 John 1).

Don't - please - spend too long analysing those verses. No! Just rejoice in them, grab hold of them with both hands, and run with them.

Lord God, the tally of my sins would be massive by now - it would need a computer to add them all up. So thank you for the free grace of your wonderful forgiveness. Help me to live every day in the joy of that forgiveness. And help me always to forgive any who I may feel have wronged me. Amen.

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