27 December 2007

Guilt and Repentance

This topic has been running around in my head for awhile since there was a discussion about 'guilt' - several weeks gone now - on a Christian discussion group. I want to tie it in with some concepts from a sermon that I did for the Second Sunday in Advent on the topic of 'repentance'. I don't actually imagine that most people read my sermons so I wanted to briefly address the concepts of guilt and repentance in a shorter post here.

As might have been predicted on the discussion group, some people expressed the idea that 'what the world needs now is more people feeling guilty; too many people don't feel guilty about anything any more.' Now, that may or may not be true, but I think it's important to emphasise that the sole function of 'guilt' is to get us to move on quickly to doing what is right.

Guilt should function to say: 'What you did is wrong' or 'You should be doing X or Y.' That's it. Basta. End of story. Move along, no more to see here.

For many people the worst possible thing that can happen with guilt is that they remain in guilt and wallow in guilt. And I'm afraid that there are many people in this world who will encourage that wallowing. As if feeling guilty were A Good Thing for it's own sake. It's not.

My evangelical friends would now tell you - and they would be right - that Christ died to take away the guilt of our sins. What that means in the everyday world is that, according to God, being wrong can be forgiven and being wrong will be forgiven.

But I firmly believe that the bible - both Old and New Testament - makes it perfectly clear that God's main concern is that we move on from our guilt and repentance to do what is right.

In my sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, I used a quotation from the American Christian author and theologian, Frederick Buechner(1):
To repent is to come to your senses. It is not so much something you do as something that happens. True repentance spends less time looking at the past and saying, 'I'm sorry,' than to the future and saying 'Wow'.
As a Church and as people, we'll do a lot better to find God's 'wow' for justice, for inclusion, for peace and for compassion than we will sitting around wallowing in guilt. Seeking God's 'Wow' is also a much better alternative to the blame-game.

May 2008 be a year of 'Wow' for all of us.

(1) Buechner, Frederick, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC; HarperOne, 1993, New York p. 79.


Doorman-Priest said...

I enjoyed this post. Thank you. This is not just an issue for the Methodists.

PamBG said...

Doorman-priest, no I don't think this is just an issue for the Methodists. I think this is an issue for many Christians and I write these things to spread good news. Glad you found it helpful.

By the way, I read your profile, and I grew up Lutheran in the US. I'm intrigued to find a Lutheran in Leeds - where I also have a brother and sister in law. Small world. I didn't actually realise there were any English-speaking mainstream Lutheran congregations in the UK outside of London.

Doorman-Priest said...

"English" would be a broad description given the mini united nations we have. Tell them to come and visit: Alma Road, Headingley.

PamBG said...

Yeah, that was a confusing comment. My BIL and SIL aren't Lutherans! I think I was just shocked to find someone studying to be a Lutheran priest in the UK. Curious about where you are doing your training? I'd love to visit if I'm ever in Leeds on a rare Sunday off. I miss Lutheran liturgy.