We may not believe that we need to be forgiven, but the sense that we need forgiveness seems to be unshakable. Eric Metaxas argues that even if we believe that morality is merely something we invent, “we are still very much in the thrall of guilt”:
· And here’s what makes the persistence of guilt “strange”: The dominant worldviews of our age, as Alasdair MacIntyre wrote in “After Virtue,” have turned beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil, into little more than expressions of feelings. They should have freed us from feelings of guilt. And yet we still feel guilty. https://www.lifesitenews.com/opinion/no-sin-no-forgiveness-either-the-strange-persistence-of-guilt
Why then the ubiquitous persistence of guilt and shame? Why must we continue to prove our worth and significance with conquests, achievements, money, power, beauty, popularity, and whatever other commodity we associate with bestowing upon us a sense of worthiness? Why do we find that we must obsessively defend our honor and our actions, if morality is just our own arbitrary creation?
We had thought that religion, with its demanding moral standards, had been the source of our shame. However, even after we had finished flushing every verse down the toilet, the shame remains as a persistent self-indictment of our worthiness.
· Instead of the easy-going relativism that should logically follow from believing that right and wrong, guilt and innocence, are a matter of feelings, we live in what [David] Brooks calls “an age of great moral pressure.” We may “lack the words to articulate it,” and “religion may be in retreat, but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.” Thus, as [Wilfred] McClay writes, “Whatever donation I make to a charitable organization, it can never be as much as I could have given. I can never diminish my carbon footprint enough, or give to the poor enough . . . Colonialism, slavery, structural poverty, water pollution, deforestation—there’s an endless list of items for which you and I can take the rap.”
And we do take the rap, but why? Why can we never pay off our sense of an indelible debt? Perhaps because it is impervious to any sacrifices, good deeds, or even self-mutilations!
Perhaps it is like wronging our wives. There is no expensive vacation or gift that can adequately address the wrong, as a sincere, regretful, and humble apology can. Only an apology can penetrate into the place of hurt to bring hope and reconciliation. (Not that an expensive gift might not serve to reinforce the sincerity our apology!)
But our deeply rooted guilt and shame – how can these be meaningfully addressed? In the same way! But to whom must we address our apology? To the One who gave us life and had written His moral imperatives upon our conscience! Whenever we sin, we also sin against the law-Giver, who cares deeply about our welfare.
Of course, this is an offensive idea. It limits our autonomy, if there exists a watchful Eye scrutinizing our every deed. It also means that our sense of guilt and shame reflects the fact that we are truly guilty. We have violated God’s laws and deserve punishment.
However, we have convinced ourselves that we need not go that route. Instead, we attempt earn our righteousness or punish ourselves, even while knowing that we haven’t achieved what our conscience demands.
However, as Metaxas has noted, there is no end, satisfaction, or permanent relief to be found, even if we give our life for a righteous cause (Romans 3:19-20; 1 Cor. 13:3). This means that there is never an adequate payment we can give for our sins (Psalm 49:7-9). We cannot find God’s mercy as we continue our flight from Him.
Our sins are deep; our denials of God’s righteous demands are offensive. He has made the payment for our sins on the Cross. We only need to appropriate this cure for ourselves. But how? Only a humble, contrite, and penitent confession can suffice, but it is all that is necessary.
I am now assured of His love and forgiveness. Consequently, I need no longer deprive, hurt, or prove myself. The payment for my sins has been made, and I am set free, as Jesus had taught:
· “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Feelings of guilt and shame might sometimes afflict me, but I know that they are no more than imaginary spots that float around in my cornea, reminding me that I am now indeed free.