It is a long convoluted path how I got to thinking about guilt this week. I’ll just skip the intro.
Of course all that is--reflects both the wonderful glory of the creator . . . and the echoes of the fall of Adam. The same is of course true of guilt.
One way of looking at it, is that our brains are built with a guilt “gland” (actually it is a complex interaction of several areas of the forebrain) . . . a place where guilt is processed. Like a high-end radio (sounds like an oxymoron), it is fine-tuned to the frequency of the Holy Spirit. It can function under autopilot or it can be turned on my incoming frequencies from the great convict-er.
In the perfect functioning guilt apparatus the progression starts with sin . . . followed by guilt . . . followed by remorse . . . followed by repentance. . . . and lastly, the complete confidence of forgiveness.
When guilt functions as it was intended, it becomes the salt in the throat that drives us to the well of Jesus to drink.
But a broken, fallen guilt can be either hypo or hyper active.
The hypoactive guilt apparatus is the cornerstone to many of the DSM II disorders as well as the psychopathic and sociopathic people.
As I was researching one of the psychopathic serial killers, I read his police report. He shot and killed a young man in front of the man’s girlfriend. She, like any of us, came completely unglued. Then the killer (per his own words) started stabbing her in the face and neck as she, in terror, begged for her life. He found tremendous joy . . . not wanting to rape or rob her . . . but watching her helplessly beg for mercy as he methodically stabbed her to death. He was high on joy for days . . . until he needed to kill again. There, his guilt apparatus was silent. No remorse, no guilt. But lack of guilt seems to be key in many of the lesser DSM II mental disorders as well.
But what about the hyperactive guilt apparatus? I believe such an energetic sense of guilt is like the flying buttresses that hold up the walls of anxiety. I know that I suffer from a generalized anxiety disorder and have my entire life. Some day I would like to write about it . . . if I can ever figure out how to do without sounding like I’m whining or being a member of Oprah’s mental health disease of the month club.
I was talking to my mom this morning. She’s 88. She was telling me how she suffered from anxiety her whole life. I didn’t know it but she was on Valium for several years . . . until her pharmacist explained that it was habit-forming. She stopped it cold-turkey. So I know that there is a genetics flaw (a physical consequence of the Fall of Adam), and not just a learned response.
But in anxiety disorders, and maybe other disorders, guilt and shame play a big role. There the progression doesn’t follow the script. It is sin (or perception of sin) leads to guilt . . . which leads to remorse, repentance (if the sin was real to start with), but then the guilt continues and goes to seed as shame. Shame in turn tells the emotions that the blood of Christ does not cover you . . . while you know in your intellect that it does.
Those of us with a hyperactive guilt apparatus are set up to be manipulated. Those with a low guilt sense, tend to habitually manipulate others . . . and with no remorse.
On the other side of the looking glass, where the perfect world of pretend Christianity dwells (and where I used to dwell myself) everything is well demarcated between black and white. It is odd that they see things that way because they do believe in the Fall and should know that all things are corrupt. So there, guilt always = Holy Spirit convicting as they have no concept of false guilt. They also have no sense of the lack of guilt . . . you know nice Christians like Ted Haggard who seemed to function without guilt.
It reminds me of an old friend from my college Navigator ministry. We stayed in touch over the years. One day, a long, long time ago, he sent me a letter that his wife was leaving him . . . and that she was really messed up. She had actually accused him of molesting his daughter so that she could get a better divorce settlement . . . so he said. She seemed like a witch to me . . . per his letters. It seemed odd because he had met her thought the Navigators and I had assumed that she was a "godly woman" (back when I believed in godliness.)
A couple of decades later our paths crossed. I went out with him and his new wife. Then he and I sat to the wee hours in the morning talking about the old days. The longer we sat up, the more of the layers of the onion we peeled off. Then, about three in the morning, he mentioned that not only had he really molested his daughter . . . but while my jaw was still on the floor, he told me that he was having sexual encounters with other men at that time. When I told him he must come clean with his wife, he said he would not. But then he, as an elder of a Evangelical church, said something that really blew me away. He said, "But I feel no remorse for either behavior because God has not convicted me of it." This was the first time I ever walked away from a from a friendship because of my disapproval of someone's behavior. I just didn't know how to deal with it.
For many of us who suffer from an overactive guilt complex, it is a constant effort to see the cross clearly and to feel the father’s pleasure. I think that is why church campaigns to “root out our personal sin,” feels a little like a burn victim being asked to take a soak in a hot tub.Some of us need to hear about grace . . . every single day.