I once heard a statistic which stated that one-half of all hospital beds were filled by people suffering from psychosomatic illnesses and of these illnesses another one-half were related directly to guilt.
The Wikipedia Internet encyclopedia defines guilt as "an affective state in which one experiences conflict at having done something one believes one should not have done (or, conversely, not doing something one believes one should have done). It gives rise to a feeling that does not go away easily."
Guilt is a very real problem in our world. One young woman wrote, "When I have sexual relationships, I always come away feeling guilty. I don't know why. I don't even believe in God."
Years ago I was asked to speak to a class of nursing students on the subject of dealing with the problem of guilt in young people. One student remarked, "I look forward to the time when young people can have sex without feeling guilty."
Like many, this particular student made an errant assumption about the cause of guilt. She assumed that guilt is a product of culture, a form of social control, and as the culture changed, the guilt associated with immoral behavior would diminish. Culture has changed over the years, but the nagging problem of guilt remains? Why?
Guilt is not, as some suggest, "a maladaptive byproduct of the evolution of rationality." The emotion of guilt points rather pointedly to a moral compass that exists within the psychological make-up of man, which in my opinion points us toward a creator. To suggest that our moral compass developed by a chance process of chemical changes during the evolutionary process is to express a blind faith akin to believing in the tooth fairy. But this is not the subject of my article.
Psychologists have tried many approaches over the years in an attempt to help people deal with guilt. For many years there was the blame approach in which a patient was brought face to face with his failure, but then, instead of blaming oneself for the failure, the blame was shifted to another.
One of the most dramatic examples of that approach came to me when a young man, legally guilty of murder, was told that his actions were not his fault; that if his father had paid more attention to him, he would not have murdered his brother. Nevertheless, he should not feel guilty for his actions but should place the blame and guilt where it belonged, on the shoulders of his father.
The truth of the matter is, the boy was guilty. In his own words, this young man found true release at the foot of the cross. He said, "Fourteen months ago, my heart burned hot like that camp-fire and I killed a man. That man was my own brother. Although I will never get over the regret and sorrow I have for killing my brother, I know one thing: God has forgiven me."
There are all sorts of issues that we could get into here. We could discuss the differences between real guilt and false guilt, guilt complex or guilt experience. We can seek to find effective therapies for guilt; perhaps the most common modern therapy is trying to convince people that there are no real standards and that they should be comfortable with their actions regardless of what others might feel. The reality is, that approach doesn't work. God has placed within the heart of man a moral code, and try as we might to deny that code, there will always be guilt when we break that code.
The real and lasting remedy for guilt is forgiveness. Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead so that you and I can know the joy of sins forgiven and have a new power within us to live a life that is guilt free. God's promise to you is ,"But if we confess our sins to him, he can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong. And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins" (1 John 1:9, The Living Bible).