Guilt Trips to Nowhere
Maybe you’ve been there. Two o’clock in the morning. You lie restlessly, random thoughts flying through your head. Worry. Anxiety. Guilt. Your mind parks itself on that last one as your personal history book is opened and you begin to dwell on your past sin. The darkness of night magnifies the guilt and then doubt creeps in—strong doubt that God has not forgiven that sin. If He has, then why am I being forced to relive it?
I am convinced by scripture that it isn’t God who is reminding us of our past. It is satan. The devil loves to remind us of past iniquities. He wants us to see ourselves as worthless and “less than”.
Satan whispers, “God doesn’t love you! How could He? Just look at all you’ve done. You’re nobody and certainly not worthy of God’s forgiveness. You stand condemned. Accept it. You are relegated to an eternity of misery, sorrow, regret, and punishment. You. Belong. To. Me.”
Satan is not just a liar, he is the father of lies. The great accuser. Don’t listen to him!
Excessive guilt takes an emotional toll. An old Puritan minister named Richard Baxter once said, “Overwrought guilt is deadly. It can swallow a person whole.” We know he's right because we've experienced it. Somehow, we have not accepted God’s forgiveness. We grieve over past sins. And overwhelmed by the guilt, we feel as if we are drowning.
Intellectually, we understand what it means to be forgiven. We know that Jesus’ work at the cross atoned for our sins. We understand that God will continue to cleanse us with the blood of Jesus if we repent of and confess our sins. We’ve heard 1 John 1:9 preached over and over and over. We get it!
But do we believe it? Do we trust the promise? Because 2:00 a.m. rolls around to rob us of the peace of forgiveness. Satan whispers that the divorce, the abortion, the adultery—are sins beyond God’s forgiveness. And so, we continue to carry that guilt burden, allowing it to just weigh… us… down.
As we finish our study of Joseph’s life this Sunday, we will spend a few minutes discussing the blessings Jacob bestows on Joseph’s sons and then on his own sons in Genesis 48-49. But we’re going to spend the bulk of our time discussing just a few verses in chapter 50.
After arriving back in Egypt from Jacob’s funeral in Canaan, it dawns on the brothers—now that dad is gone, there is nothing preventing Joseph from finally taking vengeance on them for what they did almost 30 years ago.
Forget that Joseph has already forgiven them. Forget all the grace and mercy and love he has shown them. None of that matters now. It’s 2 o’clock in the morning and they’re guilty! They know what they deserve!
They come before Joseph with what I believe is a concocted story. They know how much Joseph loved Jacob and that he would never do anything to dishonor the memory of his father. So they say to Joseph, “Before Dad died, he told us to tell you not to hurt us once he’s gone. So… please forgive us, Joseph! It’s what Dad wanted! We are your slaves.”
I wonder if Joseph is hurt by this. He really has gone overboard to show kindness and love and forgiveness to his brothers. But they don’t really believe it. They doubt their forgiveness.
Instead of trying to convince them of his sincerity, Joseph talks about God. “Brothers, listen to me. Vengeance belongs to God… and I am not God. It is abundantly clear that God has taken the evil you meant for me and used it for good. God has used me as a means of preserving His people through the famine. This is all God. So don’t be afraid. He will take care of us.”
Church, feelings of guilt serve a purpose. When we sin, we should feel bad. We should be sorry for our sins. Our godly sorrow should lead to repentance without regret, which then leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). But that same verse talks about another kind of sorrow—worldly sorrow—that leads to death and destruction.
Godly sorrow and worldly sorrow. The former leads to life. The latter shoves us into a spiritual grave. Worldly sorrow bemoans that we got caught or laments the loss of sin’s momentary thrill. But it doesn’t produce true repentance.
Another form of worldly sorrow is overwrought guilt. And overwrought guilt is, in my opinion, simply a lack of faith. We’ve not taken God at His word. We saw God’s word for us in today’s assigned reading. In Jeremiah 31, the prophet foresees the coming of a new and better covenant—a covenant whereby God’s laws would not be written on stone tablets, but on the pages of the human heart; a covenant whereby everyone will have the opportunity to really know God; a covenant whereby God says, “I will forgive their iniquity and remember their sins no more.”
Our Father in heaven, give us the faith to take You at Your word. May we honor the death of Jesus by ridding ourselves of the guilt over iniquities You've already forgiven; sins You’ve already forgotten.
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:19-23).