Guilt is out. That’s so Bible Belt Fundamentalist. People just aren’t into it like they used to be.
Guilt used to be stock in trade for clergy types in my trade. Churches thrived on guilt: even a marginally-effective speaker could whip up a deep sense of insufficiency and soon trigger an urge to tithe or serve or pray or even just not think about sexual things or any other Very Bad Pleasures. For preacher, but also for parents and other authority figures, guilt was the fire alarm lever you could pull to get everybody’s attention. That's when Chuch Lady was born.
Guilt doesn’t seem to carry the weight that it used to. People just aren’t interested. Trying to trigger guilt today can feel like trying to offer someone a really good deal on an AM car radio.
And you know…I think that’s probably a good thing. Guilt-induced goodness isn’t really goodness. Ultimately it’s more like a fear response. And it’s kind creepy to think that people in my profession could actually end up bullying people into adopting a certain lifestyle. Shame on you/us…
So, it’s probably a good thing that we’re so much less into the whole guilt thing. How much better for people like us to live without the constant burden of a guilty conscience. To just let us be free to be loved by God, to enjoy the healing and the wholeness that He offers. A big improvement, right?
It would seem so, at least. And yet…my sense is that the majority of us still somehow consider ourselves 2nd rate followers of Christ.
I think most of us recognize that we’re sinners, at least technically. Most weeks we miss at least one or two of those Ten Commandments—even if we can actually remember what they actually are. That means that we’re sinners on some level. But that doesn’t mean we have to get all fire-and-brimstone about it, right?
And yet, no matter how we may shrug off the idea of feeling guilty for having made some bad choices or for having had too much of the wrong kinds of fun at an earlier stage in life, something inside of us still feels like we need to ratchet our expectations for God down a notch.
I hear it in the awkward wisecracks when someone attends a worship service for the first time, as if they half suspect that the place will be struck by lightning because they showed up. I hear it when someone first begins some position of leadership or authority—almost as if it was some kind of inside joke for someone like them to be considered for any kind of “advanced” Christian role. And I think I hear it when someone cringes at the prospect of praying out loud in a group. If someone like me prays out loud, everyone will hear God not answering!
Seem that no matter how we may shrug off the idea of feeling guilty for having made some bad choices or for having had too much of the wrong kinds of fun at an earlier stage in life, something inside of us still feels like we need to ratchet our expectations for God down a notch.
So, here's the weird situation I think we find ourselves in: we no longer buy the idea of guilt, but we still somehow feel like we need to give ourselves some sort of spiritual “time out”. Like people like us need to make sure that we don’t expect too much from God too fast. Better to keep ourselves on the sidelines for the first little bit. The first few months…or years…or decades. Maybe I’m crazy, but those all sound like symptoms of what we used to call guilt.
We don’t feel guilty as much any more. Maybe that’s good. But I’m not sure we feel all that innocent, either. That doesn’t seem right. If anything we're spiritually numb. What are we missing?