Unraveling Guilt With God’s Holiness

Anyone else out there get bogged down with guilt? Pretty sure moms (or maybe all women?) spend a lot of time on the guilt treadmill. Running on fumes and getting nowhere. I’ve thought a lot about how to solve the guilt problem and the usual Sunday school answers are my go-to: Jesus. The Bible.

Yet, I’m still more than stone’s throw from understanding the root causes and complex nuances of guilt. One thing recently pointed out to me is that mom guilt can’t merely be a matter of heavy responsibility. I think one of the reasons moms are so guilty is the weightiness of feeling responsible for sustaining life (physical) and being one of the means of awakening life (spiritual) for their children. I really do think this is where a lot of mom guilt comes in. But what can’t be true is that moms are the only ones under this pressure. Dads are too.

And I could make the case that good dads are under more pressure: the pressure to provide materially coupled with the weight of being the head of the house spiritually. Yet, I don’t see as many men fretting guiltily about every tiny thing they do or don’t do, whereas it’s like breathing for a lot of moms.

The gendered guilt component probably has a plus side for humanity. It seems that a woman’s guilt (“I should have called so and so and offered to carpool!”or “Let’s invite ALL the girls from your class to the party! We don’t want anyone to feel left out!”) is often relationally wired and tuned in to the needs of others. This does good things for society in promoting an interwoven community that makes sure everyone is looked after, even as it may make her a bit of basket case.

But constant low-level guilt isn’t God’s great plan for womanhood. And while I still think Jesus and The Bible are the answer to our guilt problem, I also think applying the Gospel balm without understanding holiness and sin won’t help us much.

Perhaps what’s missing in the battle against guilt is a grasp of God’s holiness. Maybe the real problem is that we don’t know God’s perfections. We don’t know his character. We forgot the Ten Commandments, all of which instruct us about God’s holy nature. If we don’t know the basics about what God is like, we won’t know when we’re wandering into sinfulness or preference. We won’t have an objective way to evaluate our guilt. And Jesus as God Incarnate is the standard bearer for holiness and the further revealing of God’s character.

Without knowing God’s holiness, we won’t know whether we’re supposed to be guilty about white bread sandwiches or yelling at the kids. We won’t know whether we’re supposed be guilty for taking too much “me-time” or not enough. We won’t know whether we’re supposed to be guilty for feeling too guilty or not feeling guilty enough. Oh the tangled webs.

God’s character, his holiness, unravels the knot. It doesn’t remove our guilt, but it names it rightly, it brings things into proper focus. He sent his Son and His Spirit to give us the way out of guilt. Listen to the conviction of His Spirit; look at the cross and the empty tomb in repentance and hope and be holy as God is holy. Don’t be holy the way the world is holy. Stop submitting to regulations of self-made religion. Stop following your puny dreams and start knowing God, yield to him and be free of guilt–false or real.