My friend Muthoni was very faithful in taking care of her grandma. She was so committed to it that she rarely took time to herself. She would run to shops and chemist constantly for her grandmother. Frequently, she arranged details for her to get to the hospital or go to another doctor’s appointment. Muthoni’s bedroom door was opposite her grandmother’s. She kept her door cracked to listen for her walking to the bathroom so that she could help her safely get to the bathroom and back during the night. Muthoni was indeed a servant.
After a class at university one day, some of Muthoni’s friends were going to eat pizza, and they invited her to join them. She knew that she would get home one hour later than she usually does. She worried about what would happen to her grandmother. “Would she be ok,” Muthoni thought to herself. Her friends said to her, “You’re always busy taking care of someone else; relax a little and come eat pizza with us.” She thought her friends were right and so she ate pizza with them. She had a great time. Arriving one hour late, she went to greet her grandmother to tell her about the lovely time she had with her friends. She called for her, but she did not hear a thing. She went to her room and found that her grandmother had laid died.
Muthoni felt so much guilt for eating pizza with her friends instead of coming home early. She felt that it was wrong for her to have a pleasant time with them for that one extra hour instead of being there for her grandmother. She cried and cried, feeling she was the reason her grandmother died, and eventually began to feel shame for not being there for her; she was depressed and withdrew from people. Should Muthoni feel guilty for not being there when her grandmother died? Was it wrong for her to have fun for that extra one hour?
True vs False Guilt
This story is one that maybe you and I have felt before. You feel guilty because you didn’t work hard enough, should have done something different, we’re not there, should have run away, not worn that outfit, should have been quiet, or should have said something. Many scenarios cause guilty feelings. Guilt can haunt us, and we wish we could go back and change things. If you feel guilt like this, it is essential to ask yourself if it is true guilt or false guilt? True guilt is when I have offended God through some sinful or willful action. False guilt is when we have not offended God, and there is nothing you can do to change the situation. The story above with Muthoni and her grandmother is a prime example of false guilt.
One way to tell the difference between true guilt and false guilt is based upon its source. True guilt comes from the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-9) whenever he points out your sins. False guilt’s source comes from your sinful nature and the Devil. He says that you’re not good enough and that you should not only feel guilty, but you should feel shame. Consider Adam and Eve; they went and hid from God after sinning (Genesis 3:8). They felt guilt for their sin, but they ended up hiding in shame from God (Genesis 3:8). Guilt, whether it is true or false, can quickly lead to shame. Shame leads to hiding from everyone, especially God.
Why Hide from God?
What good has hiding from God in shame ever done? Consider that David would have felt guilt for his sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11). In response to this sin, he felt guilt and his guilt turned to shame as he hid from God until the Prophet Nathan confronted him (2 Samuel 12:1-15). While David was in shame due to his guilt, he had Uriah killed (2 Samuel 11:14-25). Hiding from God in shame doesn’t do anyone any good.
Another example is the woman at the well in John 4. She had five failed marriages and, in her shame, would go to draw water out of the well in the hottest part of the day to avoid people (John 4). She was alone and suffered during the hottest time of the day getting water. Hiding from God does nobody any good, and guilt which turns into shame, will always lead that way.
Giving False Guilt to a Sovereign God
Adam, Eve, David and the woman at the well all had true guilt due to their sins, but it took them to a place of shame. False guilt can also lead you to a place of shame that ends up in us, hiding from God and spiralling down into depressed states. Don’t let your false guilt turn to shame, hiding from God and others. How do you deal with your false guilt? One way to fight false guilt is to remember its source is bound up in your sinful flesh and the Devil. When it comes to the Devil telling you that you’re guilty and you should feel ashamed, the scriptures tell us to be “sober-minded”, “watchful”, and to “resist the devil firm in the faith“ (1 Peter 5:8-9).
To be “sober-minded” (1 Peter 5:8) is the opposite of “drunk minded.” Drunk minded means that you try and forget the guilt and shame that the Devil brings to you by distracting yourself. Distractions from guilt and shame usually come through drugs, alcohol (Luke 21:34), buying new things (Matthew 13:22), video games, hobbies, reading fantasy novels, music, your phone, amongst other things. Drunk minded people run from God. The opposite of this is to be firm in your faith (1 Peter 5:9). To be firm in your faith means that you run to God and take your feelings of false guilt to him. Tell God how you feel and let him help you sort out these feelings of false guilt. You trust him in faith that he can sort your challenges with false guilt. Don’t let the Devil deceive you into believing that you need to feel shame for what has happened.
To be “watchful” (1 Peter 5:9) means that you are alert and not asleep to schemes of evil. Imagine a watchman or policemen standing guard at a house asleep as dangerous thieves come in and rob the house. That is what Peter is warning of here in references to resisting the Devil in 1 Peter 5:8. As you’re watchful of the Devil’s strategy to push your false guilt to isolation and shame, then you can fight it firmly in your faith. Peter says to “cast your anxiety” of dealing with your false guilt onto the “mighty hand of God”, and he can take your false guilt and turn it into a testimony of his grace (1 Peter 5:5-6). Are you humble enough to do that? It takes humility to be watchful and alert to the Devil’s schemes and fight them firmly in having faith not in your self but the strength of Christ Jesus.
False guilt is something that a lot of people feel. We feel guilty for all sorts of things that have happened in our lives. We replay things in our mind over and over again, wishing we could change something, but we can’t do that. We need to trust in the providence of God that he uses all things together for good (Romans 8:28). Give the false guilt to God and trust that he will turn that into a testimony of his grace. He is available to take your false guilt and pull you out of that pit of shame. Do you have faith that he can do that, or are you going to continue to stay steeped in the shackles of false guilt and shame?
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