I was (re)watching Marvel's “Daredevil” on Netflix the other night, when a really great quote came up, so I went to note it in my phone under my “writing ideas” heading. When I opened up the note, I realised I'd already written it there last time I watched the series! I figured that in that case, I'd better actually write about it.
To set the scene, Daredevil's alter ego (Matt Murdock) is in confession with his priest, Father Lantom. Murdock is talking about right and wrong, and how he feels more guilty when he isn't Daredevil, when he isn't saving people (albeit in very violent ways). Father Lantom states: “Guilt can be a good thing. It's the soul’s call to action. An indication that something is wrong.”
When I heard this, it reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with another Christian woman. Somehow we had started talking about guilt, and I had said something about how I often feel guilty right before God reveals to me either something I need to change in my life, or someone I need to forgive or some such revelation.
The lady I was speaking with was adamant that that wasn't a “God thing”. She countered that guilt was not from God, that he never made us feel guilty, and that there was “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans chapter 8verse 1).
I remember sort of just ending the conversation because she seemed pretty worked up about it, but it definitely made me think.
Obviously, she (and more originally, the apostle Paul), is right that once we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and saviour, we no longer stand condemned. In a mind blowing and wonderful turn of events, Jesus takes our sin, and we his righteousness (2 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 21). And yet, the more we follow (or in my case, stumble) after Jesus, the more we realise we are not much like him.
I guess my question is, is guilt a good thing after all?
Guilt can go either way
In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul (the same Paul who said there is no condemnation in Christ) isn't at all bothered about having caused the church to “feel sorrow” about their actions and lifestyle.
He wrote, “...now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” (2 Corinthians chapter seven, verses 9-10).
It seems to be that guilt can bring life, or death. The kind of “worldly” guilt that Paul is referring to, is the kind when you are weighed down by feelings of guilt. You feel like nothing you could ever do would be good enough. It's the kind of guilt that takes hold when we forgot that we have been transferred Jesus' righteousness, and instead try to be righteous on our own.
Nothing good comes from that guilt. Because we never can be righteous! “No one is righteous, not even one “ (Romans chapter 3 verses 10 - 12, Psalm chapter 14 verses 1-3). That type of guilt doesn't lead to repentance, it leads to giving up. It's the type of guilt that makes us angry at God, because we no longer see him as kind and gracious, but as a harsh task master whom we will never please. Instead, we become afraid of him.
On the other hand, “godly sorrow”, or godly guilt, leads us straight towards our loving, gracious God. Look at the path Paul lays out: sorrow = repentance = salvation = no regrets! Now that is good guilt.
Godly guilt is not intended to evoke fear, but rather, repentance. Not repentance from a big, scary god who wants to punish us, but repentance from the God who is love, perfect love, that drives out all fear (1 John chapter 4 verse 18).
When we decide to follow Jesus, we no longer stand condemned. That is a fact, a wonderful fact! We need no longer fear God's wrath, and an eternity separated from him. When we decide to follow Jesus, God sees His righteousness in us, and we are brought into perfect unity with him, eternally. God is so good, and loves us so much, that he wants nothing but the best for us; now, and in the future.
Before we get to eternity, we still have to live in the now, on this earth. And the reality is, godly guilt is actually a gift that points us toward a life of no regrets!
Is guilt a good thing? I agree with Father Lantom, it definitely can be.
Jess is married to Colin, and they have a two year old daughter, Lucy. Together they are striving to live like Jesus every day, by loving God, loving people, and serving the world with joy. Jess Curries’ previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jess-currie.html.
Jess is married to Colin and they have a young daughter who is teaching them more than they are teaching her. Jess is also a recent college graduate who has no idea what she will do with her ministry degree, but is passionate about following Jesus wherever he may lead.
Jessica Currie’s previous articles may be viewed at: http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jessica-currie.html