“Fear is the tax that conscience pays to guilt.” This wisdom is attributed to seventeenth century physician and writer George Sewell. As our quest for intimacy with God leads us deeper into ourselves, and as we confront the forgiveness issues we are sure to encounter in introspection, we might discover guilt obstructing our ability to extend forgiveness or to accept it.
Guilt is something we drag around like a ball and chain. The Greek word for guilt used ten times in the New Testament, enochos, also means bound, liable, and under obligation. If we view forgiveness as a gift of great value, we might fear having to earn or to repay the debt in the future, as if a bounty or a bond we can never repay will be levied on us.
It is possible, however, to grow attached to guilt. Forgiveness can threaten to sever the attachment. Martin Smith wrote a book on reconciliation in the Episcopal tradition, and in it he states, “There is a part of us that clings to guilt as a kind of possession, and puts up a fight when the prospect of letting it go in absolution draws close.”
It is also possible to use guilt as a weapon or as a shield. Some people aim guilt at others to coerce and to manipulate them. We use the noun as a verb when we “guilt someone into something.” On the receiving end of this tactic, we can use guilt as a perverse kind of shield. For example, if I feel sufficiently guilty for my last offense, I might be spared the next episode of condemnation. We use guilt to mask our true feelings and to keep our distance. We fear the consequences of simply being ourselves. If we desire intimacy, we must disrupt this dynamic. One of my favorite mottos is manipulation tends to stop when it stops working.
The following verses reassure us that there is nothing to fear in forgiveness. It’s a massive tax break for the conscience. The breathing prayer points to the lightness that flows from accepting God’s forgiveness and forgiving oneself.
18 The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned. (Psalm 34: 18,22)
Join the conversation. How do you shield yourself from intimacy and forgiveness?
Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.