When You Can't Forgive Yourself ... Part I
"Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, I was weak and miserable, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them. I said to myself, 'I will confess my rebellion to the LORD.' And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone."1
"How can I get rid of this terrible guilt?" a distraught father recently asked me. "I have been in a terrible conflict with one of my sons for many years. Two weeks ago I was so frustrated with him that I said to myself, 'I wish he would die.' That night he died."
This father is blaming himself for the death of his son. In his mind he is convinced that Satan killed him because of his wish.
I can understand why this father is distraught. However, the fact is, he didn't cause his son to die. His son had been very ill for some time and died of natural causes. If Satan had anything to do with this matter, it was sowing the lie in the father's mind about the devil killing his son. What the father is struggling with is not real guilt but false guilt.
One of the difficulties regarding guilt is learning to tell the difference between real guilt and false guilt. Because they pretty much feel the same, it can be challenging to sort out the real from the false.
Some counselors claim that all guilt is psychologically damaging, but this is nonsense. If we don't feel guilty when we do wrong, we'd be a bunch of psychopaths with dead consciences. It's false guilt that is psychologically damaging because it keeps people in endless bondage not because of what they did, but because of their faulty thinking.
To resolve real guilt, for our spiritual wellbeing we need to admit what we have done wrong, confess it to God and ask for his forgiveness. When we do this God forgives us. He promised he would.2 For our mental wellbeing we also need to confess our wrongdoing to at least one trusted friend or counselor, and wherever possible ask the one we wronged for their forgiveness, and seek to make amends for what we have done. And then, regardless of whether this person forgives us or not, God has forgiven us and we need to forgive ourselves. When we genuinely do this, we experience the relief that David experienced when he confessed his sin with Bathsheba.
However, if having done all of this and we still feel guilty, the feeling is false guilt and that is a totally different matter.
Continued tomorrow in Part II….
Suggested prayer: "Dear God, please help me to always admit and confess my sins so I can be forgiven and therein resolve my feelings of guilt, and please help me to overcome the sins that so easily beset me. When I experience false guilt, help me to see it for what it is and get the help I need to overcome it. Thank you for hearing and answering my prayer. Gratefully in Jesus' name, amen."
1. Psalm 32:2-5 (NLT).
2. 1 John 1:9.