I ask people, “How do you handle your guilt?” One friend – an atheist – confessed:
- I have rejected the idea of freewill. This has done wonders for my guilt feelings!
However, this comes at the price of denying what is patently obvious – that we make freewill choices all the time, and society holds us morally responsible for them. A young, New Age woman responded:
- I’ve learned to forgive myself. That works for me. Evidently, it doesn’t work for you. Religion is your answer, and that’s okay!
Both of these answers represent disembodied solutions, alienated from both evidence and broader worldview considerations. In contrast, the Houston Baptist professor Micah Mattix attempts to embody truth into the context of our lives:
- Does anyone who has taken a humanities course at a secular college or university in the past 10 years doubt that instead of teaching us who we are, many humanities courses teach that identity is constructed; that instead of teaching the classical and cardinal virtues, they recommend the self-serving virtues of moral relativism and egalitarianism; and that instead of helping students to become better husbands, wives, and citizens, the real focus is on making them more autonomous.
Moral relativism is the idea that in the absence of moral absolutes, we are not morally responsible to anyone. By granting us moral autonomy, moral relativism has alienated us from family, friends and even society. Instead, we have gloriously become “captains of our own ship” and have nothing to show for it but shipwrecked marriages and communities.
Self-forgiveness is a child of moral relativism. When we deny objective, higher moral truth – the law that transcends our own thoughts – forgiveness becomes relegated to emotional self-management. There is no consideration of whether or not I’ve committed a moral wrong that needs to be addressed. Instead, it’s all about managing my guilty feelings.
Let’s do a thought experiment. A wife discovers that her husband has been cheating on her. However, when confronted, he responds by merely saying, “Well, I’ve forgiven myself, and now I feel okay about it!”
This response represents a denial of any real guilt or of any need to address a real and destructive moral transgression. It disembodies the denier, not only from his marriage, but also from the truth that he has committed an objective moral wrong.
Such an understanding of guilt can justify anything. Hitler also could practice self-forgiveness, and why not, if there isn’t any higher moral order.
Interestingly, this way of looking at things doesn’t even work, at least, not for long. This is the strategy promoted by secular psychotherapists. It comes in many forms and always represents a form of self-stimulation or masturbation. We are told to:
- “Love yourself…Believe in yourself… Trust yourself…Imagine yourself as a infant and surround yourself with hugs…Give yourself what your parents failed to give you…Forgive yourself…”
Although these admonitions do address real needs, they ultimately fail to scratch the itch – the need to feel okay about ourselves. They are short-sighted and disembodied from the rest of our lives and moral truth.
Instead, we are so constructed that there is no substitute for the genuine forgiveness that comes from another human being. This of course is the real thing and not the masturbatory process of self-forgiveness.
When our eye observes a car heading towards us, what we experience is not merely a bio-chemical reaction we call “vision.” It’s that and more! What we see also represents an external reality. Therefore, we must deal appropriately with this reality or the reality will deal painfully with us!
Perhaps our moral sense also alerts us to external danger – the danger inherent in doing wrong. And perhaps our wrongdoing not only hurts the other person but also the One who wired us to know when we have done wrong. If this is so, this breach must be addressed. Not doing this would be like driving without paying the slightest attention to what our eyes tell us.
There is a great joy and freedom in knowing that our Savior has forgiven and cleansed us from the guilt of our sin. The alternative is costly self-preoccupation – ceaselessly waving the wand of self-forgiveness that can never drive the guilt away. Instead:
- He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
I have been greatly blessed by His mercy!