I recently heard a comedian remark that people enjoy feeling guilty as they indulge in things they shouldn’t. After the past year, I can say with confidence that anyone who says they enjoy the aura of guilt resting on them has no idea what it truly means to feel that weight on their shoulders.
Guilt is not a relative emotion that dissolves when the person you’ve harmed has left the room. It is not a social construct or an invention of religion. It is a burden that is almost beyond articulating, and it crushes many who cannot withstand it’s weight.
I have stared up at the blackness of a sunless morning, feeling truly condemned before the cosmos itself. All alone, with only the quiet Earth, I have experienced the clutching coldness of guilt choking the life out of my lungs. At times, I have been so encumbered by the gravity of my sins that I felt I could just lay on the cold earth until I became one with the soil.
This is the unshakable nature of judgment and condemnation. In the past year, I have written so many songs about my experiences, and I must conclude that the central themes in these songs are guilt and grace. I can no longer write ideological worship anthems that ignore the sting of my errors. Instead, I use my faults to frame my need for Christ’s redemption.
One of the first songs I wrote had a chorus which stated this: “No man can grasp salvation / until he is horrified / by the work of his hands.” A friend of mine shared this on facebook and received some negative feedback from someone else. The critic was quick to point out that “this is not at all what the cross was all about”. I just shrugged it off. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the underlying emotion which drives this chorus. One day, he will.
Every man faces a day when guilt transforms from an abstract concept to a soul-crippling infection. I have met so many christians who say “I thought I was a christian before, and then I (fill in the blank with traumatic experience or big mistake) and now I look back and wonder if I was even a believer back then.” Why does this happen so much? Because we are blind to the depth of our need for grace in the beginning. If anything, our belief is an intellectual exercise based on secondhand information.
As I raise my children, I wonder how I can help them grasp the universal, outrageous need for grace without subjecting them to their own potentially life-ruining mistakes in order to discover it. But alas, that’s for another entry.
I suppose that through all this musing, the bottom line is this: understanding our need for grace is a vital part of accepting it fully. It’s easy to toss the word “sin” around like it means practically nothing at all, but when we actually face the toxic nature of it, we cling to the cross with great fervor. I pray that this newfound need would also drive me to share Christ’s redemption with others.
After all, the biggest difference in the “old christian vs. new Christian” issue I mentioned above is a problem of perspective. We need healing regardless, but only when we come to our knees in repentance do we become familiar with that need.