What do you do with your guilt?

Scarlet-letterNathaniel Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter is a powerful short-story about the power of guilt. Hester Prynne was prosecuted in a New England Puritan town as an adulteress and had to wear a Scarlet A on her clothes as a life-time of punishment for her sin. She refused to reveal the name of the man with whom she had committed adultery (and had a baby). The man just happened to be the local pastor, Arthur Dimmesdale. He did not go public with his sin; it ate away at him and caused him to literally cut himself. He carved a letter A into the skin of his own chest, which no one saw until his death.

It should be mentioned that there is such a thing as false guilt. False guilt is when we feel guilty for something we did not do, or something we were not responsible for. False guilt can be very powerful and produce great shame. Maybe when you were young, it was strictly enforced that you were to wash hands before a meal. Even now, years later, you may feel guilty if you don’t do it. Perhaps you survived a bad accident or disaster, in which others were killed or injured, or a disease from which others have died. You may feel guilty that you survived. False guilt is also often the sad result of being abused emotionally, physically, or sexually, when we were young. Unbelievably, we are often left with guilt and shame for the sins committed against us by the perpetrators. It may take time to work through this with a counselor or with a trusted friend. What can ultimately bring healing is to start believing the truth that you are not the guilty party!

However, much of the guilt that we experience in our lives is true guilt over something we have done. So, let me ask you that question again: what do you do with your guilt? What do you do with those feelings of shame or remorse that haunt you? We all have our coping mechanisms. Someone has likened dealing with guilt to wrestling an octopus in a dark aquarium at midnight.

All of this indicates that guilt is both powerful and important. However, guilt has a pay-off; it serves a purpose and that is why it needs to be dealt with and not ignored. God has given us the ability to feel guilt very much like he has blessed us with the ability to feel pain. Did you ever think that if you could not feel pain you would never know that something was wrong? If you put your hand down on a hot stove and didn’t feel it, you might never know that your flesh was burning until you smelled it. Likewise, when we feel guilty it usually indicates that something is wrong, and that we have to do something about it. (I say “usually indicates” because we have already mentioned false guilt.)

So, what is the best thing to do with true guilt? Get forgiven. John Calvin said “Justification by faith is reconciliation with God and that consists solely in remission of sins…the only way in which those whom God embraces are made righteous, is by having their [sins] wiped away by the remission of sins, so that this justification (reconciliation) may be termed in one word the remission of sins.” (Institutes, Book III, Ch.XI, pg. 57)

REMISSION is from the Latin missio, to send off or away. When used as a medical term, it indicates that a disease is no longer present- in remission; as a financial term, it is a nice way of asking for money- please send away your money to us; and as a theological term, it is related to the Greek word for forgiveness aphesis– to send away one sins. The meaning is clearly captured for us in Psalm 103:12, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he (God) removed our transgressions from us.” (See also Micah 7:18, 19)

The Scarlet A on Hester’s dress and the one carved into Arthur’s chest represented the crimson stain of their guilt. “O to be forgiven, to have this letter taken away,” Hester cried. God said through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the Lord. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be like wool’ (Isa 1:18).

One last thing, people “cut” themselves for many reasons like self-hatred, emotional pain, depression, etc. I thought the experience of one teen was sad, but enlightening in view of our topic: “…being a cutter, it is the scars that make me remember.” Scars put it in front of me that I have a choice besides emotional pain, and that it is an easier choice. I used to think I had a low pain threshold. Part of me sees strength in what I do now, and I can’t see myself wanting to stop anytime soon, even if I should. And there are words I can’t or won’t speak to people in my scars. Scars and blood say more for me then words ever could.”

The scars and the blood… Oh, how we need the good news of the gospel of forgiveness!

PS. Many of you know that I will be stepping down as Pastor of Community Fellowship Church on Aug 3 and will be assuming the position of Interim Chaplain of Wheaton College (IL) on Sept 2. If you are presently getting my blog via CF’s Friday Briefing that will no longer work, for obvious reasons. If you wish to continue to receive my weekly “Just a Thought,” just click the “follower” button at the end of my blog and you will receive it each week.

A World Split Apart…

A world split apartLast week I mentioned that on June 8, 1978, a Nobel Prize winning author stood before Harvard’s graduating class and gave a speech that both offended and fascinated our nation. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet Army veteran arrested in February 1945 for speaking against Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. He spent the next eight years in prison in the Gulag, eventually being transferred to a camp for political prisoners. It was out of this experience that Solzhenitsyn wrote his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

The Harvard speech was complex and somewhat disorganized, but Solzhenitsyn delivered it with conviction born out of his suffering. His listeners are now in their upper 50’s and have become some of the leading intellectuals, elites, and journalist of our day. I wonder if they listened? After laying the foundation that the world is perilously “split” culturally, economically, and philosophically, Solzhenitsyn offered five broad propositions.

1. Americans’ beloved “pursuit of happiness” is denigrated into a self-consumed, self-interested pursuit of materialism, which has serious consequences for the health and stability of the United States—especially since we’ve grown more litigious and misuse the legal system as the only means to solve social and personal problems.

2. Journalistic standards in the United States are morally bankrupt because it trivializes important events and people, shamelessly invades privacy, refuses to acknowledge errors in judgment, and has built up a comfortable collusion to prevent new views from reaching the marketplace of ideas. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it. Thus, we may see terrorists described as heroes, or secret matters pertaining to one’s nation’s defense publicly revealed, or we may witness shameless intrusion on the privacy of well-known people under the slogan: “Everyone is entitled to know everything.” But this is a false slogan, characteristic of a false era. People also have the right not to know and it’s a much more valuable one. The right not to have their divine souls [stuffed with gossip, nonsense, vain talk.]

3. Intellectuals in the West continue to be enamored with the ideas of socialism, even though citizens of such regimes have repudiated its utopian illusion. The well-known Soviet mathematician Shafarevich, a member of the Soviet Academy of Science, has written a brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind into death.

4. Americans’ treasured ideas of freedom are corrupted because there is no longer a belief in the existence of evil, leaving us defenseless against the evil of pornography and crime, and the very real possibility of our civilization’s destruction. As long as we wake up every morning under a peaceful sun, we have to lead an everyday life. There is a disaster, however, which has already been under way for quite some time. I am referring to the calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find out that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life.

5. The foundational reason for humankind’s woes and the West’s current weakness is the Enlightenment philosophy that we are independent from God and accountable only to ourselves, which has left us spiritually depleted and morally anemic. Taken together, these propositions add up to a major crisis for the human race. So what does Solzhenitsyn propose we do to avoid a catastrophe? We must cease from the deception that evil doesn’t exist. The dividing line separating it and goodness runs through every human heart. We must stir up our courage and resist evil wherever we find it, even if it means fighting it to the death. Finally, we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty over His creation, including us. No one on earth has any other way left but—upward.

Christopher Lasch, in his Culture of Narcissism suggests that our American culture is headed either for a totalitarian dictatorship or a spiritual awakening. Let’s pray for the latter.

(Elements of this summary are from a WordPress blog by D. Jeter 2007)

Don’t Take Your Eye Off the Ball, America…

eye on the ballOn June 8, 1978, a man who looked more like an Old Testament prophet than a Nobel Prize winning author stood before Harvard’s graduating class and gave a speech that both offended and fascinated our nation. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a Soviet Army veteran arrested in February 1945 for speaking against Joseph Stalin in a letter to a friend. He spent the next eight years in prison in the Gulag, eventually being transferred to a camp for political prisoners. It was out of this experience that Solzhenitsyn wrote his first novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.

He was exiled to southern Kazakhstan after his imprisonment and taught at a local school. He developed cancer and was treated successfully. He saw this as a miracle. “I could see no other explanation. Since then, all the life that has been given back to me has not been mine in the full sense: it is built around a purpose.” And he believed that purpose was to expose the injustice of the Soviet prison system which he did in his book The Gulag Archipelago and subsequent works, which resulted in him getting kicked out of Soviet Russia. He eventually came to the US and, two years later, gave the Harvard speech, “A World Split Apart.”

It did not go over well. James Reston of The New York Times said the speech represented “the wanderings of a mind split apart.” Arthur Schlesinger Jr., then Professor of Humanities at the City University of New York, and former speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, said the speech promoted “a Christian authoritarianism governed by God-fearing despots without benefit of politics, parties, undue intellectual freedom or undue concern for human happiness.” And philosopher Sidney Hook insisted that “theology is irrelevant not only to democracy and capitalism and socialism as social systems, but to the validity of morality itself.” But to the more philosophically conservative, his speech was a prophetic warning. Michael Novak, resident scholar for the American Enterprise Institute, described the address as “the most important religious document of our time.”

“Many of you have already found out,” Solzhenitsyn said in his opening, “and others will find out in the course of their lives that truth eludes us as soon as our concentration begins to flag, all the while leaving the illusion that we are continuing to pursue it. This is the source of much discord. Also, truth seldom is sweet; it is almost invariably bitter. A measure of truth is included in my speech today. . . .”

America’s concentration has flagged. She has taken her eye off the ball of truth and has been distracted by other things, like her own absolute sovereignty and supremacy. She has also been blinded to other things, like her own evil and injustice. In junior high I was playing pitch and catch and I took my eye off the ball. It hit me just above the eye and they took me to the ER for stitches. America needs more than stitches. Solzhenitsyn may have spoken to young graduates, but his speech was meant for us living 36 years later. More about what Solzhenitsyn said, next week…

(Some quotes were taken from a 2007 WordPress blog by D. Jeter)

Things You May Not Know About The Star-Spangled…

Francis Scott KeyHappy Fourth of July; a beautiful day here in Chicago! My dad’s birthday is today and if he had lived, he would have been 108! When I was very young, he told me that people shot off fireworks because they knew it was his birthday. I believed him! And I’ll admit that fireworks, even today, remind me of him.

Since our national anthem is so much a part of our American Experience, I thought it would be interesting if I gave you a little quiz on the story of the “Star-Spangled Banner.” This quiz doesn’t need a key (no pun intended) because it has the answers embedded. It is the kind of quiz I wish my teacher used in 8th grade Algebra. Ready?

• The anthem was written during what war? A) War of 1812, B) Viet Nam, C) War of the Worlds.
• Francis Scott Key wrote the words while he was watching what event? A) The World Cup, B) the British bombing Pearl Harbor, C) the British bombing Fort McHenry.
• Where was Key when he was watching this? A) at Rosattis, B) on board a British ship of war, C) at a re-election dinner party with Rahm Emmanuel.
• What was he doing there (besides watching and jotting some words down)? A) picking up pizza, B) as a lawyer, seeking the release of a prominent American doctor taken prisoner by the British, C) sitting with Hilary Clinton.
• Was he successful in his mission? A) yes, he secured freedom for the doctor, but the British did not let him leave the ship before the bombardment because he knew the positions and armaments of the ships, B) no, he was taken to England where he wrote the song, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” which the Beatles plagiarized a few years later.

How are you doing so far? Half way there…

• Fort McHenry was the built to defend what famous port city? A) Boise, ID, B) Wheaton, IL, C) Baltimore, MD.
• What was it that Key saw through his telescope during the bombardment? A) mommy kissing Santa Claus, B) Bill Clinton kissing Santa Claus, C) the over-sized American flag, which the commandant of the Fort said was “so large that the British will have no difficulty seeing it from a distance.”
• What happened after the bombardment? A) the British sailed away after releasing Key and the doc, B) the Cubs won the World Series, C) Congress agreed on immigration reform.
• Congress made “The Star Spangled Banner” our national anthem in what year? A) 4 BC, B) 1931, C) they haven’t yet because they can’t agree on the hyphen between “Star” and “Spangled.”
• With what organization did Key have an affiliation? A) the Taliban, B) the SPCA, C) the American Bible Society.
• Extra Credit: What motto did Key urge Congress to adopt? A) Remember the Alamo, B) Don’t Eat Yellow Snow, C) In God We Trust.

If you did not get them all correct, you must view the following top ten worst renditions of the national anthem, especially #1 at the bottom of the list: http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-worst-national-anthem-peformances.php

Have a Happy 4th!