When Feeling Guilty
When Things Go Wrong, Chapter 3
by Harry McMullan, III
When we behave poorly, guilt holds up the mirror of our own violated moral standards. Like pain which apprises us of a splinter driven deep into our flesh, guilt demands a halt to whatever wrong we are committing by creating a terrifying sense of failure before God and separation from our loved ones. Physical pain abates once the splinter is removed, but guilt can debilitate years after the thought or act which gave it birth. Such rogue guilt must simply be shut out, forsaken, and forgotten¾denied entry at the gates of our minds. Having accomplished its valid purpose, having delivered its unwelcome message regarding our unacceptable behavior, if the messenger of guilt refuses to flee before the dawn of Father's forgiveness, it must be forcibly ejected by all who crave peace.
We all know the darkness of dread which surrounds our souls in guilt. We experience guilt when we know we have done wrong, and also when we have been made to feel as if we have for not adhering to social customs which have no bearing on spiritual loyalties. For example, whether church services, mass, or synagogue are regularly attended has nothing to do with sin, irrespective of the sanction these activities might have within their respective communities. Imputed guilt regarding such matters must simply be rejected. Jesus came into our world proclaiming spiritual freedom and a righteousness solely based on cooperation with, and dependence on, the will of God, and this must take precedence over obedience to human mores and observances. Jesus demonstrated a forgiving God who is incapable of fostering guilt within the Parent-child relationship.
Perspective lightens the agony of guilt. Who consistently lives up to the bright star of his ideal life? Occasional sin is inevitable, a natural outcome of God having made us free yet immature; it is part of being human. The important thing is quick recovery from the error which gave rise to the guilt, effective learning, and heightened guard against repeating it in the future.
In the case of deliberate departure from what we know is right, the easy cure is confession and repentance coupled with a sincere intent never again so to err. Forgiveness thus sought opens the floodgates of Father's forgiveness, whose healing surges through our souls. Unacknowledged sins fester in the recesses of our minds, but once sincerely confronted and confessed, God blots them out forever, and we must therefore summon up the courage to forgive ourselves. Rehashing our shortcomings only gives their demons more power. We must rather disown them, for the past is over. God has made us whole, ready to march unencumbered into the challenges of future life.
Sometimes we cannot accept that Father has forgiven, and continue to wallow in self-reproach. The problem here may not be lack of repentance, but lack of knowledge of God's understanding and forgiving nature. Those who see God as a stern judge have great trouble with guilt. All of us fall short, every one of us, and apart from understanding Father's parental acceptance, guilt lingers as an ongoing condition which poisons our spiritual lives and robs us of joy.
Guilt by omission is perhaps the most difficult variety with which to deal, for our ideals expand faster than our ability to live up to them. Regarding such guilt, we should remember that Father created mortal man altogether immature, and this fact precludes us from living a perfect life on earth. It could not be otherwise. Being human, we must pursue the highest without being seriously troubled that we constantly fall short of the goals which our expanding spiritual insight identifies with the perfect will of God. Our Father is comfortable with our pasts and we should be as well, confident in his ability to build on them on our road to perfection.
It is not Father's wish that his children live in guilt. Guilt is no more than a useful marker to remind our souls that better behavior and attitudes are required. Indulged in, however, guilt harasses and debilitates us, impeding our spiritual journey towards that state in which sin becomes impossible-the fusion of our souls with Father's indwelling spirit.
All we have to do is sincerely endeavor to live by our highest light of spiritual understanding, allowing no conscious sin to exist in our lives. Inadvertent sins are momentary lapses which have no impact on the spiritual life, but repeated sin is a soul poison which must be eradicated if we are not to retrogress. To stay clean within we avoid all ongoing sin through the power of our relationship with God, the joy of which renders increasingly unlikely its dislocations. Father will take care of all the rest. Our Parent loves us supremely, sees what we can become, and works to help us fulfill the destiny he established for us before the worlds began.
God is divinely kind to sinners. When rebels return to righteousness, they are mercifully received, "for our God will abundantly pardon." "I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins." (2:5.4)
In every mortal there exists a dual nature: the inheritance of animal tendencies and the high urge of spirit endowment. During the short life you live on Urantia, these two diverse and opposing urges can seldom be fully reconciled; they can hardly be harmonized and unified; but throughout your lifetime the combined Spirit ever ministers to assist you in subjecting the flesh more and more to the leading of the Spirit. Even though you must live your material life through, even though you cannot escape the body and its necessities, nonetheless, in purpose and ideals you are empowered increasingly to subject the animal nature to the mastery of the Spirit. There truly exists within you a conspiracy of spiritual forces, a confederation of divine powers, whose exclusive purpose is to effect your final deliverance from material bondage and finite handicaps. (34:6.9)
The normal urges of animal beings and the natural appetites and impulses of the physical nature are not in conflict with even the highest spiritual attainment except in the minds of ignorant, mistaught, or unfortunately overconscientious persons. (34:7.7)
The sense of guilt (not the consciousness of sin) comes either from interrupted spiritual communion or from the lowering of one's moral ideals. Deliverance from such a predicament can only come through the realization that one's highest moral ideals are not necessarily synonymous with the will of God. Man cannot hope to live up to his highest ideals, but he can be true to his purpose of finding God and becoming more and more like him. (103:4.3)
But man's interpretation of these early conflicts between the ego-will and the other-than-self-will is not always dependable. Only a fairly well unified personality can arbitrate the multiform contentions of the ego cravings and the budding social consciousness. The self has rights as well as one's neighbors. Neither has exclusive claims upon the attention and service of the individual. Failure to resolve this problem gives origin to the earliest type of human guilt feelings. (103:5.4)
Jesus said: "My friend, we are all Jonahs with lives to live in accordance with the will of God, and at all times when we seek to escape the present duty of living by running away to far-off enticements, we thereby put ourselves in the immediate control of those influences which are not directed by the powers of truth and the forces of righteousness. The flight from duty is the sacrifice of truth. The escape from the service of light and life can only result in those distressing conflicts with the difficult whales of selfishness which lead eventually to darkness and death unless such God-forsaking Jonahs shall turn their hearts, even when in the very depths of despair, to seek after God and his goodness. And when such disheartened souls sincerely seek for God-hunger for truth and thirst for righteousness-there is nothing that can hold them in further captivity. No matter into what great depths they may have fallen, when they seek the light with a whole heart, the spirit of the Lord God of heaven will deliver them from their captivity; the evil circumstances of life will spew them out upon the dry land of fresh opportunities for renewed service and wiser living." (130:1.2)
The human mind does not well stand the conflict of double allegiance. It is a severe strain on the soul to undergo the experience of an effort to serve both good and evil. The supremely happy and efficiently unified mind is the one wholly dedicated to the doing of the will of the Father in heaven. Unresolved conflicts destroy unity and may terminate in mind disruption. But the survival character of a soul is not fostered by attempting to secure peace of mind at any price, by the surrender of noble aspirations, and by the compromise of spiritual ideals; rather is such peace attained by the stalwart assertion of the triumph of that which is true, and this victory is achieved in the overcoming of evil with the potent force of good. (133:7.12)
The three apostles were shocked this afternoon when they realized that their Master's religion made no provision for spiritual self-examination. . . . But Jesus said nothing which would proscribe self-analysis as a prevention of conceited egotism. (140:8.27)
Even the forgiveness of sin operates in this same unerring fashion. The Father in heaven has forgiven you even before you have thought to ask him, but such forgiveness is not available in your personal religious experience until such a time as you forgive your fellow men. God's forgiveness in fact is not conditioned upon your forgiving your fellows, but in experience it is exactly so conditioned. (146:2.4)
Jesus fully understood how difficult it is for men to break with their past. He knew how human beings are swayed by the preacher's eloquence, and how the conscience responds to emotional appeal as the mind does to logic and reason, but he also knew how far more difficult it is to persuade men to disown the past. (154:6.8)
Do not become discouraged by the discovery that you are human. Human nature may tend toward evil, but it is not inherently sinful. Be not downcast by your failure wholly to forget some of your regrettable experiences. The mistakes which you fail to forget in time will be forgotten in eternity. Lighten your burdens of soul by speedily acquiring a long-distance view of your destiny, a universe expansion of your career. (156:5.8)
One evening at Hippos, in answer to a disciple's question, Jesus taught the lesson on forgiveness. Said the Master:
"If a kindhearted man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes astray, does he not immediately leave the ninety and nine and go out in search of the one that has gone astray? And if he is a good shepherd, will he not keep up his quest for the lost sheep until he finds it? And then, when the shepherd has found his lost sheep, he lays it over his shoulder and, going home rejoicing, calls to his friends and neighbors, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' I declare that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety and nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Even so, it is not the will of my Father in heaven that one of these little ones should go astray, much less that they should perish. In your religion God may receive repentant sinners; in the gospel of the kingdom the Father goes forth to find them even before they have seriously thought of repentance." (159:1.1-2)
Never hesitate to admit failure. Make no attempt to hide failure under deceptive smiles and beaming optimism. It sounds well always to claim success, but the end results are appalling. Such a technique leads directly to the creation of a world of unreality and to the inevitable crash of ultimate disillusionment. (160:4.7)
"Divine forgiveness is inevitable; it is inherent and inalienable in God's infinite understanding, in his perfect knowledge of all that concerns the mistaken judgment and erroneous choosing of the child. Divine justice is so eternally fair that it unfailingly embodies understanding mercy." (174:1.3)