Guilt and regret. Religion has taught us the subtle nuances of self-torture through guilt and regret and we have learned well. Don’t get me wrong, guilt and regret do serve a purpose, but once the purpose is served why hang on, why allow them to become instruments of self-torture?
When we have hurt others or broken the “rules”, healthy guilt shines a spotlight on the transgression. We have an obligation to fully examine our misdeeds and lapses in judgment long enough to sincerely make amends, but once apologies have been offered we need to move on; anything less and the guilt becomes a prison of our choosing. There is a fine line between healthy guilt and guilt turned inward on self. And I believe we can and should move on even when sincere apologies are not accepted. We don’t have control over the reactions of others.
Choosing to hang onto guilt past its expiration date turns the spotlight from the transgression and shines the light directly in the eyes of the transgressor and construction of the prison cell begins. Regret, disguised as a friend, will come by every day to remind us of the transgression, recount every minute of the event until we are drenched in shame. Did God intend for us to use guilt and regret as instruments of self-torture? I do not believe so. Mankind has a strong history of putting his own spin on God’s intentions on more than a few occasions. I do believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, or at least it started that way. I don’t necessarily believe man’s motivations were all bad either. Humans are fallible beings, sometimes our egos get the upper hand.
Innate in each of our spirits is the knowledge of good and evil. Whether a result of eating the fruit or an inborn trait, the end result is the same; we know when we have screwed up. The problem is very often the church takes their seat as judge and jury heaping condemnation on top of innate guilt and the direction of the spotlight turns from the transgression toward the transgressor. What happened to, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) In Romans 8, Paul is saying we have a choice; live by the flesh, in other words, the ego, or live from the spirit as an extension of Divine Love. That much is pretty clear. Through many revisions and rewrites over the centuries, we truly have no idea what Paul’s original thoughts and teachings were, but we can still take away valuable lessons.
Innate guilt will only surface when we live from the spirit within. We feel convicted and it is the feeling of conviction that leads us to admit our screw-ups and regret any wrongdoings toward others. Once an apology is offered we can walk away having learned a valuable lesson about ourselves and others whether or not the apology was accepted. In its roundabout way, Romans 8 is talking about innate wisdom with references to living through the spirit versus death by the flesh; “but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13) Paul goes on to say we need not fear, we are not slaves to the flesh, in other words, we do not need to hang onto the guilt and regret, we belong to God and God lives through us; just another way to say we are extensions of Divine Love.
The church has strong tendencies toward taking good teachings and running with them, adding their own spin. Guilt need only be the innate warning siren we have overstepped and willfully or not so willfully harmed another. Regret comes alongside to remind us to change course and not allow the harm to occur again. We are meant to learn the lessons and move on. Here’s a radical statement: I do not believe God intended for there to be a “church” run by other fallible humans to do the job of innate wisdom. We don’t need someone standing in a pulpit dishing out heaping portions of guilt and then further compound the guilt by driving home the belief we were complicit in the crucifixion of the proclaimed Messiah. Should we as people on a journey congregate? Yes, there is great wisdom in the exchange of ideas and lessons learned. Did Jesus start a church while walking in the flesh of mankind? No, Jesus offered ideas, new ways of thinking, He lifted others up to His level and treated all with compassion. In other words, Jesus led the way to freedom from religion, and yet we did not learn.
The ancient Hebrews heaped the sins of the people onto the back of a goat and sent it on its way outside the city limits and into the wilderness. This symbolic gesture is where we get the familiar term “scapegoat”. Wrongdoing is called ‘sinning’ in religious circles, so in this context, the ancient Hebrews understood far better than we once the goat left the city limits the sin was gone. The people had a fresh start, there was no need for guilt and regret to hang around and cause undue misery. What are you holding onto that needs to be put on the back of the symbolic goat and sent into the wilderness…..?