Thursday, August 6, 2009

A careful discussion of the guilty bad people…(Part 1)

So this blog was, you guessed it, once again inspired by Tara. Thank you Tara for being brave enough to voice your thoughts and inspire deep thought and reflection for me. Studying about guilt alone has been quite inspiring. That sounds funny.
I first thought about the difference between guilt and being guilty. I am going to attempt to highlight differences between being guilty of man’s laws and God’s laws. I am not totally sure how all of this is going to come out in writing but hopefully the stars will align and it will all make sense.
Webster’s actually does a pretty good job:
· Main Entry: guilt
· Pronunciation: \ˈgilt\
· Function: noun
1 : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly : guilty conduct
2 a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously
2b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : self-reproach
3 : a feeling of culpability for offenses

In my eyes, I think most people do not combine the 'feeling' of guilt with being guilty, even though, as outlined above they are essentially the same; one being a feeling and the other being a state as in 2a and 2b above. I think that most of us err in that we have turned the ‘feeling’ of guilt automatically into feelings of shame and inadequacy, I for sure do. I find it interesting while the state of being guilty is pretty black and white, even though our current legal system likes to insert as much grey as possible, the ‘feeling’ of guilt is entirely dependent upon the person, essentially a choice.
In order to feel guilty about something you have to first believe in a law. People who are citizens in a country must abide by the laws of the land but does not have to 'feel' guilty if they break of any of those laws. A person who robbed a bank will hopefully be found guilty of breaking the law but may not actually 'feel' guilty for breaking it. Are you following me so far???
This is the same with God’s laws. If God made them then they are what God made them, no one else can change them, and they apply to everyone for whom God is a ‘ruler’ (for lack of a better word); so everyone.
The difference with God’s laws, for those that do not have a man-made law counterpart anyway, is that when you break them the police are not going to come and throw you in God jail. Not in this life at least. So we can skip over how a person is determined to be guilty until later (Part 2). For now I want to focus on the 'feelings' of guilt since that is what we face here in this life.
In order for us to even have feelings of guilt for not following God’s laws, not necessarily feelings of shame or inadequacy (we will get to that in a moment) we first have to believe in God’s laws. Realizing this helped me see this scripture in a different light:

And it came to pass that I said unto them that I knew I had spoken hard things against the wicked, according to the truth; and the righteous have I justified, and testified that they should be lifted up at the last day; wherefore, the guilty taketh the truth to be hard, for it cutteth them to the very center. 1Nephi 16:2.

In order to understand my point we need to break this down. I believe that in order for someone to be ‘wicked’ they need to 'commit' a sin and not just sin in ignorance. Knowingly committing a sin that you know to be true is very different than unknowingly disobeying God’s commands. (Keep in mind that while Nephi is speaking to his brothers he does not actually call them wicked, he merely refers to the ‘wicked’ in a broader almost conceptual term, we will also cover that more in Part 2.) Therefore if a person knowingly commits a sin, then he understands that a law is true and right, thus qualifying him for being found guilty. If a person does not know the law to be true, he cannot knowingly commit a sin, which means he cannot be ‘wicked’ and therefore not found guilty. This by no means qualifies them for salvation but we are not discussing salvation, we are just talking about being guilty. In my eyes what Nephi is saying in the last line is, those that know the law and still choose to disobey have a hard time being reminded of the truth because they know they are guilty of breaking the commandments.
So once we understand the law and are qualified for being found guilty, the feelings of guilt begin to creep in. We all know that they creep in because none of us our perfect, which means we all know at least some portion of the law, and we all make mistakes, therefore we are all guilty of something.

Before we all go and jump off of a cliff this is pretty much the whole point of this part of the discussion…

Remember earlier I mentioned that I think that most of us associate the ‘feelings of guilt’ with feeling of shame or inadequacy? If not then start over. If you do, then ask yourself this question. Does your Father in Heaven want you to feel guilt/shame/or inadequate? Go ahead and take a moment to think. I'll wait…

My answer is no, of course he does not want us to feel those feelings. (I personally believe that those feelings are actually tools of the person at the opposite end of the spectrum.) Which tells me that it is our choice how we 'feel'. We recognize the sin we have committed and choose to have those 'feelings' of guilt. It is hard to try and translate those feelings into some other descriptor other than shame or inadequacy, at least it is for me. It is almost as if for a split second right after we come to the realization that we are guilty that is the moment of the 'feeling' of guilt comes and we have the opportunity to choose how that is going to affect us. We can choose to feel shame/sorrow/self-loathing/inadequacy and on and on and on. Or we can look forward with an eye of faith. Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Do ye exercise faith in the redemption of him who created you? Do you look forward with an eye of faith, and view this mortal body raised in immortality, and this corruption raised in incorruption, to stand before God to be judged according to the deeds which have been done in the mortal body? I say unto you, can you imagine to yourselves that ye hear the voice of the Lord, saying unto you, in that day: Come unto me ye blessed, for behold, your works are the works of righteousness upon the face of the earth? Alma 5: 15-16

I believe this scripture applies to those that recognize their sins and immediately draw upon the powers of the atonement and begin the repentance process, not out of fear or even loyalty but out of love for their God and their desire to do all that he asks. This is by no means a flip of a switch. It is a process, a refining fire, and is between you, the Lord and if need be a priesthood leader.
To view the other side of this coin, read vs. 17 and 18 of the same chapter. (I won't be typing that one, I gotta encourage you to open up the scritptures somehow.) In the margins of this section I wrote, ‘Looking backward requires no faith’ and ‘The guilty dwell upon the past, The repentant look forward to the day of salvation’.
In my previous post I talked about two men who were guilty of breaking the commands of God. They descibed themselves after applying the atonement of Christ in their lives as ‘my guilt was swept away’ and ‘I could remember my pains no more’. I know that to be true so that when we come to the judgement bar of God we can stand as Alma suggests we can see ourselves stand now.
I make my final point in Part one in looking at the resurrection itself as taught by Amulek to Zeezrom in Alma Chapter 11:

The spirit and the body shall be reunited in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time; and we shall be brought to stand before God, knowing even as we know now, and have a bright recollection of all our guilt. Verse 43

Ask yourself how Alma the younger or Enos would feel as they stood before God after their guilt and pains were gone. Would they be returned to them at the judgement bar? I believe that the atonement of Christ literally cleared them of any guilt and that they could stand before God spotless, because of the redeeming power of the atonement of Jesus Christ. So in theis verse I hear Alma teaching us that the unrepentant will have a bright recollection of all their guilt.

And he shall come into the world to redeem his people; and he shall take upon him the transgressions of those who believe on his name; and these are they that shall have eternal life, and salvation cometh to none else. Verse 40

For those that truly believe on his name they do not dwell upon their guilt but rather look forward with faith, applying the atonement and continue on in their life striving to obey the commandments.
So the question becomes when we here ourselves saying, ‘that makes me feel guilty’ stop and ask yourself why you are choosing to let feelings of guilt into your heart and instead ask yourself how can you apply the atonement to instead feel your heart with faith and love.

Part 2 coming soon...


  1. I love this blog. It says things that I know in my heart are true and real. This will encourage my working on stuff. Thanks so much for this thoughtful encounter. I appreciate it a lot. Love you.

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  3. Vaughn,

    Very insightful and encouraging, your post is exactly why I have a hard time with Mom feeling guilty. She had such a spiritual awakening, yet was constantly pulled down by feelings of guilt from the past. One thing I often ponder on is the difference between guilt and shame, as you somewhat mentioned. I believe they are entirely different, and do not see them as synonyms. The difference as I understand it is guilt = I feel bad, shame = I am bad.

    Dad has a perfect knowledge of The Gospel, yet at times he is plagued with not guilt, but by shame. Your post helped me to realize this, and I certainly cannot blame it on the church, as I have done in the past. You don't even know what an epiphany this is for me.

    Unhealthy shame can be so detrimental for us in our lives and it would be the last thing Christ teaches. But, now I am wondering how much shame is good before it gets unhealthy? How much shame did Adam and Eve have to face in the Garden? Really it's just interesting to see the opposition in all things- Satan does have to have his side in everything, as well as shame and guilt.

    Thanks for getting us all thinking, and clearing up some things.

    P.s. Thanks for buttering me up in the beginning lines, you know how sensitive I am. Normally I would have expected you to say along the lines of I need to set my confused sister thanks for being tactful. :)

  4. I am excited for part 2. Tara's comment helped me realize that I too plague myself with shame. I love this blog. I haven't read it since your first post so I had to catch up. Thanks Vaughn!