i was talking with a friend tonight about guilt and its absolutely pervasive impact on our lives. She was talking about something that is a normal and healthy part of her life and yet there was still residual guilt from societal standards that come up afterwards.
Guilt is such a terrible terrible thing. And I think I feel that way because I’m troubled by the fact we just can’t figure out how to live as people under grace…. we still think we are under the law and that we are constatnly being measured up against something.
I know I do it all the time. I neglect to spend an afternoon visiting church members and instead spend it connecting with colleagues online and I feel guilty. I don’t practice my guitar, and I feel guilty. I look at the dishes piled up on my counter, and I feel guilty. And those are just simple things. Guilt pervades our lives.
And it pervades my church. I think my biggest uphill battle in this congregation is trying to get people to stop talking about hell and the law and having to “straighten up and fly right” (they say this ALL THE TIME!) and to just focus on loving one another and loving ourselves and loving God. I think it comes down to Paul’s own struggle with the law that he had lived with his whole life. He wanted so much to live by grace, but was constantly seeing his body in the light of the law.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but there is a guy I visit with who wants to know why I don’t talk about hell more, why I’m not preaching for people to flee from the wrath to come. I don’t see our faith that way. My faith and my salvation is about restoring my relationship with God, not making sure I don’t spend an eternity burning in hell. And in relationships, we are constantly growing and changing and we make mistakes, but it is the willingness to keep being in the relationship that matters. I think that is why the idea of covenant is so important and why God, no matter now many times Israel was unfaithful to the covenant, found ways to bring them back into relationship. the problem wasn’t that they did bad things. the problem was they neglected their relationship with God and put something else in God’s place.
I’ve been married for only a year and a half – but even in that short time, I know what that is like. We make mistakes all the time. We treat each other like crap somedays, and sometimes we make poor choices like putting work or down time or making dinner before each other. It happens. But if we were to let the past and all of the ways we have not fulfilled our marriage covenant determine our future, if we were to carry all of those mistakes with us and bring guilt into the present, we would never be able to forgive and love one another. The biggest piece of marriage advice I got was to never go to bed angry with one another. On the flip side, never go to bed feeling bad about something you have done.
What if we lived that kind of relationship with God? Where inspite of our failings, we went to bed leaving the past behind us and with a renewed commitment to be in relationship for another day? Covenants are not about prescribed standards and boxes to check and things we have to do – it is about a choice to be in relationship. And in a healthy relationship, there can be no guilt.