The Lord is a jealous and avenging God;
the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The Lord takes vengeance on his foes
and vents his wrath against his enemies.
The Lord is slow to anger but great in power;
the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.
- Nahum 1:2-3
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
- John 8:7-11
“If you have ever wondered how God reacts when you fall, frame the words [of John 8:11} and hang them on the wall. Read them. Ponder them.
“Or better still, take him with you to your canyon of shame. Invite Christ to journey with you … to stand beside you as you retell the events of the darkest nights of your soul.
“And then listen. Listen carefully. He’s speaking. … ‘I don’t judge you guilty.’
“And watch. Watch carefully. He’s writing. He’s leaving a message. Not in the sand, but on a cross.
“Not with his hand, but with his blood.
“His message has two words, Not guilty.”
- Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones
I recently returned to Pennsylvania after spending some time in Tennessee. I retrieved my wife so that she can get set up with Doctor appointments, get some rest from having chased grandchildren, and maybe help with our downsizing project. When I was there, I visited my sister at what is known as the “pool house.” When the last of the grandparents passed away, my sister and my parents pooled their money together to convert an old abandoned turkey processing plant into a large group meeting space that includes an indoor swimming pool. My parents would have saved the money for a rainy day, but my mother’s mother was a step again of my mother, knowing her far too well. She stipulated that the money must be used for something entertaining and fun, even frivolous. That was MawMaw. The pool house is not used for large gatherings anymore and the pool has a technical issue and has been drained, but it is now the “pool house.”
But as I sat, visiting with my sister, I looked around the room. I remembered when the building processed thousands of turkeys over the years. Most memories were fond memories, but some were memories of injuries, some memories of getting into trouble. My wife recently read an article about women like my mother. Their rules were never written down, never spoken, but you’d be severely punished if you violated them. Then, to make matters worse, there was a sliding scale on severity or where the blurred line was. You thought you were within the safe range, but you never really were. It’s odd that my wife reminded me of my youth right after visiting the place of my early years.
I was taught to feel guilty for every infraction of the unspoken, unwritten rules, and sometimes no infraction at all – just to feel added guilt for the unknown infractions that never really happened, but since I was being punished… I became good at feeling guilty.
Even after accepting Jesus as my Savior as a high school senior, I held tightly to the guilt. I had been told to do so, and we are to honor our father and mother…
I have written about being a recovering legalist in past posts, but something happened when my wife read the article about women like my mother. When she read that the child often feels guilty for things that never happened and they did not do, I suddenly felt a great weight lift from my shoulders. My sins were forgiven. I accepted that, but what of all my troubles of being guilty for the “other stuff.” I was hanging on to the non-existent guilt after God had washed the real sin away.
Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery. He told her to go and leave her life of sin. I have always interpreted that interchange as Jesus, being God, knew her heart and He knew she would follow Him. Thus, her sins were indeed forgiven.
I held to the first chapter of Nahum, where there was an avenging God who would bring destruction to Nineveh, and to all who remain guilty of their sin. Jesus forgives those who accept Him. God no longer sees our sin at that point. So, why do we hang onto the guilt? Especially, when we are hanging on to guilt for something others did, and you were simply the scapegoat that got blamed? Why feel guilty over that at all?
If God forgives you, why feel guilty at all. I have heard sermons about how that is the ultimate in arrogance, but does the pastor who says that truly understand the underlying dynamic? Jesus does not command the woman to sin no more, as many interpret the passage. He does not command her to feel guilty forever. He commands her to leave her life of sin. For some, that can be an instantaneous miracle life change. For others, it may be a daily struggle. About a month ago, my wife and I lost a dear friend. He had been an unrepentant alcoholic. But he met Jesus. He accepted Jesus. He turned his life around and he left his life of sin. Yet, it was a daily struggle, with setbacks on occasion.
God did not make cookie cutter people. We all have our Achilles heel when it comes to temptation, and many of us have issues that are worse than the lack of resisting a chocolate chip cookie. If that is your sin, I am “better than you.” I have no chocolate chip cookies in the house. Thus, I can resist. Okay, until the next day that we go grocery shopping… (Note: I am not better than anyone else, you, your neighbor, or your postal carrier. I often identify with Paul when he claimed to be the chief of sinners – back to feeling guilty. And even though a cookie would be okay on my new diet, two or three cookies would leave me with a considerable amount of pain. I know from experience, thus, knowing I might have pain, I succumbed to the temptation. And, that’s not the worst of my struggles.)
Yet, hanging onto guilt when God has forgotten your sins points toward a lack of faith. I’m not saying a lack of salvation, but that should be examined. Is God the center of your life? Do you rely upon Him for everything? Do you TRUST God? If you do, then you can rely on God’s promises. If you do not, then you can rely on God’s promises, and Nahum 1:2-3 may apply. God loves us, but He has written rules. He is just and holy. He cannot commune with someone in a sinful state. He loves us, and once we accept, by faith, our Creator as the One who loves us in a pure form of Love, He no longer can see the sin. Thus, communing with us is not a contradiction of His justice or holiness.
When you are one of Jesus’ own, you will know. You are forgiven. So, jettison the guilt.
I was sinking deep in sin
Far from the peaceful shore
Very deeply stained within
Sinking to rise no more
But the Master of the sea
Heard my despairing cry
From the waters lifted me
Now safe am I
- Howard E. Smith, James Rowe, Love Lifted Me
If you have been lifted by Love, you are washed clean. Why play in the mud with guilt?
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.