There are three kinds of guilt.
Appropriate guilt occurs when we actually transgress God’s commandments, harm our fellow human beings, or violate our own consciences. Appropriate guilt must be dealt with by confrontation, confession, forgiveness, restitution, and reconciliation.
- Neurotic guilt occurs when we do not involve God, God’s people, and ourselves in the forgiveness process. God showed His willingness to forgive on the cross. The church we read about in the Bible shows that God’s people openly admitted sin and yet were accepted and loved (Gal 6:1f. Read; Jas. 5:19f.). But to enjoy the blessing of forgiveness, one must be able to forgive oneself. Neurotic guilt is cured by accepting God and His forgiveness, God’s people and their forgiveness, and finally by self-acceptance and self-forgiveness.
- There are several examples in the Bible of remorseful people who refused to forgive themselves. Judas Iscariot is the prime example (Matt. 27:1-5). The Bible explicitly teaches that Judas repented and confessed. He could have been forgiven. But he would not forgive himself.
- There is such a thing as psychosomatic or functional illness - illness that has no physical basis. Headache, upset stomach, and heart palpitation are just as real as if the physical organs were damaged or diseased. Yet these illnesses clear up almost overnight when adequate forgiveness is attained. So sometimes even our bodies condemn us!
Complete Lack of Guilt
- A lack of guilt occurs when we do not respond to the forgiveness process. Many people endeavor to conceal their guilt by denying it. They will never know the blessing of forgiveness. They live lives of hypocrisy and lies. They soothe themselves by saying, “We all sin from time to time.” But when a person is unable to admit his guilt, he is also unable to find forgiveness. The more he denies his need for forgiveness, the more unforgiving he becomes. Isaiah prayed, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up your voice like a trumpet; declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins” (Is. 58:1).
- The parable of the unmerciful servant illustrates a person with a complete lack of guilt (Matt. 18:23ff). A debt of ten thousand talents represents a billion dollars. One talent was more than fifteen years’ wages. A man would have to work 150,000 years to pay off such a debt and even then the interest on the money could not ever be paid back. It would take 8,600 men each carrying sixty pounds to equal such a debt. With this enormous debt forgiven, the same man would not forgive a small three-month debt of his fellowman. He lacked a complete sense of his guilt. The point of the parable is that if God can forgive our enormous burden of guilt surely we can forgive each other our everyday mistakes. When we need forgiveness we expect God to generously and freely grant it. We must learn to care more for each other and care less about each other’s mistakes.