Identity is the New Guilt

Paul Vander Klay

November 16, 2009

Mr. Vander Klay, I completely agree with your post. Defining "self" in a postmodern society, where the meaning of words can change in a moment, is indeed an elusive task--for "sacreds" and "seculars" alike. There is no better way to "find ourselves" than to identify with Christ. And aren't our identities there already since we are creations made in the image of a Creator God who has pre-wired us with the unique essence He has placed within each of us according to His wishes? Not having to struggle to self-identify (or, heaven forbid, to allow society to identify us), but instead, resting in the God who loves us and gave His Son to die for us is, as you say, a tremendous relief. It's all right there! We just have to embrace it, live it, and share it with others.

November 16, 2009

I suppose it all depends on how you define guilt. If you think of guilt as a cultural artifact conjured up by your social environment, then the features, benefits and marketing of the gospel have to keep adapting to changing psychology if we want to keep the religion business going.

I prefer to think of the guilt that humans share as fundamental to our core identity and needs no conjuring. It is universal, timeless and transcends culture. It is a guilt that knows intuitively that we fall short of God’s standard, that we love darkness rather than light. It is a guilt that is so powerful that ultimately it would convince us that it doesn’t exist, else we despair.

What you pastors have to realize is that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin. Either he is real and active or He is not. Guilt will never go out of style, the Holy Spirit will never be out of a job and the saving power of the gospel is eternal.

I doubt that Harold Bloom believes that westerners have an instinctive assumption that God finds us amazing. There is nothing instinctive about it, it is a transitory, learned cultural response and a delusion. Instinct is a strong word. Guilt is instinctive, hiding from a holy God is instinctive, wanting to be made right is instinctive

Defining self in a post modern society is an inadequate motivation for conversion and is only an extension of Wayne Dyers philosophy in christian clothes. Finding our identity in Christ may be the result of conversion but unless we realize that “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” we will never experience real forgiveness. All religions offer a new identity and an escape from lostness, only Christianity offers complete forgiveness based on grace.

Conversion is a spiritual reality, not a psychological exercise. Guilt is the new guilt.

November 16, 2009

Those are conflicting viewpoints that I don't really worry about. God's state of utter perfection and my state of imperfection, always falling short of the glory of God, is an objective condition, not my fault, just my state of being. God knew that before the creation of the world. Of course salvation is by grace alone -- how would we ever find the way ourselves? I'm supposed to be trying to serve a useful purpose during my time here, and probably learn something in the process, and apparently God does care about us, or he wouldn't bother... God knows why. God will judge as he sees fit, and if I were motivated by fear of judgment, my life wouldn't be worth much to offer anyway. I would add though that people who have come to God through Jesus after committing major crimes do not take "Just as I am" as a birthright, they take it as a gift for which they are eternally grateful, and that should serve as an example for those of us who, by the grace of God, and no merit of our own, have never committed a felony.

November 16, 2009

There are two senses of the word "guilt". "You are guilty" is more objective, decided by a judge. "You feel guilty" describes an emotional experience. In this post I use it in the second sense.

The operation of the Holy Spirit in our lives is revelatory. It turns the light on, opens our eyes to the guilt that we have which might then induce a guilt that we feel. The Holy Spirit also opens our eyes to the new reality that we have/are in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:17-19)

Thanks for your comment.

November 17, 2009

If you are talking about the fear of the fiery torments of hell, I would agree with you. The fear of hell is relative to our base of Biblical knowledge. However, neither Peter nor Paul appealed to hell in their evangelistic messages. Instead Peter spoke of alienation from God and personal responsibility in rejecting the Savior. Dangling people over the smokey pits of hell is not normative Christian evangelism as a cursory reading of Acts and the epistles will show.

I have been talking about the feeling of guilt. The emotional, persistent sense that I am broken, that I am separated from a Holy God, that I am at heart selfish, that I don’t measure up. Felt guilt needs to be assuaged and we do that through attempts to lead a good life, self-justification, self righteousness, self medication, therapy, rationalizing God away, religious delusions, denial, silencing the persistent voice of the Holy Spirit through debauchery, entertainment, constant activity or in extreme cases, suicide. There is not the same base of theological knowledge that people might have had during Jonathan Edward’s time, but the visceral guilt is still there and is universal in the human race. Post modernism hasn’t erased it, if anything it has licensed it.

The Holy Spirit convicts of sin so that we feel painfully aware of our alienation, offense and short-comings. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is how we deal with felt guilt. I am not necessarily a fan of Kirk Cameron or the evangelist Ray Comfort but watch 5 minutes of their man-on-the-street videos and you see how quickly that felt guilt surfaces.

November 17, 2009

Guilt and shame are not what cause change within us, but a realization of the amazing love of our Father causes us to want to conform to His likeness. <3

November 17, 2009

I'm sorry to be so talkative, but I just came across this in a CNN review of the movie 2012. In commenting about the popularity of end time movies and prophecies, Alexander Riley, a sociology professor at Bucknell University says, "All of us deep down know that something's wrong with the world and with us as people," he says. "There is something wired into us, or placed in there by God, that says, 'Every one of you is going to have to deal with the issues that ... aren't right in your life.'

In other words, (I paraphrase here) deep down we know we deserve judgement, that's why these films are popular.

November 17, 2009

That's a great thought. We'll have more of a change to discuss the movie 2012 later this week. Josh Larsen is whipping up his thoughts on the film for a new post.

November 18, 2009

Very interesting. I totally agree that our present culture does not respond to communication of the gospel that appeals to inner guilt. In fact some have considered C.S. Lewis' autobiography of his conversion a conversion of the longing of the heart and not the guilt of awareness of sin.

I believe longing of the heart and the desire to be "whole" is what western culture agonizes over - unlike Luther's agony for resolve over his guilt. A good address on this issue is Alan Mann's - Atonement for a Sinless Society - an excellent read based on Alan's Master's thesis on how to communicate atonement and salvation to the present culture.

Its interesting as well that as Western Christianity focused on guilt, the Eastern Church has continually rested on salvation as a return to relationship with Trinity and entering into the Triune circle through their attachment to the Son. They have maintained this from the early Eastern Fathers. Zizoulas points out that salvation in the Eastern context is relationship and sin is individualism [resulting in alienation]. I wonder all these years if we should have been paying more attention to our Eastern brothers and sisters?

November 20, 2009

very good points to ponder here. Thank you.

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