Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Guilt: Snakes and Safeguards

                   ( Part 2 of a series on Guilt.  For part 1, see Guilt: The Mother Load)

My neighbor proudly showed me his picture of the six-foot black snake he killed in the back yard.  I’m pretty sure he expected me to gasp at the sight or fall down and thank him for rescuing our neighborhood from the hideous creature.  To his frustration, I asked: “that’s a king snake.  Why’d you kill it?”

There has always been a tension between me and some of my best friends that I’ve watched have cardiac arrests at the mention of this animal.  It’s very hard to convince people who are deathly afraid of snakes that there IS something good about those slithery enemies.  As a country girl, born and raised, my dad taught me something most people seem to forget:

Snakes eat rats.

(I am aware that cats eat those too, but there are people who also mistakingly think cats are evil, man-hating creatures.  This blog is about snakes.)  Snakes not only eat rats and mice, they eat pesky insects that damage crops.  My dad didn’t grow an acre-and-a-half garden every year like this (rain or drought) by going willy-nilly with a hoe or shotgun on every meandering reptile that crossed his path.

Snakes, in and of themselves, are not a problem.  The problem is their poison.  If you don’t want to live in rat-infested homes or with damaged crops, you will learn to kill the poison and appreciate the snake.  

Likewise, guilt, in and of itself, is not a problem.  In fact, guilt is a spiritual safeguard.  It is the verb, noun, and adjective that can keep dangers and diseases from rotting our souls.  If we want a fruitful spiritual life and flourishing garden that nourishes those we are around, we will learn to pay attention to, and adequately respond to our guilt.
I will address false guilt in my next blog post.  For now, let’s look at how God dealt with guilt in the Old Testament.  Lev 5:14-19, 6:1-7, and 7:1-6 tells about the procedure for a ‘guilt offering.”  If there were any of God’s people guilty of an offense against God or another person, and there was a possibility of restoring the offense, that person would have to bring one of his own possessions and sacrifice it at the alter.  It did not matter whether the offender meant to do harm or not—the point is God’s standard was not met and there had to be a substitution for the wrongdoing.  The transgressor had to sacrifice something important to him/her-- an innocent animal without a blemish or imperfection.  Once the ceremony was complete, the guilty party would repay what he or she owed plus 20%.  These acts of worship were important for safeguarding the community—the public was reminded of the standard that keeps people from being harmed or robbed from God’s best, the offender was motivated to act justly and wisely in the future, and all the wrongs were made right.

We can appreciate Jesus more fully when we dive into the practices of the Old Testament.  If you are familiar with the New Testament, particularly Romans 5, you will understand that Jesus, who was perfect and innocent, substituted Himself for us on the cross.  We often do the wrong thing, whether innocently or knowingly, but now because of Jesus, we do not have to sacrifice ourselves or our belongings.  We can confidently say "I WAS guilty, but with Jesus I am no longer condemned." It’s a radical tension to live with, but the blood that should be on our own hands, is now on the hands of Jesus.

The world will do a fine job of trying to excuse your guilt from you.  You’ll hear the subtle reasons for your bad decisions—your needs weren’t met as a child, your environment wasn’t right, your parents didn’t nurture you, your personality just is the way it is, your ADD wasn’t medicated correctly.  But this country girl can tell you what the world is doing to you—they are killing your harmless snakes and letting the rats infest your heart, to the point that the guilty people don’t actually feel their guilt and the innocent people bear the weight of guilt that is not theirs to be responsible for.  Maybe we need to hear: “you really are guilty.”  We can't excuse it, cover it up, forget it, or remove it.  There is only remedy for guilt: Jesus had to die for it.

Still, there are many times Christians sin and make mistakes.  We have guilty emotions to keep us from further temptations, pitfalls, and sins.  Even though we are to trust in Jesus’ work, we DO still have to work.  But we don’t correct our guilt by making further sacrifices.  The new law is “Trust and obey”.  If we’ve sinned against someone, we ask forgiveness.  We pay back what we owe if that’s possible.  When we realize we’ve made a bad decision (on purpose or innocently) we just admit it, learn from it, and move on.  We can't keep hanging around the Old Testament ceremonies smelling the blood, feeling bad that we are not the perfect sons and daughters of God.  We need the courage to look that king snake right in the face, discern if it is useful or poisonous, step over him in obedience, and let the freaky thing do his job without freaking out about him. what ways does this analogy disturb you?  :)

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