Modern man has tried to abandon the concept of sin to get rid of his guilty conscience.
by Colin D. Standish
Since 1973, when Karl Menninger’s book raised this question, there has been a noticeable shift in emphasis of the role played by both clergymen and the church in the treatment of mental illness.
In the epilogue, Menninger points out that popular learning is against notions of guilt and morality and that “…no one talks about sin.”(l) Yet, he sees in sin and the morality gap some of the greatest problems facing the human race, especially in the field of mental health. Menninger issues a strong call for the clergy to reassume spiritual leadership, so essential to the mental health of the community at large. “Some clergymen prefer pastoral counseling of individuals to the pulpit function,” he asserts, “but the latter is a greater opportunity to both heal and prevent.”(2)
He points out that “clergymen have a golden opportunity to prevent some of the accumulated misapprehensions, guilt, aggressive actions, and other roots of later mental suffering and mental disease.”(3) In discussing the way in which clergymen can best achieve this, he says, “Preach! Tell it like it is. Say it from the pulpit. Cry it from the housetops! What shall we cry? Cry comfort, cry repentance, cry hope!”(4)
GUILT CAN’T BE IGNORED
There have been many attempts to either ignore guilt or to rationalize it, but no amount of effort can eradicate the experience. Many who have sought to do this have failed. Obviously, the Christian has access to the only valid way to eliminate guilt and sin from the life—by confession of his wrongs and submission of his life to Jesus Christ. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (l John 1:9).
In the Bible we have assurance that “as far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm l03:l2). Coming to Jesus leads to a new, victorious relationship and the elimination of guilt. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:l).
Thus, the minister has a vital role in leading his congregation to recognize that the only way in which guilt can be eradicated is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GUILT
The Bible makes it clear that guilt has its source in the breaking of God’s commandments. In the third commandment we are told, “…the Lord will not hold us guiltless that taketh His name in vain” (Exodus 2017). James also confirms that sin and the breaking of God’s law result in guilt for the lawbreaker. “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2: 10).
Too often guilt has been viewed as counter-productive, but there is a vital role for guilt in the experience of every human being. Guilt is the internalized reaction that results from doing that which separates from God. It is designed to lead the guilty one to turn to God (the Source of true forgiveness), and eliminate guilt feelings. Here alone is the real answer to the massive psychological problems faced by those with guilt-ridden lives.
Clergymen have the opportunity to help their congregations discriminate between “normal” guilt, which is the direct result of sin against the law of God, and neurotic guilt stemming from cultivated behavior patterns, which result from home or societal upbringing.
GUILT AND SELF-IMAGE
The problem of guilt is closely allied to problems with self-image. Many lack self-worth, self-identity, and an awareness of their specific role in life. They, therefore, tend to suffer considerably from emotional conflict. Again, Christ has the answers. While the Bible stresses that, “there is none righteous, no, not one” and “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23), the whole purpose of Christianity is to develop the self-worth of mankind.
Originally, man was created in the image of God. But when sin entered the world, God’s image was obliterated. (5) The main purpose of the ministry of Christ and the Holy Spirit is restoration of God’s image in man. (6) As the penitent believer recognizes that all heaven was poured out in the sacrifice of Christ so that he might have eternal life, he begins to recognize the great worth that God has placed upon him. The fact that we are called to be sons and daughters of God (2 Corinthians 6:18) and joint heirs with Christ (Roman 8:17) leaves no place for low self-esteem in Christian thinking.
A feeling of worthiness should not be confused with pride, for pride has its roots in human self-exaltation and achievement. The true worth of the Christian is a recognition—not of what the individual is—but of what Christ has done for him. Thus, Christ becomes the center and not self. It is essential that the emphasis of the clergy be upon the great worth that God has placed upon every soul.
In every human being, Jesus sees infinite possibilities. (7) This recognition will not bring complacency, but a challenge as men and women seek to reflect the beautiful image of Jesus. Such an individual can no longer be persecuted with feelings of uselessness and unworthiness. His is a clear vision of the magnitude of that which Christ has wrought in his life and that which can be further accomplished with God’s help and direction.
CHRIST BRINGS PEACE
The mature Christian has a peace that can be achieved only by a relationship with Christ. The Lord has promised that He will “bless his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11).
This relationship comes to those who have surrendered and submitted their lives and their wills to the Lord. It comes as man realizes the freedom that is gained through obeying the law of God. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:l65). This is the peace that all human beings seek for today.
At this critical time in history, when there is a breakdown of both moral and emotional structure within the community, the clergy is called upon to reassert its role in spiritual leadership. The pulpit must be used to provide the masses with a clear understanding of true spiritual, mental, and emotional strength, which comes only through the power of Jesus.
True repentance is effected only when wrong is recognized. It is the minister’s role to set before the people “life and good, and death and evil” (Deuteronomy 30: 15).
(1) Karl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? p, 228.
(5) Ellen G. White, Education, p. 15.
(6) Ibid., pp. 15,16.
(7) Ibid., p. 80.