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The Heavy Load of Guilt

God made us with feelings. Those emotions can make us feel like we are on the top of the world. They can also make our life miserable. Anger, fear and sorrow can consume us. So can guilt. Even Christians who are forgiven of their sins struggle with this.

Letting go of the past is a difficult thing to do. We know we are saved by the blood of Christ, but when life gets us down we wonder if we are still reaping what we have sown. Some of the best men in the Bible felt this way in times of distress. David prayed, “Do not remember the sins of my youth” (Psalm 25:7). Job thought God was punishing him for what he had done as a young man (Job 13:26). They knew they had been forgiven, but the piercing memory of their sins crept up on them when they least expected it. There are many things that can trigger this pain in the soul: loneliness, health problems, criticism, anxiety over what people think and say about us, and even sermons about sins we have committed.

Recalling what we have done wrong in our lives is not necessarily a bad thing. The Bible often reminds Christians about what they were and who they are (I Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 2:1-12; I Pet. 4:3). This causes us to appreciate God's mercy and love Him more. It also makes us more serious about not making those mistakes again. It is not good that we completely forget. That leads us to be ungrateful and careless. To a certain extent, all of us must live the rest of our lives knowing that we have hurt others and offended God.

But we cannot let the past overwhelm us. Why should we? We have a new life in Christ. “Old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (II Cor. 5:17). A forgiven person should not be “swallowed up with too much sorrow” (II Cor. 2:7). The Bible tells us to rejoice (Phil. 4:4). Besides, we have much to do. There is no point in letting our former life hinder us. God does not keep you from doing good by shoving your forgiven sins in your face. The devil is doing that.

Personal sins and failures in marriage and the family can be some of the hardest things to overcome. But consider David. He committed adultery with a woman and had her husband killed. He had trouble in his family for the rest of his life because of his sin. His infant child died. One of his sons raped one of his daughters and another son of David killed that son. His son Absalom tried to take his father’s throne and started a war. Towards the end of his life another son, Adonijah, was killed because he tried to take the throne from his brother Solomon. Nathan the prophet had told David, “The sword shall never depart from your house” (II Sam. 12:10). If there is a story of reaping what you sow in the Bible, this is it.

How could David live with this kind of stress? What kept him from having a nervous breakdown? The book of Psalms is the answer. He turned to God. He poured out his guilt to God and laid down his sins at His throne. Who else would listen? People are usually not sympathetic toward someone who did what David did. But David always knew he could go to God in prayer. When you read the book of Psalms, you can sense the deep passion and pain in David's words. He uses the vivid language of poetry to vent his feelings. Sometimes his words shock us. He speaks with a deliberate exaggeration or hyperbole such as “All night I make my bed swim; I drench my couch with tears” (Psa. 6:6). One of his most famous and misunderstood verses is Psalm 51:5—“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” This does not mean, as many think, that David was literally born a sinner. The idea of original sin is not only wrong; it misses the whole point. David is showing the intense feelings of his guilt, not teaching a doctrine about human nature. This verse is not any more literal than Psalm 58:3 which says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.” David used this kind of language because he felt incredibly guilty.

Call David to mind when the weight of forgiven sins is crushing you. If he could bear this heavy load by the grace of God, you can bear yours. And, remember that David went to a place where he will never feel guilt again (Heb. 11:32).


West End church of Christ bulletin article for June 4, 2023


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