By: Staci Stallings
I recently stumbled upon a book that was released some time ago. It’s called “Forever Forgiven” by Joe Beam.
The book takes up the interesting question of the role guilt plays in our lives. This has been a particularly fascinating concept for me since my brother and I took very different paths a few years ago. About the time his life went off the rails, mine threatened to and then God snatched me from the jaws of the miserable spiral I was on. He literally saved me from myself. To be brief, I thought life was my responsibility, that God was my employer, and that He was watching every step to find a reason to send me to hell. That’s hard to admit because it sounds so dramatic, but to be honest, it felt dramatic.
I remember back when I published my first book, “The Long Way Home,” there was a passage when the hero goes to church for the first time in a very long time, and there, he comes face-to-face with how empty and hopeless his life has become. In the passage, I wrote something about him being in hell. I very well remember my editor coming back and saying, “This is a little dramatic, don’t you think? We should change it to something about him being miserable or something. Hell is a little strong.” I changed it, and I regret that change to this day.
Let me tell you, when you know your life is empty and no matter what you do or how hard you work, there is nothing you can do to change that, you’re in hell. It might be different than drug hell or alcohol hell or divorce hell or gang hell, but it is hell. And it gets harder and harder to push yourself, to get up and try again, to find motivation, to figure out what you’re even doing all of this for. I know. I’ve been there.
As God is wont to do, He sent me another piece of this puzzle today in the form of a newsletter from Grace Walk Ministries. In it, Steve McVey talks about religion and how religion is the systematic dogma of right and wrong. He discusses the two trees in the garden, which is something I speak on a lot to my Sunday School class. That although there were two trees, we often overlook the fact that one of those trees has two components. There was the Tree of Life, and there was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Notice it does not say, “The Tree of Evil.” No, it is the Knowledge of GOOD and Evil.
Simply put, the second tree is the path of trying to do life yourself. You push yourself to do good and not evil (or you just do evil). A lot of Christians live here–trying to be good enough for God. They work in the church, sign up for every organization, teach Sunday school, sing in the choir, work in the daycare, even pray out of duty because they believe that’s what God expects, and He’s just looking for a reason to toss them from His sight. They are very busy Christians, and they are stressed out and tired of doing all of this for God. God becomes hard, cold, and distant because they realize at some point that nothing they do is good enough.
One of the biggest lies of Satan I’m learning is the lie of guilt. We guilt ourselves into running ourselves into the ground. That’s what I was doing.
In “Forgiven Forever,” Beam zeros in on the concept of guilt. He says that guilt is a gift from God, much like physical pain. If you do not feel physical pain, you will hurt yourself far worse than if you do. For example, if you put your hand on a hot burner, pain tells you it’s hot and you yank it back. But what if you didn’t feel that pain? You could easily severely burn your hand before you realized what was happening.
That’s great, but what if you have no way to fix it? What if you have been taught learned helplessness (Martin Seligman) like a dog that is shocked with no way to get out of the shock. When that dog is put into a box where all it has to do is jump over a small barrier to not be shocked, the dog instead lays down on the shocking device because it sees no way to get away from it, and IT WON’T EVEN TRY!
Guilt trip Christianity works the same way. Christians who are convicted of their guilt but have not accepted that they are forgiven or taught they are forgiven by what Jesus did on the cross experience a form of learned helplessness. Beam calls this being Guilt Caged. This type of Christian, not understanding how to live on the Tree of Life, will do one of two things–either they will work harder and harder, or they will give up. Living on the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is exhausting and a very helpless, hopeless feeling.
However, living on the Tree of Life is a little scary too because you have to admit it’s not all up to you. It’s all up to God. And well, trusting Him can seem to some like shirking their responsibility and to others like losing control. The Good News is, it’s not your responsibility to save your soul or to even be good (no, that’s not license to go do whatever you want… when you’re really trusting God, you won’t do bad, and doing good will be so much easier!). Your responsibility is breathing and letting God so permeate your life that He lives for you and through you. As St. Paul said, “It is not I that live but Christ that lives through me.” That’s what he meant–I’m living off the Tree of Life, not trying to do it myself but letting God do it through me.
This is my first trip around this topic of guilt and forgiveness, and I know I’ve only scratched the surface, but I wanted to share it with you because I think it is the key to living victoriously instead of just desperately trying to get to a place where you’re not completely miserable. Let’s face it, guilt trip Christianity is no place for God’s children to live. Not only does He not want you to live there, He forbade it in the Garden.
Question is, are you still living there anyway?