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Background Considerations

  • Definitions of guilt – the same word in the Old Testament is used for iniquity, guilt and guilt offering. It describes not only the action and attitude creating the offense (something bad committed or something good omitted), but also the guilt or punishment as well as the remedy for iniquity in order to bring the world back into balance and equilibrium.
  • Sources of guilt – does guilt come from God? From our conscience? From other people? From Psychological needs?
  • Role of guilt
    • What might be part of a positive role for guilt?
    • Any negatives here? Any one in danger of overdoses of guilt? Any behaviors which guilt creates which are not good?
  • Solutions for guilt – how is guilt removed?
  • Comparison with shame – how is shame removed?
  • Question of original sin and intrinsic guilt – are people totally corrupt? Hopelessly sinful? Do we have original sin? Guilt from the start? Is there any good? What about good from the doctrine of a good creation?

Relevant Biblical Passages

  • Jeremiah 17 – perhaps one of the earliest (and certainly one of the most pointed) passages about total sinfulness of the human … at the level of the heart – sin engraved indelibly on the human heart (vss. 1-4); contrast between trust in humans and trust in God (vss. 5-8); deceitfulness of the human heart (vss. 9-10).
  • Romans 3:9-18 – Paul’s assessment (based on some of the psalms) that none are righteous and all need help.
  • Philippians 2:1-11 – Speech about becoming like Christ in service to others, especially to the point of dying for the world.
  • 1 John 1:5-2:14 – Letter to John’s “little children” about sin, guilt, forgiveness and, at the center, love for one another. Loving God, knowing God, walking in the light – these are all tied to how we treat others. Forgiveness here is tied primarily to guilt from sins against humans and humanity.
  • 1 John 4:7-12 – Part of the same letter, calling us again to love one another, especially because God loved us first.

Contributions to the Study of Forgiveness

  • The nature of human beings matters as we think about goodness and guilt.

Lessons for Life

  • What role do guilt and forgiveness play in our mental health?

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