James, a first century apostle, says: ‘Confess your sins to one another’, while Freud, a twentieth century psychiatrist says: ‘Blame it on your parents!’ No one, it seems, denies the reality of personal guilt. The question at issue is whether we should have a sense of moral responsibility for wrongdoing.
Since Adam tried to “pass the buck” in Eden there has been no shortage of ingenious attempts to side-step the reality of guilt. Perhaps the cleverest evasion of modern times was suggested by Freud (a patron saint in the eyes of many psychiatrists) who thought that the root of mental illness lay not in an unfriendly environment, but deep within the realm of the unconscious. From his copious bed-side jottings he concluded that the fault was now, not in the stars, but in that part of ourselves for which we should feel no responsibility.
Now, of course, there is nothing wrong with exploring the hidden depths of the unconscious, particularly if it sheds light on behavioural patterns or diseases that lie behind personality disorders. We should have no quarrel with attempts to discover “what makes us tick”. Rather, our concern is with explorers of the unconscious who insist that guilt is the sign of an unhealthy mind. Tragically, it has never occurred to them that a sense of guilt is the reflex action of the soul in response to sin, and that it is the mark of an informed and healthy conscience. What these therapists fail to realise is that any attempt to deny guilt is as sensible as smashing a fire alarm because the noise irritates them. Silencing the alarm is not the solution; the logical thing to do is to extinguish the fire.
In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus tells us that guilt should not be suppressed or transferred to others. For instance, we can no longer blame our problems on our parents or the preservatives in our food. Indeed when we pray “forgive us our sins’, we acknowledge that the problem is not with our hormones, but in our hearts. Our most pressing need, therefore, is to respond to the spiritual alarm bell of guilt. Surely this should be obvious. Rather than increasing our guilt, Jesus says that confession to God actually relieves us of the burden when we “own up” and receive forgiveness according to His promise.
Those who should be most concerned about guilt are those who deny it. For in denying it, they are, in effect, denying God’s verdict on their life and the healing that He makes available to those who confess the corruption in their hearts. When we deny sin, we deny God and place ourselves beyond a cure. The really unforgivable sin is the denial of sin, because, by its nature, there is nothing now to be forgiven. The mark of true wisdom, however, lies in confessing our sins. As John says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)