Of guilt and grace: John’s Christian Viewpoint column from Thursday’s Highland News
There I was, driving away from Asda with my frozen chips and organic lemons when I felt a powerful sense of guilt, and a longing to be somehow washed, made brand-new.
In truth, I have little to be guilty about. I say this without self-righteousness or pride: I know my mind, and the negative and destructive things which lurk there, and I know my heart, where I find the potential for every conceivable sin.
And yet I know that for the most part I have allowed myself to be protected by the call of Jesus and Christian tradition to seek the way of love, and particularly by the strong, encouraging promptings which I have come to see as whispers of God. My choice of the way of love is less of a decision made, more a gift gladly accepted.
Why my experience in the car park? Was some false sense of guilt troubling me? I know the only legitimate guilt is that which comes when I have failed to think, or act out of love for God, other people, and myself.
Jesus never made people feel guilty as an end in itself. Rather, he invited them to evaluate their lives, recognise their sin and brokenness, and say in effect ‘I am John and I am a sinner’ as a way of moving beyond guilt into the freedom and forgiveness of God.
Those who responded to Jesus were mostly broken people, disillusioned people, defeated people, folk whose lives were morally adrift. Some, I imagine felt dirty because they had abused their bodies and wished they could rewind time. Such people were most open to the call of Jesus.
Deep within us, we all long to return to the way things were in the old Eden story which portrayed humans as complete, innocent, and open to God. We can never rediscover that lost garden, but whatever our situation we can experience forgiveness, inner cleansing, the freedom to live differently, as close to God as humanity was in Eden, but wiser by far and much more aware of the depths of God’s love. That is the wonder of the Gospel.
If our lives are comfortable and reasonably secure, faith may revolve around church, spiritual routines, blog posts, ideas. We quickly forget the hunger, the desperation which drives broken people into the arms of God’s love.
I think that sense of guilt as I drove across the Asda car-park was a gift helping me enter in again to human brokenness, divine love, and the preciousness of the Gospel.
Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world so that everyone can know themselves, as the hymn puts it, ‘ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.’
(Image below a detail from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Peter Wenzel)