Jay Leno wrote about how his mother, an immigrant from Scotland, flunked the United States citizenship test by missing one too many questions. Jay Leno explains:
The question she flunked on was: “What is the Constitution of the United States?” The answer she gave was: “A boat.” Which wasn’t entirely wrong. The USS Constitution was docked in Boston. But the judge instantly denied her citizenship.
My father stormed up to the judge. “What…is this? Let me see the test! She’s not wrong—the Constitution is a boat!”
The judge rolled his eyes and said, “No, the Constitution is the basic governing—”
“It’s also a boat in Boston! The Constitution! Same thing! Come on!” The judge finally couldn’t take any more. He said, “Fine. She’s a citizen. Now get out of here!” So my father said to my mom, “you passed!”
“No, I didn’t pass,” she whimpered. “They’re going to come after me!” From then on, any time my mother was even in the proximity of a policeman, she quaked with fear. When I took her to Scotland in 1983, she asked me, “Will I be able to get back in?”
Everyone struggles with guilt from time to time. Sometimes the guilt comes and goes quickly, but other times it hangs on—how do we deal with it? What can we do to stop feeling guilty? There are actually many answers to that question (but only one Biblical one).
Our culture tolerates sin, but it will not tolerate the guilt that sin produces. Today, instead of feeling guilty for the wrong that you do, you are supposed to feel like a victim.
One college chaplain told a young woman, who was feeling guilty about sleeping with her boyfriend, not to worry, it was perfectly normal to have sex outside of marriage. She was a victim.
Then he went on to say that she was feeling so guilty because was the victim of a prudish culture. He told her she was living out the consequences of the Puritan era and the Victorian era, which held the conscience of America in a viselike grip.
The problem with guilt, say the counselors today, is that it wrecks our self-image. It prevents us from doing what we want to do. One counselor that I read about suggested that the way to overcome guilty feelings about something was to do it over and over until you stopped feeling guilty.
Basically, his advice was to hold your conscience over a hot fire until it was burned to a crisp. But the Bible says that is ineffective to have a blessed life—
13 He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: But whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)
So how do we stop feeling guilty? Let’s first look at guilt, then a few common, but wrong ways, of dealing with it, and then we’ll see the only way to deal with our guilt.