Guilt is an emotion we typically feel when we have not lived up to a standard or value that we have set or that someone else has set for us. Guilt is also an emotion we feel in our body, but we also feel guilt when our conscience (#7) “informs” us that we have not lived up to a standard, value or belief that we consider to be important and significant.
Contextually, we may feel guilt or “guilty” because of our engagement in some form of compulsive or addictive behavior we are involved in, even though we “know” that our behavior has hurt others and more than likely ourselves as well. At times, other feelings accompany Guilt, like the feeling of sorrow or remorse, which also originates from our heart and mind informing us that our thoughts, speech, actions or behavior is in conflict with our internal value system.
The Bible has a lot to say about Guilt and names the process of not living up to God’s standard sin. Sin basically means “missing a mark.” One way to think about sin is to envision shooting an arrow toward an archery target, and unfortunately, the arrow not only misses the mark (target) but it goes off into the forest and is lost.
Going forward, our point here is to define and learn about the words connected to the emotion of guilt, without inducing guilt nor shame because you may not be living up to certain standards set for yourself or by others. Approaching these words and the emotion of Guilt in this manner will hopefully help us to learn how to generate healthy responses in our lives rather than cause us to feel fault or even worse, condemned or self-condemnation.
If you are currently feeling inconsolable guilt or self-condemnation connected to not living up to certain standards in your life, please remember and be encouraged by the inspiring words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:1-2: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (TNIV). Please keep this in mind as we look at what scripture has to teach us about the emotion of Guilt.
Scriptural Insight (Zodhiates, 1996)
1) Moses’ instruction about adultery (Numbers 5:31): The Hebrew word is “AWON,” (v. 31), and it is used throughout the Old Testament. This word not only describes the misdeed/act, but also the resulting consequence (punishment). AWON means the “crime, fault” and is often the sum of the past transgression against God and man. AWON could refer to specific sins (idolatry, or as in this case, adultery) but it usually results in alienation from God (Isaiah 59:2) and uncleanness (Psalm 51:2).
2) Guilt/Sin (Throughout the Old Testament): The word is “AWAH,” and it means “to bend, to make crooked, to act perversely and to do wrong.” It essentially means to deviate from the proper path, sinning against God (Psalm 106:6) or against another individual (Queen Vashti against King Xerxes in Esther 1:16).
3) Guilt/Sin (Throughout the Old Testament): The word is “HATA” and is very similar to the New Testament word “HAMARTANO – “To sin, to miss the way, to fail, to do wrong, to forfeit, to endanger to cause to sin, to seduce, to incur guilt, to make guilty, to condemn.” This word expresses the following, which causes guilt in the life of a person:
a) Being off-target (Judges 20:16)
b) Getting lost (Proverbs 19:2)
c) Coming up short of the goal (Proverbs 8:36)
d) A serious breakdown in a personal relationship (1 Samuel 19:4-5; 24:11)
e) A breach in civil law (2 Kings 18:14)
f) Fault (Exodus 5:15)
g) Not respecting another’s rights (Genesis 20:9)
4) Guilt/Sin (Throughout the New Testament): The word is “HAMARTANO” and conveys one who keeps missing the mark in his/her relationship with God, as well as disobedience to Divine Law. Since sin is defined biblically in relationship to God, HAMARTANO describes sin that is the lack of conformity or the violation of the moral will of God. HAMARTANO also describes willful, unintentional and habitual sin. It is the opposite of DIKAIOS (Righteousness).
Signs & Symptomatic Behavior of Guilt (“What will I notice in the person who feels guilty?”)
- Strict and rigid moral and religious convictions that are unrealistic to attain for self and for others.
- Thought patterns that reflect personal struggles and condemnation regarding our moral failure(s).
- A negative self-image, reflecting critical, catastrophizing and disparaging speech about self and others.
- Rituals and repetitive sexual (or other) behavior that is compulsive and is done to neutralize or prevent the discomfort of feelings associated with our engagement in unhealthy behavior (we sometimes call this self-medicating behavior).
- An inability to be aware of the serious harm being done to self, others as well as our relationship to God due to our desire to “silence” or dull the message of our senses or conscience because of our engagement in the addictive behavior.
- The creation of elaborate “ego defenses” (denial, overcompensation, reaction formation) to rationalize, explain, justify and/or “protect our right” to engage in what could be out of control sexual behavior(s).
- Periods of shame and despair connected to cyclical interaction with the addictive behavior; like I’ll never get over this problem.
In The Emotion of Guilt (Part 2 of 3) we will look at suggestions from scripture to address and deal with our Guilt in a constructive manner, for our personal benefit and for the benefit of our relationships.
In The Emotion of Guilt (Part 3 of 3 – The “T – R – U – T – H” Tool) we will look at a simple tool to help us “recalibrate” and bounce back from any “inappropriate” and guilt-inducing messages that we tend to tell ourselves. These negative messages tend to inhibit and interrupt any healthy messages that we could derive from our guilt, which when integrated into our thought system tend to lead us toward making corrections with our behavior.
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