Is Guilty Feeling a Disease?

Pastor James
February 22, 2024

Last week’s question was, “Should We Feel Guilty?” One lady saw the question and gave a decisive “No!” I was taken aback by her response and asked, “If you did something terrible to someone else, shouldn’t you feel guilty?” Her reply was, “No. You should take responsibility. But feeling guilty is a disease!”

Unfortunately, she had to go. I wish I could have found out more about her view. I spoke of those who reject the notion of guilt itself. Due to their materialistic worldview, they don't believe in moral absolutes. To them, guilt is not “real” since society’s standard of right and wrong is arbitrary and relative. Some go further to claim that feeling guilty is a mental illness, of which we must be cured.

We know that there is such a thing as guilt complex or pathological guilt, which is viewed as a mental illness. Some feel guilty about everything, not just the wrong things they have done. And their sense of guilt paralyzes them. We can see how unhealthy and damaging that can be. But should we dismiss all forms of remorse?

I agree that we should take ownership of our wrongdoings instead of making excuses and being defensive. Just feeling guilty does nobody good. If someone stole my stuff, I would want him to return it instead of just feeling guilty about it. But what does it mean to take “full” responsibility? If he returns it with an apology (sincere but without any sign of remorse), is that enough?

Taking “full” responsibility should involve the “whole” person, not just his action. We know that the whole person is involved when his intellect, emotion, and action are all engaged: he must know what he did was wrong; he must feel guilty about it (not because he got caught and now faces social/legal censure or other bad consequences); and he must be willing to do something about it and follow through.

Why do you feel guilty? If it’s just your conscience being bothered, you can deal with it by apologizing for it, rationalizing it, or making amends. But what if your remorse is more than just a temporary mental discomfort? The Bible says that your conscience is a (faint and blurred) reflection of God’s law. Your capacity to feel guilty is a uniquely human phenomenon. It is an indication that you are a moral agent made in God’s image, wired to have a meaningful relationship with your Maker and Provider.

Feeling guilty is not pleasant. No wonder some people treat it as a disease or deny its legitimacy. But many recognize its many benefits. Imagine living in a society of psychopaths who have no sense of guilt. Feeling guilty points out our wrongdoings and calls for correction. It is important for maintaining a healthy relationship.

What makes proper rectification? When fraud is committed, is it OK as long as the criminal returns everything? No. The civil government steps in and punishes the criminal. Why? Because crimes break the moral fabric of civil society. Certain wrongdoings are more than just a matter of individual interactions. There is another dimension to this: all wrongdoings break the fabric of the moral order God established. The full correction must include our accountability to God. But how?

The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death...” (Romans 6:23). Why such a severe punishment? Because even the smallest sin is a violation of God’s law: as an offense against His infinite honor, it deserves eternal punishment. Who can pay such a penalty? This is why Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came into this world—to bear the punishment of our sin for God’s forgiveness and acceptance. This is not what we can work or pay for. But you can have it free of charge if you acknowledge your sins and trust in Jesus Christ. Are you feeling guilty? Let it drive you to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life!