Can Guilt Kill the Gospel?

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My Christian friend Sarah has a part time job of 16 hours a week and her husband works full time. They have four children and recently her mother died, leaving her sick father living nearby very lonely. At work there are also pressures as one of Sarah’s colleagues is off for the next six weeks recovering from appendicitis.

Sarah does truly believe in Jesus and comes to church regularly. When people ask her how things are going she is clearly struggling with an overwhelming workload. However she will not accept help with childcare and other offers of help from Christians are turned down with a smile and a sigh. Neither does Sarah have any time in her busy life to develop the friendships which could support her emotionally, although she continues to serve on the church coffee and youth club rotas.

Sarah is not atypical of many women in our modern world where we are all expected to be self sufficient, independent, happy achievers in our broadly capitalist society. Feeling that we need help tends to push all our buttons! I think this attitude has carried over into how we see Jesus, and how we might think about salvation. Let me explain, thinking about St Peter walking on the water.

St Peter began to walk on the water towards Jesus but soon found himself falling and he knew that he was about to go under and drown. Now if this happened to me I might well feel cross with myself for getting into that situation in the first place, but I would not feel guilty because I would only have myself to blame. It would be my own fault.

I would need to be rescued, and indeed Jesus reached down when Peter shouted for help, and Jesus pulled Peter up to stand with Him on the water. Jesus rescued Peter, and it didn’t do Jesus any harm.

Where I think I start to feel guilty is when I think that saving me hurt Jesus, indeed, saving me caused Him to need to die on my behalf. In order to rescue me, Christ died in horrendous pain on a cross. Then I start to feel guilty that I caused His pain, which makes it difficult to admit my need of Him or accept any more help from Him. Worse, I may even feel that I should work out my guilty feelings by doing good deeds for evermore and feel trapped by this.

It is no wonder that I feel unable to share the gospel with others if I think they will feel equally trapped by guilt. The gospel has stopped being good news and become a burden to me. I might even choose to walk away from this kind of a gospel.

However, the real truth is that Jesus is now alive, He did not stay dead and so I am now in the quite different situation of being saved by a Rescuer who is now alive and recovered from the experience. Like Peter, I stand on water with a Risen Saviour Who has pulled me up to stand with Him in glory. I can feel extremely grateful to Jesus and accept His help in my life without feeling guilty for needing it.

One way of describing what Jesus came to do for us is to use language which expresses that we (all people, everywhere) need to be ‘saved’. We all need the help which Jesus can give. We are all sinners before God. Let’s be grateful that we do not need to feel guilty about His suffering. As St Paul says there is no condemnation at all for those of us who are Christians and have accepted Jesus’s help in our lives. Indeed in St John’s gospel the crucifixion of Jesus is seen as His ultimate glory.

There is also no condemnation for my friend Sarah. She doesn’t have to be a perfect Christian, living a perfect life and managing her troubles alone. The Christians around her will offer help and she can accept it without feeling guilty. We are all great Christians when it comes to giving and offering help to others. In our Christian community let us be sensitive to our own needs and accept help gratefully, without feeling guilty.

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