From the Pulpit: The Burden of Guilt

Guilt can be a dreadful burden to bear. Recently, it was reported in a msn.com article written by Jennifer Earl that a 90-year-old man who lived in northern Houston sent $50.00 to the public works department in Midvale, Utah in order to reimburse the city for a stop sign he had stolen when he was 15 years old. He had carried the burden of that guilt for 75 years, and he wanted to rid himself of that burden!

In the letter he penned that accompanied the money he mailed to Midvale, this anonymous man said he was “trying to do restitution” for all the mistakes had made in the past. In addition he wrote, “I wish to be forgiven by the Lord, so I am sorry and truly repentant.”

There are a few truths that are worthy to be addressed in this story. First of all, when a conscience is properly trained, it works well. This man’s feelings of guilt occurred because he had violated his conscience. And based upon his acknowledgement of wanting to be forgiven by the Lord, it appears he had allowed the word of God to train his conscience. The apostle Paul tells us this is indeed one of the purposes of God’s commandments. In I Timothy (1:5) Paul writes, “Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.”

And second, there is forgiveness to be found in Christ Jesus, which means He can free us from the guilt and shame of our sinfulness. In his letter, this anonymous man from Houston knew the Lord was and is the source of forgiveness. He acknowledged that when he said, “I wish to be forgiven by the Lord, so I am sorry and repentant.” In essence, this man was doing what every Christian needs to do when they want forgiveness and thus freedom from guilt. He was willing to repent of and confess his sins. The apostle John, in writing to Christians, says these words in I John (1:9): “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

The story of the burdened man from Houston should teach us the importance addressing our behavior when we have violated our conscience, and it should also teach us the importance of repentance and confession of our sins. The only thing he should have done differently is to address his sin much, much sooner!