Gilt Guilt

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The Lord Jesus famously said that if we don’t forgive others, we ourselves are unforgiven. “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:15).

This seems like a bad bit of business, but only because we tend to think of forgiveness as a peculiar sort of double-entry bookkeeping. We think the moral universe runs in a quid pro quo fashion, and so we think God is telling us that if we do not perform action x, then He will most certainly not perform action y. We desperately need action y, but are still most reluctant to perform action x, and so we mutter about it for a while. But after haggling for a while in the flea market where clean consciences are heaped up, rumpled on the table there, we offer a grudging forgiveness to some undeserving schmuck as the price we must pay to get our flea market forgiveness. And that is what it is — rummage sale forgiveness, which is to say, no forgiveness at all. If it was not purchased with the blood of Jesus, then it was not purchased.
So what if this were not a matter of maintaining our bookkeeping accounts in the ledgers of morality at all? What if Jesus were telling us not to draw round squares?

What is the power of accusation? Accusation only has a purchase on us because of our guilt. We don’t like feeling that way, so we naturally muster up all the shiny self-righteousness we can, which only gets us, at the end of the day, some gilt guilt.

One of the central devices we use for mustering up this self-righteousness is the device of grading ourselves on a curve, and staring with contempt at whatever portion of the class is doing worse than we are. Some of us get by with simply feeling smug about it, but whenever we are threatened — because we know ourselves really vulnerable to accusation — our natural reaction is to accuse first. The best defense, we think, is a good offense, and this is why accused hearts are always accusing hearts.

This sort of accusation is easy because we always judge others by their words and actions, and judge ourselves by what we assume were our motives. But of course, since we are in the grip of self-justification, we don’t have a very good perception of either — whether their words or actions, or our motives. If I am blind I can’t look out the window to see what others are doing on the front walk, but I can’t see my own living room either.

A forgiven heart gravitates toward forgiveness because circles are round. This is why an accused heart gravitates toward accusation, because squares have four corners.

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9 years ago

I think that a primer is in order regarding when a criminal action has been committed against you or your family how forgiveness is supposed to work.

Johan Eppinga
Johan Eppinga
9 years ago


A few years ago, my brother-in-law, not even 30 and engaged, was murdered. The killer is on the lamb and his family is threatening my in-laws, and the police have made themselves a baseline for uselessness.

After running the gamut between crying, screaming, feeling hollowed out, I simply prayed that the killer might come to justice but that God also would make him His own.

It’s like the footwear ad says: You just do it.

A Wheelr
9 years ago

Forgiveness looks like me as the murder of a son who was innocent and before I murdered him I scorned him, made fun of him, cursed him, and all manner of ugliness but then one day his father tells me that not only does he not hate me but that I can be part of his family.

In our flesh that is not easy but it must look that way because as Doug said, “circles are round.” Sometimes though I do think we forget who we were.