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How Do We Manage Guilt?

We have all made mistakes in our lives and we have all had the experience of carrying those mistakes with us often unnecessarily in the form of guilt.  Left unattended, guilt like this can turn to shame which can bring darkness.  How does a Christian overcome deep and debilitating guilt and shame over past mistakes?  Because we are sinners, aren’t we inherently guilty?  Is guilt good?  Is guilt bad? How does the Bible say we should deal with this?  Stay with us!

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29 comments to How Do We Manage Guilt?

  • Interested one

    Hi!I have been looking through the site looking for one on “sin”, I know it may not be the most savoury subject, but I have some issues with it!

    I need to know excactly what it is!

    I have some understanding of it but it may not be correct. I find it hard to accept for example, that we inherit sin!

    Maybe someone can point me to the right thread.


    • Ted R. (Bible Student)

      Sin is a falling short of the will of God. Because of our imperfection inherited from Adam, none of us can be perfect thus all of us sin. Paul tells us that we have a war inside us. The flesh with its desires and the spiritual, the desire to be pleasing to our Lord. Some sins may be worse than others. The question for Christians then becomes how do we view our sin? Are we truly sorry and work toward overcoming whatever wrong desire we have or do we willfully commit wrongdoing without remorse. Our Lord gave his life in ransom for Adam’s sin, opening the door to receive true forgiveness and the opportunity as Christians to receive our heavenly reward. But the ransom was for all, so even those who are not Christian can receive the benefit of that sacrifice. Those who are not Christian fall under the grace of that sacrifice and will have a chance to know him in his millennial Kingdom on earth when there will be a resurrection of the righteous and unrighteous. When Satan is abyssed the whole world will come to an accurate knowledge of God, without being mislead. Until then we all rely on the grace of God and know that if we are truly repentant, our sins will be forgotten. God does not expect perfection, he just wants us to serve him to the best of our ability.

      • Interested one

        Greets Ted! Thanks for your reply. I should have replied to you first but I got caught up in Gregs post, so most of what I said to him is also applicable here so rather than repeat I hope you will read my reply to him .

        (Paul tells us that we have a war inside us)…. Yes, we have natural desires to satisfy our flesh, hunger, thirst, and for acceptence. Most of this is our natural inclination. However, because we never had a perfect model to follow from Adam we lost that which would keep us on the right path until Jesus who showed us how to master those desires and get the better of them. He showed by his course that we too can live a righteous life in God’s sight. 1John 3:4-12

        And yes I agree with the ransom, and the future blessing under God’s Kingdom.

        Thanks again for your thoughts!

    • greg (Bible Student)

      TO: Any and All interested ones,

      I vividly recall the years when I had become convinced (due to long-term exposure to Watchtower’s unhealthy teachings) that I was more evil than even Satan himself. So the question “What, EXACTLY, is SIN?” became a very lengthy topic of research for me.

      May I share a tiny bit of my journey with you? I’ll try to be both brief and clear. 🙂

      The Hebrew word meaning sin came from an archery term and meant, quite simply, “to miss the bullseye”.

      In my understanding, to attempt to shoot an arrow which has even the slightest bend along its length is going to throw perfect accuracy off. You might be aiming at the bullseye, you might be trying to compensate for the bend, and you may well hit the target. But to hit the dead center of the bullseye, and to hit it consistently, is going to be near impossible.

      Another term that helped me understand the idea of sin was from Genesis 8:21 (Strong’s H3336 – yetser) which was translated as “inclination” in the NWT. It reads:

      “And Jehovah began to smell a restful odor, and so Jehovah said in his heart: “Never again shall I call down evil upon the ground on man’s account, because the inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up; and never again shall I deal every living thing a blow just as I have done.”

      Strong’s Definition for yetser reads: a form; figuratively, conception (i.e. purpose):—frame, thing framed, imagination, mind, work.

      The English word inclination brought to my mind the concept of looking at a heavenly object through a telescope. The stars are constantly moving. But at any given instant, their position in the sky is given by the numeric measure of azimuth and inclination. Even if I’m “inclined” towards the right direction, I might still not be able to see the desired star in my telescope.

      Similarly, while I might be looking towards and aiming for Godliness, from God’s perspective, I missed him. Not by very much perhaps. But still short of perfectly.

      I eventually made sense of all these various pieces of information by means of my own mental frame, my own imagination. It sounded something like this:

      Ok, so I can aim for the bullseye, and I can even get pretty close to the bullseye. I might be very happy with how close I get to the bullseye. But God’s assessment is that I still didn’t hit the bullseye perfectly accurately in HIS estimation.

      So sin and evil are related, similar, and there’s even some overlap. But similar also means DIFFERENT. Sin (missing the mark) and Evil (not even bothering to try to hit the mark, or not caring in the least about how far off I am when missing the mark) are very different things.

      With this scale for estimating and measuring BOTH intentions AND impacts, I could find both “wiggle room” (self-forgiveness) and room for continuous improvement without getting stuck in blame, shame, or self-loathing. In short, I learned how to find a peaceful balance between MY efforts, MY estimations and God’s estimations. I learned how to become better at self-assessing without self-condemning. And that “becoming better at” continues to be an ON-GOING process.

      I am tempted to say many more words in hopes of ironing out any possible wrinkles, but in the interest of brevity, I’ll only add that if anyone wants to discuss the subject further, just ask.

      Warm compassion to all who are loaded down with the burden of regrets and awareness of their own “falling short.”

      • Interested one

        Thanks, for sharing your thoughts!,

        I am aware of many the definations of sin. I have been a witness for many years, however, it is in these later years that I have come to question some of my once ingrained and strongly entrenched views. Due,to my own personal studing of the scriptures, I now see things entirly different to what I have been accustom too, for example, I no longer take for granted, the things the wts say is true. So rather than just be dictated to, I have come to reason on the validity of what is said and things just don’t seem to way up correctly.

        There are some aspects of sin that just does not gel with me anymore. I understand, sin has been described as missing the mark. And John in one of his letters says, sin is lawlessness. 1 Jn 3:4.

        We can practice sin and we can refrain from sin. So it is something we chose to do! It has to do with our consciousness. We can repent of our sins.

        So to me there is something wrong with the expression we “inherit sin” or that our “flesh is sinful”. The flesh of it’s self has no consciousness so it could not be guilty of sin. Could it be we are not understanding it correctly?

        No one is born a thief, or a murderer or a liar. One first has to know that these are against God’s laws. And it is only after *knowing* God’s laws that if we transgress them than a sin has occurred.

        And it is a (failure to repent) or (rebellion) against God’s law that brings death! I don’t think it is because we simply err or make mistakes throughout life that brings death but a failure to adhere to God’s standards and seek his ways. I don’t think God made man to the point, he could do no wrong in the absolute sense. I think God gave us a measure of ability to learn which meant we would make mistakes. I think our goal is to hit the bulls eye or to keep trying.

        And as for the offspring of Adam being the only ones having an inclination to sin is not without problems. How could Adam, for example, have sinned if he did not have the inclination to do so?

        Sorry Greg, but I am a skeptical believer, I am not real sure of all things. To me there are too many variations and ambigious and contradictory statements to take everything as absolute truth. So I try to find that which is true and stable and sensible.

        Warm Christian love!

        • greg (Bible Student)

          Interested one, and All OTHER Interested ones,

          I’ve read and appreciated this and your other comments, and I hope you hear my reply as encouraging, and yet at the same time NOT as authoritative. 🙂

          Especially this particular comment of yours resonates loud and clear with me and my own doubts and convictions as I struggled to better understand the same things you say you are struggling with. It sounds to me as though your “lie detector” is serving you quite well.

          Speaking from my own experience, my built-in “lie detector” improved in accuracy as I learned to use and trust it. It wasn’t always 100% perfect every single time because it could only use the facts it had already gathered, and so sometimes it was limited by ignorance. But as I continued to gather more information, I became more trusting of the processes going on within me, and I found my “lie detector” continued to become more and more worthy of my trust. I can now trust it insofar as I appreciate it’s intention is to keep me safe. Moreover, I believe that is it’s purpose, and that it’s role plays an important part in God’s plan.

          I learned a lot from considering the phrase: “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” as was used in Genesis 2:17, and from considering God’s expression in Genesis 3:22, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil;”

          So for what it’s worth, I encourage you to keep doing what you’ve been doing. Growth is a life-long process of discovery, exploration, questioning, hypothesizing, testing, and refinement.

          Cheers and Warmest Love,

          • Interested one

            Greeting Greg, Yes, you expressed my sentiments well! Your words are encouraging! thanks.

            I’m not too sure what it is you learnt from Gen 2:17. And I think there is a lot to be learn from it. It seems to me, the whole assembly of the heavenly council knew of good and evil, If satan instigated the fall of Adam then it is obvious he also had a knowledge of good and evil.

            And if we were made in the image and likeness of God, how come Adam would not have had a knowledge of what was Good and evil? Surely that was explained to Adam when God planted the individual trees in the garden. So what did it really mean that man had become like one of them knowing Good and Evil?

            What, suprises me though is that once Adam had sinned he was not simply put to death. It seemed to me, if God had not cut him off from the tree of life, than he would have lived perpetually, forever.

            Which would indicate that whatever the tree of life was, eating from it would be like a healing process taking away the effects of ageing, replenishing the body with what ever was necessary to continue life. Being cut off from that tree meant the body deteriorates to the point it dies.

            And the thing is too we are not born with a knowledge of Good and evil, again it is something we learn.

            I’ll cut it short here I’m pretty tired. And I think I have covered enough material.

            Warm christian love!

    • greg (Bible Student)

      Oh! One thing I’d like to add: I missed addressing the idea of “inheriting sin”.

      I get that. I mean, ok, so I screwed something up. How does that possibly infect my children?

      Well, in my picture, it’s kinda like God put us all in a boat. We weren’t born yet. So in the beginning, it was only Captain Adam, and First Mate Eve. But the two of them got lost because they damaged their looking glass which made it impossible to see their way clearly. And when we were finally born, well, we were still stuck in the same boat, with the same broken looking glass, and still without the means to get where we were initially headed.

      Just as Ted described in his comment, we’ll get there when Captain Jesus takes full control of the helm, but meantime, we’re kinda lost and hopelessly paddling about in the stormy sea.


      • Interested one

        Hi again Greg!

        Interesting analogy !

        I believe all mankind died the day Adam rebelled against God’s universal principle of truth to fill the earth and populate it by disobeying God’s law to refrain from eating of the tree of knowlege of good and evil. They (world of mankind) were all in the loins of Adam as he had not gendered any of his kind.

        God stepped in with a plan to fulfil his original purpose by promising a redeemer to undo Adam’s wrongdoing thereby providing salvaton for his offspring who would have the opportunity to chose life for themselves. Gen 3:15

        Death entered through one man because *they all sinned* Rom 5:12

        So each individual would suffer and be judged according to their own sin and not because of the sins of Adam. IMHO.

        • Ted R. (Bible Student)

          You are correct, each of us bears a responsibility towards our own sin. It is because of Adam’s sin that we are all under condemnation of death.
          That is why Christ had to give his life for us. (Romans 5:12) As hard as we try, though, none of us are perfect. “all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God.” The important thing is that we try to do our best to know what Gods will is and choose to follow him. You are right to be skeptical of mans interpretations. “Do not put your trust in men”…Each of us must “prove to ourselves” what the word of God is, through reading and study. We may come to wrong conclusions at times. As we said before, no ones understanding can be complete until the great deceiver and slanderer no long influences our lives. That can only come from Christ’s reign on earth.

          • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

            Ted R hello. “It is because of Adam’s sin that we are all under condemnation of death.” I have been reasoning from the scriptures on what the ransom really accomplished and this is how I see it.
            Jesus paid the price for the Original sin and we are no longer under condemnation from it, He has done away with it. Totally ransom or saved by grace from it. Adam disobeyed GOD directly and he had to be ransomed from that. We die because we Are sinners and the penalties for being a daily sinner is death. We need to get rid of the defect.
            So during the thousand year reign we will eventually be perfect, sinless from the inherited imperfection of Adam and the period of restoration of all things back to Adam takes place. I don’t know if we slowly lose the defect like healing but the EFFECTS of Adamic sin will leave. But the Original sin has been paid for. That’s why we will die in the New world because of OUR SIN, not Adamic. And at the end during the little season, we will die because of our sins at the end.
            To sum up: The effects of Adam’s sin is on us but we are no longer under condemnation of death from it. Idon’t know if I put it right but in my mind this is how I see it.

            • Ted R. (Bible Student)

              I agree with what you said, Jesus did pay that ransom. But because of the imperfection we inherited from Adam, we still die and we still have warfare in the flesh as Paul brings out in Romans 8. I don’t think we disagree at all here, just wording it differently.

          • Just Stay Sweet and Good

            Ted..Yes…..Many times I remember that scripture that says “If someone knows how to do the right thing and dose not do it it is a sin to him? That proves we are held responsible when we do know right from wrong, as people in the western world who have been educated under the Judao / Christian system of ethics. Do I need to point some fingers here?

          • Interested one

            Christian Blessings Ted!

            Thanks for your reply! And Yes I agree, it’s best we do what we can to detimine God’s will and do that!

            I have no idea what perfection is, but I assume it close to be that which pleases God.

            And if all inhabitants are pleasing God than we can expect the world to be at peace.


  • Anonymous

    You disfellowship people and it can take years for them to be allowed back. You ignore and shun your own daughters and sons. Leaving many people with mental health issues. I think Jehovahs Witnesses should look at their own guilt. Its sickening what you do to people. You also cover up abuse

    • TedR

      I agree with you. Bible Students do not disfellowship in the same manner as JWs. This website is developed to help JW’s who’s eyes have been opened and provide support. No where in the scripture does the Bible support shunning of family members or others as an organizational mandate.

    • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

      Anonymous welcome, I agree with every statement you have made. Please feel free to join in discussion with us on Wednesday and Friday and Saturday to actually tell us your story on a testimony forum. Europe is on now and at 7pm Saturday night North America including Canada will be on. We are here for healing so all can move on. Also feel free to comment or ask a question at the bottom of each article. May God bless you.

  • Marjo

    I think it is not good to think too much of what you feel guilty about. Jehovah can forgive many things. If this guilt bothers, the best thing is to pray heal your wounds from Jehovah. But you also have to do something to forget it. Only that matters that you have solved your relationship with Jehovah. It doesn’t matter what other people think. Some people might have this bad habit to make you remember what did you do and feel bad about it. It is good to remember that they also have to solve their relationship with Jehovah sooner or later.

    • greg (Bible Student)

      Greetings Marjo.

      I appreciate your comment. For years I found it very difficult to heal my relationship with Jehovah God. Of course, JW’s were not only unhelpful, they were a large part of the problem because the large majority of them still depended on externally-imposed shame as a useful tool.

      I have found it helpful to remember that guilt is simply about what you’ve done. Shame, on the other hand, is about how you are perceived–whether by others, or by yourself. Another useful concept for me was to understand that labels are for food, not people.

      Permit me to explain.

      I found healing in accepting that what I have done is NOT who I am. What I once did in ignorance, I now feel regret about. If I knew then what I know now (or what I’d yet like to learn), I wouldn’t have done what I did. To label myself as wicked is only confusing. “Wicked” is a static label. An action that has come to be viewed as “bad” can be called wicked, but as a person, I am constantly in a state of growth, constantly learning. To put a static label on myself is to imprison me in suffering for it voids the possibility that I can (and will) regret, learn, grow, improve. Whereas the bad action of the past can not grow, learn, improve.

      I believe that God, in his graciousness, does not want for me to be forever stuck in painful patterns of behaviour. What he wants to see in me is that I learn and grow and continuously strive to improve. So for me, accepting guilt is to accept responsibility, to get to a place where I can say, “Yes, I did do that. But now I see that I’d like to go back and do things very differently.”

      To take on shame is to say, “I’m a horrible person. I was a horrible person. I’ll always be a horrible person. There’s no point trying to change because I’m still always going to be that horrible person.” Hating myself, beating myself up, calling myself names only makes it harder for me to see any point in trying to improve because I simply end up getting better at looking for my faults, and I know I’ll always be able to find another one.

      So unhealthy shame keeps one imprisoned in a self-fulfilling prophecy as you can never be “good enough” to nullify the past. With this kind of shame, our focus is on the things behind rather than the things ahead, and on the things we cannot change rather than on the things we can change.

      Once I stick a label on myself, I rob myself of the possibility of changing me. Once I get the idea in my mind that this is simply the way I am, it’s going to be nearly impossible to see that I can (and earnestly want to) do something different. As long as I have this view of myself, I’m not going to find it easy to heal my relationship with God.

      Just to be clear, I’m not saying we forever cast off all forms of shame completely. There is, in my mind, a healthy kind of shame, but that’s a naturally occurring, internal form, a kind of measure that gently acknowledges that I did not live up to my healthier expectations of myself. But this includes the opportunity for growth and learning and improvement.

      Let’s face it. We’re all imperfect. We are all born in ignorance. We learn as we go. We learn as we grow. We grow as we learn. Let’s never stop growing, learning. Accepting that I am guilty in this manner need not consume me, nor imprison me. Jehovah could have pre-programmed us with all the answers, all the knowledge, all the experience we’d ever need, and he could have even made it impossible for us to “mess up.” And yet the Bible is full of stories of people who messed up. Some of them messed up repeatedly. But God made us such that we gain experience as we grow.

      So for me to heal my relationship with Jehovah, I had to accept the fact that I did not initially (at birth, or at any other time since) have all the answers. I also had to accept that I might struggle sometimes to find those answers. And I had to accept that Jehovah God already knew that about me, and that he (as much as me!!) couldn’t wait for the day when I’d finally understand what he what he wanted me learn.

      I found that adopting that kind of attitude nearly eliminated the toxic forms of guilt and shame that had been ruling in my life. Am I still guilty? Yeah. Do I still feel regret? Yeah. And I wouldn’t change that one bit because now that I better know how to use my guilt and my regrets, I have been able to become a better person today.

      Really, isn’t that the essence of the human aspect to God’s Divine Plan of the Ages? And so through God’s Grace and Jesus’ Ransom, I can now find a solid hope and the courage I need to press onward in my learning and healing.


      • Marjo

        Greg sometimes I wish human brains would have this computer option, remove to recycle bin and empty recycle bin option. But I guess Jehovah didn’t want human brains to work that way. I guess he wanted our experiences were they good or bad to deform our mind. I was shy and weak before, but now my experiences made me stronger. Some cases healing might take longer, but with friends support you will survive. I think God want’s to prepare our minds to becoming events like Armageddon. Maybe each one of us will have some sort of mission after Armageddon. But the most important lesson in human life is that, whatever the sin was we have made don’t keep on doing that.

  • Lincoln

    Dear sister Jacqueline,

    Thank`s for your answer. I will keep in mind the words you give me. Hope you are well Jacqueline and everything is fine with you. I love you sister.

    About Jeff; yes I am sure he is a fine brother and I appreciate him as well. About the link to Paula. Yes, it is in Portuguese. Sorry, but my idea was that the Spirit in the whole prayer performance and the response to the audience would help our Paula.

    This is morning in Denmark right now. time is 7 o’clock in the morning. It has been raining during night and I think more rain comes. I use to do jogging around our lake in the mornings (2 miles) every second day. Just to keep fit.

    See you soon again. About Skype; I will think about it.

  • paula

    I really needed to hear this talk.. Thank you.. i was raised in the truth, and my mother is still a Jehovah’s witness.. I kinda stumbled upon this site and it was just the talk i needed to hear.. I been dealing with guilt for a long while.. Jehovah works in mysterious ways.. i was really down yesterday and what a coincidence a sister on field service just so happened to stop me on my way to the park with my 2 kids.. gave me a couple magazines and really bettered my day.

    • Peter K. (admin)

      Paula – I am glad you enjoyed listening to the Christian Questions radio program. If you have enjoyed Rick and Jonathan, there are so many other encouraging topics they discuss that you may find to be a blessing. I see they also had another older program on GUILT from 9/21/2003. You can find their archive of radio topics and programs here: http://www.christianquestions.net/archives-all-programs/

    • Jacqueline

      Hi Paula, welcome to the site and discussion. So many of the articles soothes the conscience, for we have a forgiving God, Jehovah.

      • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

        Lincoln, this is Jacqueline. I found your reply to Jeff awaiting approval. It does that sometimes when the reply is long and has links. So sorry it took me so long to realize it was there.
        You are definitely welcome here. That one is on me. I have been having test at the Cardio doctors and couldn’t check the back end of the site.
        Jeff is a really good guy and friend. When I first found my way out Jeff was my buddy until the end. He is very kind. Even when he was going thru a huge health trial he was not too sick to help on the site.
        This one is on me. I dropped the ball in approving your comment with links. Please keep on replying to comments. When I see a reply I try to get in touch with the individual and let them know you are talking to them if they don’t see it. On the Wednesday night study now. You can come on by skype I think because we have a brother that comes on that way.
        Take Care.

      • Jacqueline (Bible Student)

        Lincoln, I clicked on the link that you put up for Paula, is it correct or could you check and see if that is what you intended. It comes up as a play and is in a foreign language different from Paula. Maybe I made a mistake tho. Check your link, please, Thanks

      • Lincoln

        Dear Paula, dear sister.

        Here is one with English subtitles. Maybe I can give you this one. Don’t be afraid. give yourself to Jesus, The Holy Spirit will comfort you.


        God Bless you.

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