Summary: This subject deals with the good/bad conscience and guilt, using David’s encounter with King Saul as examples of how to handle guilt.
GUILT and How to Deal With it.
1 Sam. 24:1-8ff.
Garrison Keillor said, "GUILT: The Gift That Keeps on Giving."
Last Thursday I talked with my daughter who lives in Houston. When I called, she asked, “What are you doing?” I told her I was working on a message for Sunday night on the subject of guilt. She said, “Well, Dad, nobody is more qualified to talk on that subject than you.” Laughing, I said, “How am I supposed to understand that?” I thought, should I accept her comment as a compliment on my ability or . . .? Before I had the chance to savor the moment, she said, “I mean, no body can talk about guilt like you can because you have felt guilty about most things all your life.” I must say that was just a little different than what I had expected. Well, so much for “telling it like it is.” Your kids know how to cut through the pretence and other garbage to get right to the meat of the matter. I wasn’t offended. She didn’t say it to be mean or ugly. I have a good relationship with her. She’s honest with me and expects the same from me. It was just a straightforward observation based upon her memories of years of growing up in a preacher’s house, listening to things I said and ways I reacted to different situations and different people.
Later, thinking about it, I knew she was right. I began to recall the early days of my young Christian faith. I take no pleasure in admitting it, but my life as a young Christian was ruled by guilt! I had absolutely no concept of the meaning of Paul’s words when he said, “happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Rm. 14:22). For a while I reminisced about times, places, and events where I was smitten by feelings of guilt. It was not guilt about some terrible sin or failure that would call for God’s anger. It was guilt about things that later I learned were nonessentials, trivialities, and things that most of you would think were absolutely silly. As just one example, to make this a little more concrete (and it is characteristic of the whole gamut of guilt that gripped my thinking and acting), on one occasion I felt awfully guilty about wearing a beautifully designed and very colorful silk tie I had purchased. I bought it because it was a beautiful tie. It was one of the most beautiful ties I had ever seen. I wanted it. After many debates with myself, I bought it. I couldn’t wear it because I made myself guilty of pride! Could you see John the Baptist wearing a silk tie? Can you picture Jesus entering the synagogue in Nazareth with a silk tie streaming down from his neck? I couldn’t either. Smitten by guilt, I tore it from my neck.
I mention that to say, I know guilt feelings. I know what it is like to be shackled by guilt, to be influenced by it, to be unable to make good decisions—right decisions—because of what guilt says. In those early learning days, because of my guilty feelings, everyone else was always right and I was always wrong! I can attest to the fact that a feeling of guilt makes a person’s life miserable. It punishes. It is an unmerciful critic. I felt shame, low self-esteem, and depression. Guilty feelings do that.
Let me ask a question. This will test your knowledge of the Bible. How many of you have read—somewhere in your Bible—that it is written: “Let your conscience be your guide!” Did King Solomon say it in the Book of Proverbs or perhaps in Ecclesiastes? The Song of Solomon? Does that ring a bell? You say you know that you have read it somewhere or at least you have heard it. We’ve all heard it. It sounds like something that the Bible would say, doesn’t it. But does it? It sounds like good advice. But is it? The answer is NO in both instances. First: “Let your conscience be your guide” is not found in the Bible. It isn’t scriptural. Second: it is not necessarily good advice because not everyone has a good conscience capable of giving good advice.
Neither prophet, priest, apostle, nor king said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” If they didn’t, who did? A lowly little cricket named Jiminy said that now famous line to none other than Pinocchio. If you will recall, Jiminy was assigned to Pinocchio to act as his conscience because Pinocchio was merely a wooden puppet. Like many today, Pinocchio chose to ignore his conscience and got into more trouble than he ever dreamed could happen.