Does God use guilt to motivate people?

Fear is what gets people into religion, but it’s guilt that keeps them trapped – guilt that they aren’t coming up to the standards required to escape hell or “make it” to heaven or paradise. I know how it feels too, because that was the version of Christianity used on me. I was told that Jesus died for me, but AFTER that it was all up to me. God now expected ME to do all the work of obeying him and living up to the highest standards. And when I failed, I felt guilty.

But did guilt motivate me to do better? No. It created an endless cycle of fear and stress, that ripped the energy out of me. And then one day I asked myself WHY I was feeling so guilty when every sin and failing of mine had already been forgiven 2,000 years ago. But the answer was obvious: we’re bombarded with guilt at every turn. Guilt is everywhere. Religions use it to motivate people, so do advertisers, parents, children, husbands, wives, friends and fund-raisers. They all use guilt to manipulate, sell and bully us into doing what they want, because guilt works.

Witness the guilt-trips laid on us by people raising funds following a major disaster. They’re in your face wherever you turn, using guilt to make us contribute – like the TV telethon moderator who glared into the camera and said, “You can’t ignore or avoid us. You can change channels but we’ll be there too.” He was right because I did change channels and there he was, still glaring into the camera with his triumphant smirk, because how could any “decent person” NOT contribute to such a noble cause?

No wonder I feel so guilty, then, even as a Christian, when guilt has been used all my life to get me to act according to other people’s agendas, and make me feel like a heel if I don’t – like the lady who swore at me recently for not visiting her, even when I was ill. But that’s the way of the world, to exploit the power of a guilt-trip to bully people into submission.

I realize Jesus took all human guilt upon himself so I never have to be eaten up by guilt, or be motivated into action by guilt, ever again, but it’s still difficult to shake that awful feeling of “delinquency in my responsibilities” if I don’t give money following every major disaster, or I don’t come up to other people’s expectations.

I guess it takes a while in this culture to realize God never uses guilt to get people to act. He only uses love, 1 John 4:19.


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