“Well, somebody has to do it”

Somebody has to deal with evil, right? We’ve got crackpots all over this planet willing to kill and maim and do terrible things to people without any pangs of conscience or remorse.

The only way to stop them is to kill them. So aren’t we fortunate that there are brave people willing to sacrifice their own lives to stop evil in its tracks? And while evil exists that has to be true, because what other alternative do we have, other than eradicating evil by killing the people who are the source of it?

It’s interesting, then, that we use that argument to justify going to war with other countries, but not in dealing with murderers and psychos back home. Even though the same rule applies, that we’re only safe and free if evil is eradicated, society gets a little squeamish about the death penalty for criminals, but not at all squeamish about going to war.

On the one hand, then, we remember those brave soldiers every year who stepped up to deal with evil because “somebody has to do it,” but we have no ceremony to honour those brave enough to exact the death penalty on hardened criminals, even though those criminals are just as much a threat to our safety and freedom.

We don’t like the death penalty for criminals though, because we like to think they can be cured. So we give them time and counsel and kindness believing we can soften their hardened hearts, or we make life tough for them in jail or boot camp to force them into changing. But sad experience has told us that some people cannot be reached or reasoned with. They have no fear, no conscience, and no care or sympathy for those they hurt.

In war we have no hesitation in killing people like that, but in the process we kill a lot of innocent people too. Exacting the death penalty on a hardened criminal, however, kills only the guilty. So why is there hesitation in killing a criminal?

Because somebody has to look that person in the eye and pronounce judgment on him, and who among us feels we have the right to do that? We are all guilty of something – in our thoughts if not our actions. So if we’re honest with ourselves we’re all criminals, which leaves none of us with the right to kill anyone.

What we should be concentrating on, then, is dealing with our own guilt. But fortunately Jesus took care of that by taking all our criminality and guilt on himself. Why? Because somebody had to do it, and only he could.

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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.

Guilt – the great destroyer of joy

The joy is ripped out of Christianity by guilt – the constant awful feeling we’re falling short of expectations. We should be doing more, praying more, studying more, helping out in the community more, inviting people over more, getting to know the neighbours better, talking more openly about God with our kids and workmates, visiting the sick more, staying longer at church, evangelizing more, and the list goes on (and on). But we do more and it still feels like we’re not doing enough. It’s horrible. No matter how hard we’re trying, it never feels like God is satisfied with us.

But how much of that is the influence of the culture? Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded by guilt. Endless guilt-trip magazines harp away at us how we’re not eating right, not exercising enough, not looking after our skin, hair, feet and sex life properly, we’re drinking too much coffee, downing too much sugar, missing out on sleep, spending our money carelessly, not investing enough for our retirement, ignoring our families, leading chaotic, disorganized lives and our homes are a mess. We’re constantly falling behind in our responsibilities, growing old before our time and letting life pass us by. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

We live in a culture that feeds on guilt, backed up by very influential people telling us from the great heights of their superiority how lacking we are, like mothers-in-law, TV evangelists, priests, preachers, well-known health fanatics, documentaries by famous people with a bee in their bonnet, patronising politicians, newspaper and TV commentators, letter-writers to the editor – all the usual know-it-alls who figure if everyone was like them the world would be a much better place.

And how many Christians get caught up in all this rubbish, thinking God is looking down on us from his great superior height too, rating our behaviour, timing our prayers, and tut-tutting constantly at how lacking we are? But God sent his Son to show us he isn’t like that at all. He tells us outrightly, frankly and as clearly as anyone could – in John 3:17 – that it wasn’t to condemn, evaluate, rate or judge us that Jesus came for, it was to help us see how much, how intensely and how personally God loves us, verse 16. He even loved us “while we were yet sinners,” Romans 5:8, and he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5.

We don’t have to be good enough for God to love us. He loved us at our worst – and how can you feel guilty when you’re loved at your worst?! God doesn’t want us eaten up by guilt, he wants us realizing we’re loved, because it’s joy he wants us filled with, not guilt.