Guilt is a funny thing and it doesn’t always hit you the way you might imagine, especially when you have not done anything that should make you feel guilty. This upside down guilt trip is often experienced by children caught up in a dysfunctional home who find themselves hurt or abused in some way, possibly emotionally or physically. The situation was out of their control, but still they have an unreasonable sense of guilt. One theory is that there is a figure of authority involved and the child doesn’t know how else to react, so they feel guilty.
In a similar manner, feeling guilty as a result of a figure of authority stepping out of line in another adult’s life can also make the victim feel guilty for bringing up a thorny issue in the first place. The offender doesn’t think they have said or done anything wrong, or else they would not have said or done that thing that hurts so much in the first place.
Deep inside, we carry certain firmly held beliefs which have been a significant part of our lives for many years. More years than you could imagine, and inside that ‘protected bubble’ is a part of you that no one should try to change, or even tamper with. Our faith is very like that because it is embedded in our very psyche, and means a great deal to us. In fact one of the benefits of belonging to a group of believers like a church, is that we are like minded. The same kinds of things disturb us, and encourage us. To the unchurched unbeliever we may look and sound the same, but it’s what is deep inside that makes us who we are on the outside.
Because these feelings are so deep and common, it is very seldom if ever that one of our church friends would step out of the same comfort zone. You would never expect a true believer to curse or swear for example and thankfully that seldom, if ever happens. What can happen however is that some find ways around it. Swear words can be partly spelled in a conversation, or abbreviated in print such as in the common OMG usage. The other method of deliberately stepping out of that normally safe ‘zone’ but without saying the curse word in the written form is to replace some or all of the letters with an ‘*’. That way you make it known what you mean, but are in the clear because you didn’t say the offending word. And it IS an offending word, even in non Christian circles. Everyone knows this. Why else go to the effort of playing games with the letters? In fact, what’s stopping that person from saying the swear word out loud, because we know they are thinking it?
There is little room for error when a phrase is used like, “What the ‘****’ .” I can only think of a few four letter words which would fit, they all involve swearing, and none of them are remotely pleasant or complimentary. I said earlier that this would seldom if ever come from a fellow believer, and thankfully that is true. But what if it comes unexpectedly from someone you look up to and respect? Now this is where the feeling of guilt comes in, even for a seasoned and mature believing adult. To bring this up with someone who obviously doesn’t see anything wrong, puts the pressure on the hearer who is offended and not on the one who said it, ie the offender.
There are two ways to handle a situation like this. Either head on, in a very confrontational manner, or apologise your way through the reason why you feel the way you do, ie you feel and show your guilt. We are taught from an early age to love one another, and love your neighbour as yourself, so tackling anything head on with any other believer goes against your heart and your core beliefs. What are you left with? A firm and unshakeable sense of unnecessary guilt….and a question that will not go away, which no one can answer.
Having said that, there is another way, but it’s the hardest of all. By showing the same grace and forgiveness that God has extended to us. Does that let them off the hook? Yes it does, however forgiving feels good and right, but even more than that, we are reminded in Genesis 18:25 “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” So it’s much better to leave it in God’s hands to sort out in the affected hearts.