Photo by Vera Arsic on

Here’s another out of the freezer article from a few years back

Over the past few years, I’ve talked a lot about the Guilt Driven Church and  about guilt, grace and forgiveness.. The primary focus has been on how we experience shame and learning to distinguish false guilt from true guilt.

But really there’s another side to this and I don’t think I really dealt with it to quite the same extent, even when I looked at “How not to be a guilt driven church.” You see, there’s a reason why we experience false guilt and that’s because someone causes us to feel it. We are accused. Now the Bible calls Satan the accuser of the Brethren but we don’t always need direct demonic attack to feel the force of false guilt.

Ron Dunn once wrote a book called “Surviving Friendly Fire.” Now, here’s a confession, I don’t think I actually read the book but no doubt he picked up on a lot of the things I’m about to say here.

It’s helpful to remember that just as we feel false guilt and shame, we too can cause it. 

How do we do this?

  1. We do this when we escalate an issue, when we use extreme language to exaggerate situations
  2. We do this when we raise an issue but then walk away (physically or metaphorically) without giving the other person chance to respond.
  3. We do this when we resort to playing the victim when we were not.
  4. We do this when we imply that someone is to blame for something that was not their responsibility
  5. We do this when we confuse the unintentional/accidental with the deliberate
  6. We do this when we question someone’s motives without good reason to do so
  7. We do this when we give pseudo-apologies. This is the classic act of our culture isn’t it. “I am sorry if you felt that I ….” really means “I’m sad that through your own fault and no fault of mine you felt like that.”

By the way, what can make it even more challenging in church life is that we can dress things up with deeply spiritual language too!  We are good at justifying ourselves.

Why do we do this?

  1. It arises out of our own felt pain. We feel guilt and shame and we struggle to bear it. We want to cause others to share in it somehow.
  2. We gain attention.  Not least because often if we were to just talk normally about the real issue at hand, we fear it would sound trivial and we would not be treated as seriously
  3. We learn that this is a good way of getting people to do what we want.

Now, I’ve said that “we” do this because I think it’s something we can all end up doing at some point.  Day to day it causes pain and conflict.  Over time it puts strains on relationships and even breaks them.

However, at its worst and when persistently used as a tool by those with power it is a characteristic trait of manipulation, control and abuse. In other words, it is something deeply toxic and destructive.

Another way?

I think the better way than this can be summed up by the Bible’s command to “Speak the truth in love”  (Ephesians 4:15).[1] My test of what I say and do should always be “Is this truthful?” and is it being said and heard within a loving context.

The truth spoken in love aims to bring conviction. In other words, because we keep coming back to the issue of true guilt being missed because of false guilt, we don’t want to neglect our responsibility to encourage and challenge each other.

The truth spoken in love comes humbly when I remember that I am a sinner saved by grace. The truth spoken in love offers grace and hope.

The truth spoken in love is not controlling. It allows the other person the freedom and space to hear and respond.

The truth spoken in love seeks reconciliation and unity.

[1] Note that in the original context the principle is about teaching God’s Word – it’s about not being led astray by false teaching. So this is not a direct application of the original point but I think is a reasonable inference.

%d bloggers like this: